It is used as an ingredient in sunscreens, analgesic creams, and cosmetics. The salicylic acid portion contributes to both the sun protection effect (by absorbing UVB radiation) and to the analgesic effect. The triethanolamine neutralizes the acidity of the salicylic acid. One benefit of this topical analgesic is that it has no odor, in contrast to other topical analgesics such as menthol.
The US Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed any of the over-the-counter products listed in the Daily Med database that contain trolamine salicylate. Also, the producers of trolamine salicylate products have not provided evidence to the FDA in support of claims that this chemical is directly absorbed through the skin into underlying tissue. However, one study reported that trolamine salicylate does penetrate into, and persist within, underlying muscle tissue. The test subjects used either the trolamine salicylate product or a placebo while engaging in an exercise regimen designed to induce muscle soreness. The experimenters observed that those using the trolamine salicylate product exercised longer before reporting the onset of soreness, reported less intense soreness, and reported that their soreness did not last as long as the people who used the placebo.
All of the trolamine salicylate-containing products listed in the two cited references are 10% solutions. These products are sold under various brand names, such as Aspercreme, and are marketed as topical analgesics for temporary relief of arthritis, simple backache, muscle strains, and sprains.
^From DailyMed (a publication of the National Institutes of Health) , retrieved 23 April 2011
^"Effect of a Topical 10% Trolamine Salicylate Cream on Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness", Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 20(2), Supplement, #141 (1988), online at Peak Performance website retrieved 23 April 2011