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Capsicum Plasters: What’s Old is New Again

Capsicum Plasters: What’s Old is New Again

Issue Time:2016-08-13


I just read that scientists at Harvard Medical School have developed a new anaesthetic that uses capsaicin – the active ingredient in chili peppers that makes them spicy – in combination with another chemical, to block pain without affecting touch or movement. In other words, this may eventually hold the possibility of being able to block pain without numbing or paralyzing the affected area.   The articles are here, here and here.  


Page from 19th Century Salesman’s Book Showing Capsicum Plasters

The interesting thing is that over 100 years ago, capsaicin was being used as a medication to…block pain.  In fact, Johnson & Johnson manufactured and sold a medicated plaster called a Capsicum Plaster with exactly this active ingredient.  Capsicum Plasters were used for topical pain relief, and were placed directly over the area of the body that was hurting.


Popular Medicated Plasters, Including Capsicum Plasters (Left).  The bright orange-red of the package is reminiscent of the color of a chili pepper.

The Company also sold a plaster called a Bellcapsic Plaster, which contained both capsaicin and belladonna – both pain relievers. Here’s a picture of a box of Dr. Grosvenor’s Bellcapsic Plasters, which is an example of some of the beautiful packaging found on some 19th century products.  

Dr. Grosvenor's Bellcapsic Plaster, 1800s

Dr. Grosvenor’s Bellcapsic Plaster Box

Medicated plasters were made from an India rubber compound that was infused with a medication and rolled into flat pieces.  One side of the plaster would have an adhesive so that it could stick to the skin and deliver the medication directly to or over the affected area of the body.  They were one of the most popular 19th century medical products, and plasters are still made today in some areas of the world, such as Asia.

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