Voltaren cream vs gel

What Is Voltaren?

Let's first define what Voltaren is. Voltaren is a medication containing diclofenac, an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), and it is a non-inflamatory. Diclofenac is used commonly for inflammatory joint disease, such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.1 NSAIDs reduce substances in the body that cause pain and inflammation. 2 Diclofenac is classified as a COX-2 inhibitor, which specifically targets an enzyme involved in pain.
There are side effects to taking NSAIDs orally, so topical preparations have been developed for site-specific application that delivers more of the medicine to an affected area while decreasing absorption into the rest of the body. It is more of a surgical strike of sorts.

With this strategy, the pharmaceutical industries are constantly trying to improve absorption, while increasing pain relief and decreasing the chances of side effects from systemic absorption.


What is Voltaren used for?

Diclofenac, the active ingredient in Voltaren, comes as a pill, but the topical preparations are very popular for the above cited reasons relating to inflammation. Topical preparations refer to creams and gels. So topical Voltaren, otherwise called Voltaren Gel or Voltaren Cream, is used by applying it to the affected areas with a frequency and amount of application as directed by a doctor.3 Different concentrations are used for different diagnoses, and different preparations are designed for immediate vs. long-lasting benefits.

Voltaren is not for long-term use, as there are still concerns about systemic absorption. Because some of the diclofenac will get into the system, just as there are warnings about diclofenac in the oral route of administration, a patient using a topical preparation needs to be aware so that side effects can be reported promptly.


Still confused about what are Voltaren Gel and Cream are?

Any listing of the available forms of Voltaren has to untangle the terms—sometimes used synonymously—among cream, gel, lotion, and ointment. Such preparations are mixed with an oil to make a balance between viscosity (thickness) and ease of spreading on the skin.

Ointment is the most oil-heavy, with an 80/20 oil:water ratio; a cream is 50/50; a lotion has even less oil. Voltaren comes as either a gel, patch, or the “Emulgel” preparation. In other words, if you are wondering what Voltaren Cream is? Well, the cream is similar to Voltaren gel, the main difference being the cream is thicker than the gel, and the opposite can be said about the gel. Voltaren gel is similar to Voltaren cream, but not as thick of a solution.

  • Cream—with Voltaren, the cream is used the same as with the gel.


  • Gel—the 1% skin gel is used for arthritis, while the 3% formulation is used for actinic keratosis.

 Besides, the gel or cream forms of Voltaren, there is also another solution called Emulgel and a patch. 

  • Emulgel4—this is diclofenac specifically compounded with DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), in a combination of a gel and a cream. The DMSO enhances penetration of the diclofenac (active ingredient) through the skin and—as is different from the gel/cream—can get into the synovial fluid of joints better. This give greater relief.


Emugel Original—1.16% diclofenac

Extra Strength—2.32% diclofenac


  • Patch—uses diclofenac epolamine instead of the sodium preparation. This is a different type of type of salt that has enhanced penetration of the skin.5


What are the most common side effects of  Voltaren Gel and Voltaren Cream?6

Since the topical preparation includes an agent to transfer the diclofenac through the skin into the tissues, the same side effects seen with the oral ingestion of Voltaren can occur, although at significantly reduced risk. Nevertheless, these include:

  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea, constipation
  • Headache, dizziness, drowsiness
  • Stuffy nose
  • Itching, sweating
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Skin reactions at applications site


Who shouldn’t use Voltaren?

People should not use a COX-2 inhibitor or other NSAIDs with certain other medical conditions or who are taking certain medications.7 People on blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or even aspirin, or on any other NDAIDs should not use it for fear of enhancing the blood clotting changes. People who abuse alcohol should not use it, as there is a risk of doubling the risk of stomach bleeding and kidney damage.

About 10% of asthmatics have aspirin-sensitive asthma, which poses considerable danger with any NSAIDSs,8 including the diclofenac in topical Voltaren.

Voltaren prices comparison

When it comes to price, their cost is not far off from each other. Maybe a couple of dollars. Here are some prices as per YouDrugstore.com today. Prices do change over time, so take these with a grain of salt.

Voltaren Emulgel Extra Strength: $27.99  > See current price
Voltaren Emulgel Joint Pain: $27.03 > See current price
Voltaren Emulgel Original: $33.12 > See current price
Voltaren Ophthalmic: $24.57 > See current price


Which is better—the gel or the Emulgel?

Studies9,10,11 have consistently shown the Emulgel is superior, delivering better relief of pain. This is due to the enhanced penetration of the skin. The Emulgen is described by the manufacturer as a combination of cream and gel which uses the DMSO to carry the medication through the skin for better effectiveness. The difference in relief can be significant between the Emulgel and the other topical approaches.


Until newer designs in drug delivery come along, for Voltaren, it is clear that the Emulgel is the better choice.

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