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Be Careful With Sports Creams, Gels

Armen Hareyan's picture

Sports Creams, Gels

Arielle Newman, a track and cross-country athlete for Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island, NY, died in her sleep. The cause of death? Sports creams.

"Many people don't know that one of the ingredients in some sports creams and gels -- methyl salicylate -- can be very toxic if they use too much of it," says Stan Reents, PharmD, a certified personal trainer, fitness counselor, and tennis coach. "It's like an aspirin overdose."

Methyl salicylate, also known by the name oil of wintergreen, can penetrate the skin barrier pretty easily, says Reents, author of the text "Sport and Exercise Pharmacology" and creator of www.AthleteInMe.com.

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"Medical personnel know that consuming oil of wintergreen (i.e., orally) can lead to serious toxicity, but no one expected the same kind of toxicity from applying sports creams to the skin," says Reents, a former health care professional. "I found several other cases of toxicity in the medical literature."

"How you use these products makes a big difference in how much is absorbed," says Reents, who is a tennis player and has competed in triathlons.

There are a number of factors that increase the risk of toxicity, including: applying a heavy thickness, applying it to a large area of the body, using it multiple times per day, applying a dressing or heating pad over the same area, and, surprisingly, applying it during or immediately after exercise, especially in hot conditions.

It's likely that several of these factors contributed to the death of the young track athlete from New York.

Some manufacturers produce multiple formulations under the same brand name. "Coaches, trainers, and athletes need to read the label on these products. You can't determine what they contain just by looking at the product's name."

AthleteInMe.com is a web site devoted to providing high-quality information on exercise, fitness, training, sports nutrition, and fitness gear for consumers and athletes. A thorough review of this topic can be found on the website in the story "Sports Creams."