Sloan's Liniment (at right) was once a popular over-the-counter drug store item.

Liniment (or embrocation), from the Latin linere, to anoint, is a medicated topical preparation for application to the skin. Sometimes called balms or heat rubs, liniments are of a similar or lesser viscosity than lotions and are rubbed in to create friction, unlike lotions, ointments or creams,[1][2] but patches, sticks and sprays are also available.

Liniments are typically sold to relieve pain and stiffness, such as from sore muscular aches and strains. or arthritis. These are typically formulated from alcohol, acetone, or similar quickly evaporating solvents and contain counterirritant aromatic chemical compounds such as methyl salicilate, benzoin resin, menthol, or capsaicin; they produce a feeling of warmth within the muscle of the area they are applied to, typically acting as rubefacients via a counterirritant effect.

Liniments have been around since antiquity. Opodeldoc is a formulation invented by the Renaissance physician Paracelsus.

The methyl salicylate that is the active analgesic ingredient in some heat-rub products can be toxic if they are used in excess.[3] Heating pads are also not recommended for use with heat rubs, as the added warmth may cause overabsorption of the active ingredients.

An old bottle of AA Hyde Mentholatum Ointment


A 1914 advertisement

Use on horses

Liniments are commonly used on horses following exercise, applied either by rubbing on full-strength, especially on the legs; or applied in a diluted form, usually added to a bucket of water and sponged on the body. They are used in hot weather to help cool down a horse after working, the alcohol cooling through rapid evaporation, and counterirritant oils dilating capillaries in the skin, increasing the amount of blood releasing heat from the body.[16]

Many horse liniment formulas in diluted form have been used on humans, though products for horses which contain DMSO are not suitable for human use, as DMSO carries the topical product into the bloodstream.[17] Horse liniment ingredients such as menthol, chloroxylenol, or iodine are also used in different formulas in products used by humans.[18]

Absorbine, a horse liniment product manufactured by W.F. Young, Inc., was reformulated for humans and marketed as Absorbine Jr.[19] The company also acquired other liniment brands including Bigeloil and RefreshMint.[20] The equine version of Absorbine is sometimes used by humans,[21] though its benefits in humans may be because the smell of menthol releases serotonin, or due to a placebo effect.[19]

Earl Sloan was a US entrepreneur who made his initial fortune selling his father's horse liniment formula beginning in the period following the Civil War. Sloan's liniment, with capsicum as a key ingredient, was also marketed for human use. He later sold his company to the predecessor of Warner–Lambert, which was purchased in 2000 by Pfizer.[22][23]


Look up liniment in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  1. "Liniment". The Free Dictionary.
  2. "Liniment". UK. Oxford Dictionaries.
  3. Muscle Cream Caused NYC Teen's Death, USA Today, retrieved April 2, 2012
  4. 1 2 Everybody's Family Doctor. London, UK: Odhams Press LTD. 1935. p. 7.
  5. Cross, John (March 13, 1880). "Letters, Notes, and Answers to Correspondents". Br Med J. 1 (1002): 424–426. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.1002.424. PMC 2239646Freely accessible.
  6. Sinha, R P.; Mitra, S K.; Roy, P K. (1967-03-16). "Liniment A.B.C. poisoning". Journal of the Indian Medical Association. 48 (6): 278–9. PMID 6038536.
  7. Weir, Archibald (February 15, 1896). "Fatal Case Of Poisoning By A.B.C. Liniment". The British Medical Journal. 1 (1833): 399–400. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.435.399-a.
  8. Fisher, O D. (November 1954). "Accidental Poisoning of Children in Belfast: A Report of two years' experience at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children". Ulster Med J. 23 (2): 124–131. PMC 2480209Freely accessible. PMID 20476409.
  9. Swinscow, Douglas (February 1953). "Accidental Poisoning of Young Children". Arch Dis Child. 28 (137): 26–29. doi:10.1136/adc.28.137.26. PMC 1988641Freely accessible. PMID 13031693.
  10. Strickland, Eliza (25 January 2006). "Nice Nanostuff, But Is It Safe?". East Bay Express.
  11. "USAT Partners with Flex-Power". USA Triathlon. 13 December 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-11-30. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  12. Icy Hot Products
  13. Icy Hot - Chempedia
  14. Springville Journal Staff. January 30, 2015 The Mentholatum Company thanks WNY residents for success
  15. Tiger Balm: Heritage, retrieved 2009-09-30
  19. 1 2
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