pots of cream in the shape of the letter T

Is Topical Testosterone Cream Right For You?

Everything you need to know before you slather it on.

Fast Facts

  • Testosterone replacement therapy can be delivered in several forms, including injections, tablets, and testosterone cream.
  • Testosterone cream for men is a popular choice since the cream is absorbed directly into the skin.
  • It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions about testosterone cream and to always wash your hands after application to avoid unintentionally transferring it to others, which could be harmful.

When you start testosterone replacement therapy, your prescribing physician may offer a few different options for getting additional T into your system, including patches, tablets, injections, creams, and gel. Testosterone cream is a popular option, especially for men who don’t relish regularly being at the sharp end of a needle. (If you do opt for injections, our definitive guide to self-injections will help make the process as painless as possible.)

If you’re trying to decide if a testosterone cream for men might be the right delivery method for you, here’s what you need to know about how it works and how to apply it.

Why Is Testosterone Cream Prescribed?

Testosterone is a critical hormone that:

  • Increases muscle mass and strength
  • Improves mental clarity
  • Helps maintain memory
  •  Helps skin from sagging
  • Decreases excess body fat
  • Helps maintain bone strength
  • Increases libido
  • Helps treat Erectile Dysfunction
  • Improves firmness of erections
  • Increases energy/vitality
  • Increases endurance
  • Helps with low self-esteem
  • Increases HDL
  • Improves anxiety
  • Improves irritability
  • Improves depression
  • Improves competitive drive
  • Improves motivation
  • Supports the immune system
  • Improves joint pain
  • Helps urinary incontinence
  • Helps with weepiness
  • Helps in tissue repair
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves headaches
  • Increases sense of emotional well being

T starts to decline in a man’s mid-30s, at a rate of around 1 percent per year, but for some men, the decline is sharper.

Related: What Are Normal Testosterone Levels By Age?

If testing shows that you have a testosterone deficiency, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can help you feel better. Researchers estimate that just under 40% of men over 45 have clinically low T. Low T can be caused by genetics, trauma, toxins, estrogen-like compounds, and a variety of medical problems, including those involving the testicles, pituitary gland (which sits at the base of your brain), or hypothalamus (a part of the brain the size of a pea which links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland and helps maintain homeostasis).

Symptoms of Low T

Symptoms of testosterone deficiency vary, but many men report:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sad, moody, or irritable
  • Difficulty enjoying life in general
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Lack of energy and endurance
  • Weight gain, especially around the midsection
  • Loss of muscle tone, stamina, and strength
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Joint pain
  • Low libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Brain fog, Memory loss
  • Hair loss
  • Inability to focus
  • Decline in confidence
  • Cardiovascular disease, diabetes
Are you experiencing symptoms of low T?

Hone can measure your testosterone levels. If they’re low, physicians can prescribe treatment to boost T and improve symptoms.

How Does Testosterone Cream Work?

Testosterone cream for men tends to have a moisturizing emollient base. You apply it like any other lotion. The additional testosterone is absorbed by your skin and, over time, helps to bump your T levels back up to normal. As your T levels are being balanced, you will begin to feel positive changes which may continue upwards of one year.

“Don’t expect to feel like superman day one,” says Jamin Brahmbhatt, M.D., a board-certified urologist. If you don’t feel that you’re getting the desired results, talk to your doctor. He or she may look at adjusting your dose or using a different delivery method. Knowing if you’re taking the right type and dose of testosterone depends on how your symptoms are improving, as well as what your lab results indicate.

Related: How to Legally Buy Testosterone Online

How To Apply Testosterone Cream for Men

When your prescription arrives, read the label and follow the application instructions.

In general, you’ll apply the cream in the morning, ideally at the same time each day. (If you have trouble remembering, set a reminder on your phone or pair it with another daily habit. For instance, take a shower, then apply the cream after toweling off.)

Wash your hands and glove up if you prefer. Put the cream into the palm of your hand and apply it to clean dry skin. (If it’s easier, you can put the cream directly onto your skin and then rub it in with your palm.)

Only use the amount directed by your physician. At your appointment, make sure you’re clear on the dose to use and where to apply it. Many men choose their shoulders, upper arms, stomach, testicles, or inner thighs.

Last step: Wash your hands again. It’s possible to spread testosterone cream to others, and you don’t want to transfer T to an object or friends, colleagues, or family with a handshake or hug.

We can’t stress this hand-washing step enough. If you accidentally apply testosterone to someone who doesn’t need it, research shows that it can have adverse effects. For example:

  • In women, unintended transfer of testosterone can cause abnormal hair growth, irregular periods, and male pattern baldness. It can also cause their voice to deepen.
  • In children who are exposed to topical testosterone, the development of pubic hair has been reported, as well as enlargement of the penis or clitoris, increased number of erections and libido, advanced bone age, and aggressive behavior.
  • Pregnant women should avoid coming into contact with this medicine, or with a man’s skin where the medicine has been applied.

Testosterone cream is absorbed by your skin and, over time, helps to bump your T levels back up to normal.

Side Effects

It’s a good idea to watch for side effects when starting any new medication, and testosterone cream is no exception. Some of the known side effects are somewhat vague, and it’s easy to chalk them up to other causes. (For example headaches or moodiness can be stress-related. Dry skin may be because it’s the dead of winter.) Still, if you start on T and notice new symptoms, it could be due to your testosterone being too high. Call your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Breast enlargement or pain
  • Testicular shrinkage
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Infertility
  • Oily skin or Acne
  • Hair loss
  • Mood changes
  • Headache
  • Eye-watering
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin redness or irritation

Some side effects can be serious, so seek medical attention right away if you feel any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Arm or leg weakness
  • Shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty talking

Related: The Side Effects of TRT 

Who Shouldn’t Use Testosterone Cream For Men?

Be sure to tell your physician if any of the below apply. Using testosterone cream if you have one of these conditions could be harmful.

  • Known breast or prostate cancer
  • Palpable prostate nodule
  • PSA >4.0 ng/dl (without urologic evaluation)
  • Known hypersensitivity
  • Untreated severe sleep apnea
  • Uncontrolled or poorly controlled severe heart failure
  • Active desire for fertility
  • Heart attack within the previous 6 months

What About Over The Counter T Creams?

You may have seen testosterone cream on pharmacy shelves (or even at gas stations). It’s important to note that this is different from a prescription you get from a doctor. Over-the-counter (OTC) testosterone creams for men have a different formulation compared to Rx.

OTC testosterone creams often contain a range of herbs and extracts that companies claim supports hormonal health but may have little research supporting them. In addition, most OTC low T supplements, which contain a range of vitamins, minerals, and herbals in an oral form, have not been shown to increase T at all and many contain nutrients above safe levels, concludes 2020 research in The World Journal of Men’s Health. And supplements aren’t FDA-regulated.

“I personally do not recommend any specific supplements for testosterone replacement,” says Brahmbhatt. “I recommend basic healthy eating and exercise to ‘naturally’ boost T,” he says.

The Bottom Line

Testosterone cream can help raise testosterone levels by supplementing the amount of testosterone your body produces. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions about testosterone cream and to always wash your hands after application to avoid unintentionally transferring it to others, which could be harmful.