What is a Topical Gel?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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A topical gel is a gel substance, which often contains some form of medicine and is applied to the skin or the mucus membranes. Though we think of topical gel as only for the skin, there are gels for toothaches and teething, and for conditions affecting the vagina, like vaginal dryness. Many people prefer gel forms when they are applying topical medications, especially over lotions or ointments. In most cases a topical gel is clear and it tends to be more readily absorbed by the skin than is a lotion or ointment. You usually won’t see traces of the applied gel once you’ve placed it on the skin.

Gel is considered a solid, or classed by some as a semi-solid. It often results in the mid-process of converting a liquid into a resin. Most topical gel types lack the stickiness of resin. However some gel forms, like petroleum jelly or Vaseline®, can still feel pretty heavy on the skin.

Typically the newer topical gel types as prescribed for a variety of skin conditions tend to be very light, with a water base, and don’t have the same viscosity as products like petroleum jelly. There are numerous medications that are available in topical gel form. A wide number of topical acne products are gels, and skin treatments for conditions like rosacea may come in gel form as well.


You’ll find medications in topical gels in both prescription and non-prescription form to treat a wide variety of conditions. Topical gels may be used to address acne, fungal infections, itches, burns, infections, and there are even some gels that are used in place of sunscreen lotions or to protect from insect bites. Their principle advantage is their quick ability to rub into the skin, though some argue that using creamier lotions or ointments, particularly for sun protection, may give you a better sense of exactly how much you need to put on in order to get the sun protection you need.

Acne medication in particular may most often come in topical gel form, since a lotion could potentially contribute to blocked pores, worsening acne. Other topical gels may not be as useful as their ointment counterparts. For instance, it may be of advantage to use an ointment that doesn’t completely rub into the skin to treat conditions like diaper rash. The extra oil in diaper rash ointments, though it can be hard to wash off your hands, helps provide baby with extra protection against wet or messy diapers. In this case, most gels, especially those with a water base, wouldn’t provide as much protection.


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Post 3

What would be the benefit, medically, of using a gel rather than an internal medication? I mean, I can understand if it's something that has to do directly with skin, like that Duac topical gel or benzoyl peroxide, but what about the gels that are made for largely internal complaints, like arthritis?

What is the benefit of using an external gel for an internal complaint? Can somebody clear this up for me?

Post 2

Nice article -- I like how you didn't just focus on topical analgesic gels, and how you branched out into skin care gels as well.

Many people in the skin care industry believe that gel really is the future thing as far as cleansing and treating acne goes, since it's just so much harder to clog pores with a gel than with a lotion.

You may have noticed that even more scrubs are becoming gel based, not to mention the peeling masks and dermatologist-prescribed acne gels.

It really is much better for oily skin than a lotion, since lotions are essentially oil and moisture themselves, and that's the last thing that oily or combination skin needs!


also work well for those with large pores, since they can penetrate into the pores and clean them out without any trauma (like a Biore strip, for example) that would enlarge them.

You could do an entire article on gel in the beauty industry...I'll keep an eye out for it ;)

Post 1

What would you say is the best topical analgesic gel? My father has severe rheumatoid arthritis, and he's been using Lidocaine topical gel for a while, but it's stopped working as well for him.

Before that he tried the ibuprofen topical gel, and and got really about the same effects.

I had heard about something called DMSV gel, has anybody tried it? I know it's pretty strong, and it's not actually sold in the US for medical purposes, since it's a kind of solvent, but if it could help my dad, then I'd definitely be willing to order some from Europe.

Has anybody used it, and can you tell me if it worked for you?

Thanks so much.

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