DMSO is a colorless chemical solvent that may have many medical uses but is currently only approved by the FDA to treat interstitial cystitis.

The story of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is an unusual one. This by-product of the paper making process was discovered in Germany in the late 19th century. It’s a colorless liquid that gained notoriety for its ability to penetrate the skin and other biological membranes.

Scientists discovered that they could use DMSO as a transportation device to pass small molecules through skin in the 1960s. Since then, scientists have researched the potential benefits and risks of using DMSO to treat a variety of conditions. This research is ongoing.

DMSO was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)to treat interstitial cystitis (a chronic bladder issue) under the brand name RIMSO-50.

The compound has no other approved uses, but it’s been purported to be a treatment for:

  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • chemotherapy side effects
  • general pain

Because it absorbs easily into the skin, it’s also been studied as a vehicle for administering topical drugs.

In the late 70s, the FDA approved DMSO to help treat interstitial cystitis. It remains the only FDA-approved bladder installation (or bladder wash) for this condition. For individuals living with interstitial cystitis, DMSO has been shown to:

  • ease pain due to the condition
  • help relax the bladder
  • increase bladder capacity

When it comes to off-label uses, DMSO is often employed as an alternative treatment to reduce inflammation and pain.

Because it absorbs easily into the skin, DMSO may be a beneficial alternative to other pain medications. However, further investigation into this area is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.

DMSO has also been touted for its ability to reduce the amount of leakage during chemotherapy administration, but more studies, and real-world usage, need to be done before it can be labeled as a trusted method.

Additionally, there has been some research into DMSO’s benefits when it comes to inhibiting cancer cells. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Medical Discovery found evidence of benefit. However, research is just beginning in this area, so many more studies need to be done before any conclusions can be made.

While many of the reported side effects of taking DMSO are mild, the amount of DMSO someone takes is directly correlated to the severity of the reaction.

One common side effect is the taste of garlic in the mouth and throat.

More severe side effects include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach ache
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • chills
  • a lowered heart rate
  • itching
  • rash
  • rough or thickened skin


Because it’s seen as a more alternative treatment, DMSO is easy to find and buy online. However, buying this product and using it without a healthcare professional’s supervision could increase the likelihood of overuse.

DMSO may also increase the effect of a few medications, which could produce serious reactions in some people. A few medications DMSO may affect include:

  • sedatives
  • blood thinners
  • steroids

DMSO can be administered

  • topically, via a gel or solution
  • as a bladder wash, via a catheter (for interstitial cystitis)

As with any alternative treatment, it’s always advised to talk with a doctor before deciding to purchase any product that contains DMSO. Dosage is directly connected to the severity of possible side effects.

Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a chemical solvent that is sometimes used to help reduce inflammation and pain, and may also be beneficial in reducing leakage during chemotherapy treatment.

It has been FDA approved to treat only one condition: interstitial cystitis.

Because of possible interactions with other common medications, and lack of definitive research into its benefits, DMSO should not be used without medical supervision.