Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (topical)

Medication Information Leaflet

What are topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for?

Topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a group of medications commonly used to treat pain and reduce inflammation. They are commonly used for muscle and joint pain or swelling. They are available as either a gel, cream or patch.

Examples of topical NSAIDs available without requiring a prescription include Diclofenac, Flurbiprofen, Ketoprofen and Piroxicam.

How should I use these medications?

  • For creams or gels, apply a thin layer on the affected area and gently rub it into the skin as required 2 or 3 times a day.
  • For plasters, apply 1 plaster on the affected area twice daily as required. Each plaster will last for 12 hours. The plasters are not waterproof.
  • Do not exceed the frequency of use recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Do not apply BOTH the cream or gel and the plaster on the same area of skin.
  • Avoid applying the medication on irritated or broken skin and areas near the eyes, mouth, nose and genitals.
  • Avoid exposing the treated area where you applied the gel to excessive sunlight.

What should I do if I forget to use these medications?

As topical NSAIDs are used frequently or when needed to relieve pain and swelling, it is not necessary to apply it on a fixed schedule. Please check with your healthcare professional if you are unsure.

What precautions should I take when using these medications?

Inform your healthcare professional if:

  • You are allergic to NSAIDs, or any other ingredients used in these medications, sunblocks or perfumes.
  • You are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • You have a history of photosensitivity reaction (redness and inflammation of sun-exposed skin).

Do not use any airtight bandage or dressing over the area of application. This may increase the risk of side effects.

What are some common side effects of these medications?

  • Topical NSAIDs are usually well-tolerated. Common side effects may include mild redness and irritation at the area on which the medication is applied. 
    • These side effects are usually mild and go away after some time. However, if the symptoms are bothersome, do not go away or become worse, stop these medications and consult your healthcare professional.

What are some rare but serious side effects that I need to see a doctor immediately?

The symptoms of a drug allergy include one or more of the following:

  • Swollen face/eyes/lips/tongue
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Itchy skin rashes over your whole body
  • The area, where the medication is applied to, appears itchy, swollen and blistering following exposure to the sun

If you experience any of these rare symptoms, you should stop your medication and see your healthcare professional immediately.

If you did not experience improvement in pain or it worsens after 7 days of treatment, your condition may be too serious for self-treatment and you should consult a healthcare professional.

What should I avoid when I use these medications?

Do not use any airtight bandages or dressing over the area of application. This may increase the risk of side effects.

How should I store these medications?

Store in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight. Keep this medication away from children.

How do I throw these medications away safely?

Pack these medications into a black trash bag and seal it tightly before throwing it into the rubbish chute or bin.


This article is jointly developed by members of the National Medication Information workgroup. The workgroup consists of cluster partners (National Healthcare Group, National University Health System and SingHealth), community pharmacies (Guardian, Unity and Watsons) and Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. The content does not reflect drug availability and supply information in pharmacies and healthcare institutions. You are advised to check with the respective institutions for such information.

The information above is solely for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medicine or other treatment. Always speak with your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking any medicine or supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem. Under no circumstances will the National Medication Information workgroup be liable to any person for damages of any nature arising in any way from the use of such information.

Last updated on September 2023

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