Is There a Topical Gel for Treating Erectile Dysfunction?

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis | Published on February 11, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on February 11, 2014

Discover new treatments to ED.

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a health condition that can be embarrassing and disruptive to your life. ED refers to the inability to have or to maintain an erection. When this occurs from time to time it is generally nothing to worry about. However, regular issues can point to an underlying health problem. It can also cause stress, a loss of confidence, and relationship tension.

It is important to talk to your doctor about ED, even if it feels embarrassing to do so. Treatments are helpful and they are evolving to include topical creams and gels that are easy to use and have minimal side effects.

Traditional Treatments for ED

Your doctor will first want to be sure there are no underlying conditions causing your ED. If there are, those can be treated. If not, you still have good options for treating the condition. Oral medications are helpful for many patients with ED. These include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra), which work by acting on the chemical nitric oxide. These medications help improve blood flow to the penis. When oral medications fail, injections, suppositories, or surgical procedures are sometimes necessary.

Topical Treatments

More recent developments in treatments for ED include topical medications. Oral medications work well for many men, but not everyone can use them. It may not be safe to take ED medications if you already take nitrates or blood thinners, have heart disease, or have diabetes. Oral ED medications can also cause side effects, including headache, nausea, and changes in vision.


For some men, ED may be caused by low levels of the hormone testosterone. Testosterone replacement therapy can potentially help these men. Unfortunately, this strategy does not help men with ED and normal levels of testosterone. The hormone can be delivered in several different ways, but one of the least invasive is a topical application called AndroGel. There are potential side effects, however, including headache, acne, and emotional instability.


Alprostadil is a type of medication called a vasodilator, which can be used to treat ED. Vasodilators cause blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow. Alprostadil is actually identical to a compound found naturally in the body. Men with ED can be treated with this drug by injecting it into the penis or by inserting suppositories into the urethra. It is effective in 80 percent of men, regardless of the cause of the ED. Side effects from alprostadil are not common.

Topical Alprostadil

Alprostadil is effective for most men with ED, but the methods of delivery are invasive and uncomfortable. The injection can cause bleeding, bruising, and scarring. A topical form of the medication has been developed and tested, but has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Testing has shown that the cream helps most men and that side effects are minimal and tolerable.

Although it has already been approved for use in other countries, testing in the United States is still in the clinical trial phase. Physicians treating ED hope that the cream will be available soon.

Topical Vasodilators in the Works

Other vasodilators may be able to be delivered topically to treat ED. None are on the market currently, but researchers have been investigating the possibility. At one time, researchers thought that minoxidil, used to treat hair loss, might help, but studies have been inconclusive.

Other studies have found that mixtures of vasodilators applied topically prove effective for many men with ED. These mixtures have also been found to cause minimal to no side effects. More development and research may lead to better topical treatments with vasodilators.

Delivering Traditional ED Drugs Topically?

Another possibility for future treatment of ED is to deliver the traditional drugs, like Viagra, topically. This would allow men who are not candidates for the oral medications to reap the benefit of these drugs. Men for whom the oral medications are unsafe, or cause too many side effects, would be able to deliver the drug directly to the penis in a controlled manner. The innovative delivery system has already proven successful in animal trials and shows great promise for human use.

Lifestyle Changes for ED

There are many options for treating ED, including new and innovative topical creams and gels. But it is important to understand that simple lifestyle changes can also make a big impact. In many cases of ED, there is no specific underlying medical condition causing the problem, rather a host of unhealthy lifestyle choices that contribute to it.

If you smoke, you should quit. If you drink alcohol, consider cutting back. Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise. With these lifestyle changes, you may not need any medications at all.

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