Toxic effects of capsaicin on keratinocytes and fibroblasts

J Burn Care Rehabil. 1998 Sep-Oct;19(5):409-13. doi: 10.1097/00004630-199809000-00010.


Pain management for partial-thickness burns and split-thickness skin graft donor sites remains a persistent problem. Topical capsaicin (trans-b-methyl-N-vanillyl-noneamide) has been successful for pain relief in postherpetic neuralgia, arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy. It is thought to work by inhibiting type C cutaneous factors and by releasing substance P, which is essential for wound healing. To evaluate the effects of topical capsaicin treatment on burn wounds and donor sites, an in vitro study was designed to consider cytotoxic effects of commercial concentrations of capsaicin on keratinocytes and fibroblasts. Human keratinocytes and human fibroblasts were grown in tissue culture and exposed to varying concentrations of capsaicin (0.025% weight/volume to 0.2% weight/volume). In addition, fibroblast-seeded collagen matrixes were exposed to capsaicin to evaluate the compound's ability to cause cytotoxic effects beneath the surface. Keratinocyte growth was reduced 21% to 31% in commercial concentrations of capsaicin 0.025% to 0.20% weight/volume. Fibroblasts were reduced 5% to 10% during the first 6 hours of exposure to capsaicin and 30% after 24 hours across the full range of concentrations tested. At concentrations of at least 0.1% weight/volume, capsaicin penetrated the collagen matrixes, resulting in fibroblast degeneration not only on the surface but also in the inner layers. On the basis of the fact that capsaicin was demonstrated to be cytotoxic to keratinocytes and fibroblasts and on the basis of its known detrimental effect on wound healing, it does not appear that topical capsaicin is indicated for the treatment of burns.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Burns / physiopathology
  • Capsaicin / toxicity*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Collagen / drug effects
  • Extracellular Matrix / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects*
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Substance P / drug effects
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Substance P
  • Collagen
  • Capsaicin