There is some evidence that menthol, originating within the peppermint plant, has been used in Japan for more than two millennia to help with indigestion, nausea, bad breath, sore throat, and soothe airways.
In the West, however, menthol was not isolated from peppermint for herbal treatments until the late 18th century. You might be familiar with using menthol; the herb is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter products today. In vapor rubs, for example, menthol has been used as a cough suppressant and to promote relaxation of airways by countering congestion. It has an instant cooling effect, that numbs and soothes irritated air passages, allowing you to breathe more freely.
Menthol is also included in many topical ointments to provide instant relief for aches and pain, swelling, bruises, and muscle tension. The reason menthol is so effective is because its recognizable instant-cooling sensation acts as a counterirritant to dampen pain sensations. Once applied to the skin, it interacts with pain receptors and encourages them to remain calm and loosen up tension and constriction.
Menthol health benefits
Whether you suffer from ongoing pain, or simply slept in an unusual position, you’ve likely tried a topical pain reliever before. These gels, creams, sprays, and patches are applied directly to the skin, and they often include the notoriously minty and cooling ingredient – menthol.
What is menthol?
Menthol, sometimes referred to as “mint camphor,” is a naturally occurring organic compound derived from peppermint or other mint oils, and it has been used for its analgesic properties since ancient times.
Mentha arvensis, also known as wild mint, field mint, Japanese mint, Chinese mint, and corn mint, is the main species of mint used to obtain menthol crystals and menthol flakes, but it can also be produced synthetically. In its natural state, menthol is a waxy substance, white or clear in color, that remains solid at room temperature but begins to melt when slightly above.
With its strong minty scent, a nod to its originating plant, menthol is popularly used as an ingredient in oral care products for its unique cooling sensation, added as a natural fragrance or flavor ingredient in self-care products, or used for its analgesic and counterirritant properties, which make it a popular ingredient in throat lozenges and over-the-counter (OTC) topical pain relief products.
Menthol in topical pain relievers
Used medicinally, menthol acts as a counterirritant by imparting a cooling effect, and by initially stimulating nociceptors (pain receptors) and then desensitizing them. This counterirritation overpowers pain signals and helps to make the pain more manageable.
Here’s a breakdown of how menthol’s counterirritation works:
- Upon topical application, menthol’s cooling sensation tricks the mind into thinking that our body or skin temperature is dropping which, in turn:
- Interrupts pain signals to the brain that ultimately:
- Desensitizes the nerve endings, temporarily
It’s similar to how ice or an ice pack works by decreasing arterial blood flow.
Why we use menthol | healthy, beyond relief
It can be disheartening to try a topical pain reliever and not experience relief. That said, research shows us that menthol is an effective ingredient for pain management and for providing relief quickly. It’s especially effective when used in combination with other ingredients that support healing and long-lasting comfort, which is why every pump of Rightful Pain Relief & Recovery Cream is made of 4% menthol, along with four other plant-powered ingredients.
Menthol for relief:
- Produces cooling sensations that dampen pain signals
- Provides fast-acting relief of localized aches and pains
- Exhibits antispasmodic properties that help to relax tense or sore muscles
Menthol for beyond relief:
- Gives a natural minty scent that doesn’t linger
- Promotes the relaxation of airways by countering congestion