Simply because you don’t swallow a drug or need a prescription to obtain it doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous if used incorrectly. That’s the case with methyl salicylate, an aspirin-type ingredient found in some creams and ointments, such as Bengay. Methyl salicylate, also known as oil of wintergreen, helps relieve muscle and joint aches or minor back pain, strains and sprains. Used at very high doses, it can cause internal bleeding, abnormal heart rhythms and liver problems, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Methyl salicylate creams and ointments shouldn’t be used for more than seven days, nor applied to bruised or damaged skin or used under a tight bandage or near the eyes. Topical preparations—medicines applied to the skin—like these are among the eight most common substances that cause poisoning, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. So no matter what type of drug you’re ingesting or applying to your body, be sure to read and follow all label directions—and hold onto packaging for future reference.