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Ibuprofen in Skincare: Exploring the Role of NSAIDs in Inflammatory Skin Conditions

In recent years, the intersection between pharmaceuticals and skincare has captured the attention of researchers and skincare enthusiasts alike. Among the agents that have drawn significant interest is ibuprofen, a well-known nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Beyond its conventional applications, the potential role of ibuprofen in skincare, particularly its impact on inflammatory skin conditions, has become a subject of exploration. Read on to take a closer look at the intriguing relationship between ibuprofen and its role in skincare as we try to understand the impact on inflammatory skin conditions.

What are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, are a class of medications primarily used to reduce pain, inflammation, and fever. They are widely available over-the-counter and by prescription. NSAIDs work by inhibiting specific enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2) that are involved in the production of prostaglandins, which are substances that play a key role in the body’s inflammatory response. (1,2)

These medications are commonly used to manage a variety of conditions, including: (3)

  • Pain Relief: NSAIDs are often used to alleviate mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, dental pain, menstrual cramps, and musculoskeletal discomfort.
  • Inflammation Reduction: They are effective in reducing inflammation associated with conditions like arthritis, tendinitis, and other inflammatory disorders.
  • Fever Reduction: NSAIDs can help lower fever by acting on the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature.
  • Post-Surgery Pain: They are sometimes prescribed after surgeries or medical procedures to manage postoperative pain and inflammation.
  • Menstrual Pain: NSAIDs can help relieve menstrual cramps by reducing prostaglandin production, which is responsible for uterine contractions and pain.

Common examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and diclofenac. These medications are available in various forms, including tablets, capsules, creams, and gels. It’s important to note that while NSAIDs are effective in managing pain and inflammation, they can also have side effects, especially when taken in high doses or for extended periods. These side effects may include gastrointestinal irritation, ulcers, bleeding, kidney problems, and increased risk of cardiovascular events. (4)

Ibuprofen and its Anti-Inflammatory Properties

As mentioned above, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications known for their potent anti-inflammatory properties. They work by inhibiting specific enzymes, particularly cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, which play a crucial role in the production of prostaglandins, substances that contribute to inflammation, pain, and fever. By reducing prostaglandin production, NSAIDs help alleviate inflammation and its associated symptoms. (5)

Here’s how NSAIDs like Ibuprofen exert their anti-inflammatory effects:

  1. Inhibition of COX Enzymes: NSAIDs primarily target the COX enzymes. COX-1 is constitutively present in many tissues and is involved in various physiological processes, including maintaining stomach lining integrity and kidney function. COX-2, on the other hand, is inducible and primarily responsible for producing prostaglandins that contribute to inflammation, pain, and fever. (6)
  2. Prostaglandin Reduction: Prostaglandins are lipid compounds produced at the site of injury, infection, or inflammation. They promote vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), increase blood flow, and sensitize nerve endings, leading to pain and swelling. NSAIDs inhibit COX enzymes, which in turn reduces prostaglandin synthesis, resulting in decreased inflammation, pain, and fever. (7)
  3. Analgesic Effect: By decreasing prostaglandin production and its sensitizing effect on nerve endings, NSAIDs provide analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. They help manage mild to moderate pain associated with conditions like headaches, muscle aches, and arthritis. (8)
  4. Fever Reduction: In response to infection or inflammation, the body raises its temperature to create an unfavorable environment for pathogens. Prostaglandins play a role in this process by acting on the hypothalamus, the body’s temperature-regulating center. NSAIDs lower fever by reducing prostaglandin-mediated signals to the hypothalamus.
  5. Inflammation Management: Inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection, but excessive or chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage and disease progression. NSAIDs help manage inflammation by modulating the production of prostaglandins, thereby limiting the excessive immune response.

Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and diclofenac. They come in various forms, including oral tablets, capsules, topical creams, and gels. While NSAIDs are effective in managing inflammation and related symptoms, it is important to use them under medical guidance and adhere to recommended dosages.

Using Ibuprofen to Manage Inflammatory Skin Conditions

Using NSAIDs like ibuprofen for managing certain skin conditions has gained attention due to their anti-inflammatory properties. These medications, primarily designed to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, can potentially offer relief for specific skin issues characterized by inflammation and discomfort. (9)

Here are a few skin conditions where NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, might play a role: (10,11)

  • Acne: Inflammation plays a significant role in the development of acne. Topical NSAID formulations or creams containing ibuprofen might help reduce redness, swelling, and pain associated with inflammatory acne lesions.
  • Sunburn: NSAIDs can help alleviate the pain and inflammation caused by sunburn by reducing the production of inflammatory compounds. Applying NSAID-containing creams or gels might provide temporary relief.
  • Rosacea: This chronic skin condition involves facial redness and inflammation. Topical NSAIDs may help manage symptoms and reduce redness in some cases.
  • Contact Dermatitis: Allergic reactions or irritants can lead to inflamed and itchy skin. Topical NSAIDs might help alleviate itching and discomfort associated with contact dermatitis.
  • Insect Bites and Stings: Applying NSAID creams or gels could potentially reduce the inflammation, redness, and itching caused by insect bites and stings.
  • Psoriasis: Some research suggests that topical NSAIDs might help reduce the inflammation and scaling associated with psoriasis.

A study published in the journal “Clinical and Experimental Dermatology” in 2018 investigated the use of a topical ibuprofen formulation for the treatment of psoriasis. The study involved a group of participants with mild to moderate psoriasis. They were treated with a topical gel containing ibuprofen. The results suggested that the ibuprofen gel was associated with a reduction in psoriasis severity, as measured by clinical scores and improvement in skin symptoms. However, this was a small-scale study, and more research is needed to establish the effectiveness and safety of topical ibuprofen for psoriasis treatment. (12)

Another study, published in the “Journal of Dermatological Treatment” in 2012, investigated the effects of oral ibuprofen on psoriasis symptoms. The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial involving participants with mild to moderate psoriasis. The participants were divided into two groups: one receiving oral ibuprofen and the other receiving a placebo. The study found that the group receiving oral ibuprofen experienced significant improvements in psoriasis symptoms, including redness, scaling, and thickness of lesions, compared to the placebo group. However, this study had limitations, including a relatively small sample size. (13)

It is important to note that while these studies suggest some potential benefits of ibuprofen in managing psoriasis symptoms, they are not definitive evidence of its effectiveness. Psoriasis is a complex condition, and treatment approaches can vary widely from person to person. So if you are considering using ibuprofen or any other medication for psoriasis management, it is crucial to consult a dermatologist or healthcare professional. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific condition, medical history, and needs.


It is important to note that while NSAIDs like ibuprofen can provide short-term relief for these skin conditions, they are not the primary treatment and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Overusing NSAIDs, especially when applied topically, can lead to skin irritation, sensitivity, or other side effects. In some cases, oral NSAIDs might be prescribed to manage systemic inflammation associated with certain skin conditions. Before using NSAIDs for skincare purposes, it is advisable to consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific skin condition. They can guide you on proper usage, potential side effects, and whether NSAIDs are a suitable option based on your individual needs and medical history.


  1. Moses, V.S. and Bertone, A.L., 2002. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Veterinary Clinics: Equine Practice, 18(1), pp.21-37.
  2. Dugowson, C.E. and Gnanashanmugam, P., 2006. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics, 17(2), pp.347-354.
  3. Vane, J.R. and Botting, R.M., 1998. Mechanism of action of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The American journal of medicine, 104(3S1), pp.2S-8S.
  4. Peter Brooks, M.D., 1998. Use and benefits of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The American journal of medicine, 104(3), pp.9S-13S.
  5. Díaz‐González, F. and Sánchez‐Madrid, F., 2015. NSAIDs: learning new tricks from old drugs. European journal of immunology, 45(3), pp.679-686.
  6. Frölich, J.C., 1997. A classification of NSAIDs according to the relative inhibition of cyclooxygenase isoenzymes. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 18(1), pp.30-34.
  7. Wallace, J.L. and Soldato, P.D., 2003. The therapeutic potential of NO‐NSAIDs. Fundamental & clinical pharmacology, 17(1), pp.11-20.
  8. Cashman, J.N., 1996. The mechanisms of action of NSAIDs in analgesia. Drugs, 52, pp.13-23.
  9. Sánchez-Borges, M., Capriles-Hulett, A. and Caballero-Fonseca, F., 2005. Risk of skin reactions when using ibuprofen-based medicines. Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, 4(5), pp.837-848.
  10. Friedman, E.S., LaNatra, N. and Stiller, M.J., 2002. NSAIDs in dermatologic therapy: review and preview. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery: Incorporating Medical and Surgical Dermatology, 6(5), pp.449-459.
  11. Layton, D., Marshall, V., Boshier, A., Friedmann, P. and Shakir, S.A., 2006. Serious skin reactions and selective COX-2 inhibitors: a case series from prescription-event monitoring in England. Drug safety, 29, pp.687-696.
  12. Sawangjit, R., Dilokthornsakul, P., Lloyd-Lavery, A., Lai, N.M., Dellavalle, R. and Chaiyakunapruk, N., 2020. Systemic treatments for eczema: a network meta‐analysis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (9).
  13. Ben-Chetrit, E.L.D.A.D. and Rubinow, A., 1986. Exacerbation of psoriasis by ibuprofen. Cutis, 38(1), pp.45-45.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 14, 2023

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