What is menthol and what are its benefits and properties?
Menthol is a naturally occurring organic compound used in cosmetics and personal care products as a denaturant, topical analgesic, fragrance and aroma.
It can be derived from peppermint, cornmint, or other mint oils. Wild mint (Mentha arvensis ) is the main mint species used to produce natural menthol crystals and flakes.
In skin care, menthol essential oil is often infused into creams, ointments and cosmetic products because it gives the skin a fresh feeling.
Origins and diffusion of menthol
Historically, menthol is one of the oldest terpenic compounds (i.e. derived from terpene, a hydrocarbon present in various essential oils and natural resins).
According to some, this compound was already present in Japan in the 1st century AD and was used in traditional herbal preparations. In the Western world, instead, it was first isolated in Germany in the late 18th century.
Today, menthol is rather widespread: according to some estimates, more than 3,000 tons of it are synthetically produced for commercial use every year, involving products ranging from aftershave to topically applied muscle cooling lotions.
It is also widely used as a flavoring agent in skin care and oral care products as well as in perfumery to emphasize floral notes.
Applied topicall, menthol has a soothing and refreshing effect on the skin, but its benefits are not limited to these refreshing effects. It also seems to have cleansing properties that can help reduce the appearance of blemishes.
Menthol is widely used as a flavoring agent in candies and toothpaste, but its internal benefits far outweigh its potent mint taste. Its use in mouthwashes and toothpastes is not strictly related to taste. Clinical research suggests that menthol can help maintain a clean, good smelling and healthy mouth when used as part of a regular hygiene routine.
In concentrations of 1% or lower, menthol depresses the skin sensory receptors, while in concentrations between 1.25% and 16% it stimulates them. It therefore acts as an anti-irritant, which is why we find it in topical medicines to relieve pain.
What are its functions?
When applied topically to the skin, ingested or inhaled, menthol produces a cooling sensation, but does not lower body or skin temperature.
In actual facts, menthol interacts with the TRPM8 protein, an ion channel that allows the passage of sodium and calcium ions, communicating the change in temperature to the brain.
How should you use it on the body?
Menthol's ability to produce a cooling sensation on the skin makes it a very useful ingredient in creams and lotions, to be applied to the skin after sun exposure.
Menthol relieves the hot, painful sensation that overexposure to the sun's rays can trigger. It is also found in products that can be applied topically to the forehead to relieve the pain of headaches, as in the case of cooling patches. It is therfore used as an ingredient in bath and skin care products designed to refresh, revitalize and revive the skin.
Read also: Heavy and tired legs: causes and remedies
Can menthol reduce or soothe pain?
Applied topically, menthol also has pain-relieving properties. It is used to relieve pain associated with musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis, sprains or muscle cramps.
Menthol gels for legs are used to ease the discomforts of heavy and tired legs.
Benefits of menthol
- Cooling agent: some products intended to relieve sunburn contain this ingredient and, therefore, provide the skin that sensation of freshness we were talking about before.
- Decongestant: it is a substance that helps relieve nasal and chest congestion due to colds. Menthol creams must be rubbed directly on the chest.
- Oral care: many products, such as toothpastes, floss, and mouthwashes contain this organic compound that helps clean and freshen the mouth preventing bad breath.
- Sore throat and cough remedy: It is also commonly added to cough drops and cough medicines to relieve sore throats, coughs, and mouth and throat irritations.
- Topical analgesic: some menthol creams, very popular among athletes, help relieve muscle pain, cramps, sprains, skin irritations and headache..