Biofreeze vs. Icy Hot: Which Relieves Pain Better?

Biofreeze vs. Icy Hot: Which Relieves Pain Better?


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Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice. All statements are merely the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to pain relief.

Biofreeze and Icy Hot are two of the most popular pain relieving creams on the market. Both creams claim to work fast, and it can be challenging for consumers to differentiate between the two products.

But do Biofreeze and Icy Hot both have ingredients shown in medical studies to relieve pain? Which product has the better formulation? Does either cream have questionable additive ingredients? And how do real users compare the effects of the two products?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze the ingredients in Biofreeze and Icy Hot based on medical studies to give our take on which product has a better formulation, and which we would recommend.

We’ll feature real, unsponsored user comparisons between the two products and provide a cost breakdown to determine which is cheaper.

Ingredient Analysis – Biofreeze

Biofreeze ingredients

The ingredients in Biofreeze are shown above.

Menthol is the active ingredient, and is clinically shown to reduce pain when applied to the skin.

A 2022 clinical trial found that menthol significantly reduced pain scores when applied to the skin. This is a commonly-used drug ingredient, and also the active ingredient in products like Vicks VapoRub.

A clinical trial published in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy reported that pain scores and the ability to complete functional tasks improved significantly in patients with arthritis after application of a menthol gel.

Grape seed oil, one of the inactive ingredients, was shown in a 2016 clinical trial to have pain-relieving effects, although it was an in vitro (test tube) study, which is a weaker standard of evidence than a trial with human participants.

Phenoxyethanol is the only ingredient in this formulation that may be questionable from a health perspective, as this preservative was shown to be toxic to human cells in a clinical trial as we documented in our review of Neutrogena Hydro Boost, another skincare product containing this ingredient.

Overall, we consider Biofreeze likely to relieve pain but don’t currently recommend it due to the inclusion of phenoxyethanol.

But are the ingredients in Icy Hot better? We’ll review in the next section.

Ingredient Analysis – Icy Hot

Icy Hot active ingredients

The active ingredients in Icy Hot are shown above.

Menthol is included at the exact same concentration as in Biofreeze, and we already documented the research backing of this ingredient for pain relief in the previous section.

Menthol provides a cooling effect.

Methyl salicylate provides a warming effect, which is why the product is called “Icy Hot.”

This compound was shown in a clinical trial published in the Frontiers in Pharmacology journal to relieve pain in over 82% of patients.

A 2017 medical review described the pain relief capabilities of methyl salicylate as “well established,” but also discussed the potential for salicylate poisoning with over-application of topical pain relief products like Icy Hot.

A 1996 medical review described potential dangers from use of methyl salicylate on the skin, including anaphylactic reactions which can be fatal. The study authors concluded:

“Physicians should fully appreciate the potential dangers from topical preparations containing methyl salicylate.”

The inactive ingredients in Icy Hot are shown below:

Icy Hot inactive ingredients

Triethanolamine is a pH balancer that was shown in animal studies to be toxic, as we documented in our review of Perbelle cosmetics.

Our verdict: We consider Biofreeze to be a better formulation from a safety perspective, and Icy Hot to be a better formulation from an efficacy perspective.

Biofreeze contains one questionable additive ingredient, but that ingredient doesn’t seem as risky as methyl salicylate based on our review of medical studies.

Icy Hot contains two active ingredients that are both clinically shown to relieve pain, so individuals in severe pain may benefit from discussing this product with their doctor over Biofreeze.

But how do real users compare the effects of Biofreeze and Icy Hot? We’ll review in the next section.

Real People Compare the Two

A YouTube creator named “116falconer” compared the effects of Biofreeze and Icy Hot:

A YouTube creator named Izzy Kornblau who has chronic pain reviewed a large number of topical pain creams including Biofreeze:

Price Comparison

Both Biofreeze and Icy Hot are relatively affordable, with the cream version of each product costing well under $15.

Since the products are sold at different sizes, here’s a price comparison per-ounce:

Icy Hot: $4.79 (link to official Amazon listing)

Biofreeze: $3.81 (link to official Amazon listing)

At the time of publishing this article, Biofreeze is 20% cheaper per-ounce than Icy Hot.

Our Clean Relief Picks

There are natural compounds which have been shown in clinical studies to support optimal joint health and relieve pain.

Bulletproof Collagen Powder is our top collagen supplement pick.

Collagen is the core structural protein in joints, and has been clinically shown to reduce arthritic pain. Bulletproof's supplement contains collagen sourced from grass-fed animals.

Cornbread CBD Lotion is our top CBD lotion pick.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is clinically shown to be effectively absorbed through the skin, and CBD caused "significant improvements in pain" when applied topically in a 2020 clinical trial.

Cornbread's lotion also contains menthol, which was shown in a 2022 clinical trial to reduce pain scores.

Illuminate Labs Ceylon Cinnamon Extract is our standardized cinnamon supplement, which is third-party tested for purity and potency and costs only $15 at a subscription price.

Cinnamon was shown to reduce inflammatory markers in a 2020 clinical trialThe study authors concluded that “Cinnamon could be regarded as a safe supplement to relieve pain.”

All of the products recommended in this section are entirely free of ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

We consider both Biofreeze and Icy Hot to be likely effective for pain relief, and both products are very affordable.

Biofreeze is a better option for individuals with minor pain because it has a better safety profile in our opinion.

Icy Hot is a better option for individuals with more severe pain because it contains two active ingredients clinically shown to support pain relief (rather than the one in Biofreeze).

Biofreeze is around 20% cheaper per-ounce than Icy Hot.