A topical push
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some consumers are moving away from NSAIDs—and from oral OTC pain relievers in general—and are seeking topical solutions.
According to a September 2022 report from India’s Quintana Research and Consulting, growth drivers for topical pain-relief solutions include fewer adverse effects than those of traditional oral medications, rising demand among athletes, an increasing number of elderly people and the prevalence of arthritis.
“Customers have pill fatigue,” said Dason Williams, chief operating officer of Clavél Corp., Abilene, Texas. “They don’t want to take multiple pills that can damage their liver and will conflict with other treatment options they are doing.”
Although external analgesics consistently outperformed the overall OTC and health-and-beauty-care categories for a number of years, they saw some softness in 2022, Jim Lepis, senior director for Florham Park, N.J.-based Hisamitsu America Inc., noted.
“A key factor behind the softness appears to have been the exceptional prior year and some pandemic-related shopping dynamics that did not continue,” he said. “As we’ve turned the page to 2023, the category is once again growing nicely.”
The aging U.S. population bodes well for future growth, too, Lepis added. Moreover, consumers not only are becoming more educated about external analgesics’ benefits, but they also are on the receiving end of more external-analgesic recommendations from the medical community.
“Another trend that might surprise people is that the convenient and no-mess patch form is the largest segment, exceeding both gel form and cream form,” he said. “The roll-on form has become another popular no-mess option that has been a key contributor to recent category growth.”
On the patch front, Hisamitsu America recently introduced the Salonpas Lidocaine FLEX patch. Lepis said the nonaqueous pain-relief patch contours to the body and stays in place during body movements.
External treatments continue to be popular within the first-aid space, too. Data from global market research firm Mintel show that 90% of consumers desire a fast-acting formula with multiple benefits, noted Jim Creagan, president of Cornwall, N.Y.-based CrossingWell Consumer Health (formerly Randob Labs).
Creagan said his company’s Sting-Kill and Chiggerex products include benzocaine for instant pain relief and also provide itch-relief benefits. The company’s Bacitraycin Plus first-aid ointment, meanwhile, not only relieves pain, but also contains bacitracin to kill germs and aloe to soothe.
Natural boasts appeal
Internal or external, OTC pain relievers also are trending toward all-natural formulations, including those using plant-based ingredients. But this trend is still emerging, Erick Dickens, an executive with Phoenix-based Healist Naturals, pointed out. Healist Naturals is a new company that purchased the Level Select topical pain-relief brand, as well as other OTC brands.
“Consumers are increasingly aware of the ingredients used in the products they put in and on their body and are ready for effective choices in OTC pain relief,” he noted.
Healist Naturals’ newly introduced Level Select OTC product lineup—including muscle rub lotion, sports therapy cream, massaging roll-on gel and more—contains natural menthol and camphor. Dickens calls the line “a breakthrough innovation in plant-based wellness” that provides fast pain relief.
“These plant-based ingredients effectively address common forms of discomfort such as muscle soreness, joint pain, backaches and other minor aches and pains,”Dickens said.“Along with menthol and camphor, Level Select OTC products contain other beneficial ingredients like MSM, comfrey, horse chestnut and more.”
Williams agreed that consumers are moving more toward natural “non-drug” items on the topical side. He pointed to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI showing that growth for the “not stated category” outpaced “the drug items with capsaicin, diclofenac, lidocaine and menthol stated on the Drug Facts panel” for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, 2023.
For its part, Clavél Corp. recently added a 3.4-oz. bottle with a massager top to its 100% natural Blue Stop Max muscle and joint gel line, which features natural ingredients such as emu oil, coconut oil and aloe vera. Williams said the format is good for air travel, trips to the gym and more.
Consumers, however, might need some convincing when it comes to natural pain-relief formulations—be they internal or external. Product efficacy still trumps all other considerations.
“While many consumers would prefer to buy a product with naturally derived active ingredients, they believe this benefit requires them to compromise efficacy,” Dickens said.