In this series, we'll explore the history, common usage, and modern applications of each plant based ingredient in the Cardiff line.
What is menthol?
Menthol is an organic compound made from a combination of oils from the Mentha family — corn mint, peppermint and other mint varietals. Typically clear or white in color, menthol is a waxy substance that’s solid at room temperature and melts just slightly above that, closer to body temperature.
Mentha arvensis, or wild mint, is considered the primary species of the herb used to create menthol crystals and menthol flakes. This specific species flourishes in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. Menthol also occurs naturally in peppermint alongside other organic compounds.
Known best for the cooling sensations it provides and potential healing properties it possesses, menthol is a popular ingredient in a variety of self-care and cosmetic products. A recent 2017 study revealed menthol was actually the 193rd most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 2 million prescriptions.
A diverse ingredient to say the least, menthol can be ingested / consumed, inhaled, or applied topically. As with many natural products though, users must make an effort to understand menthol to experience it at its best while also exercising some degree of caution. Considering menthol benefits in particular, users may have questions about the safety of the cooling sensations it provides.
In short, the “cooling” is a molecular interaction with one’s calcium channels. Receptors that typically indicate feelings of warmth or coolness are triggered by menthol’s effects, causing the sensations.
Menthol was first isolated in the West in 1771, by Hieronymus David Gaubius. However, the compound’s source of minty essential oils have been used for much of history. Mentha piperita and mentha haplocalyx are both considered by science as plant sources of menthol and menthone and are actually among some of the oldest herbs used for both culinary and medicinal products.
It’s fair to say menthol’s use has shifted through time and through its different phases of popularity. Prior to menthol’s true existence as it’s known today, peppermint was used for its internal soothing properties. As science improved, and the organic compound of menthol came to be incorporated into medicinal products, peoples' uses moved to the exterior as well. Now, many use menthol for skin products and have discovered the potential menthol benefits for muscle pain.
In current application, menthol is usually paired with other active ingredients in a multitude of products ranging from cough drops, to skin protectants. Thanks to its revitalizing effects, menthol can be used to refresh the body in countless ways.
A soothing lotion after a long day in the sun, a cooling patch for headache relief, a minty lip balm for chapped lips — the compound can now be found in nearly every aisle of the drugstore. Recognizing menthol’s pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, users have also come to depend on the organic substance as a carminative more seriously. Rather than use mint tea to treat muscle ache and intestinal irritation, modern medicine now has more streamlined menthol products like topical balms and ingestible capsules.
Menthol can currently be found in a variety of products including:
- Topical treatments
- Skin salves
- Muscle balm
- Lip balm
- Cough suppressing products
- Bath salts / soaks
- Diffuser oils
- Soaps & cosmetics
As previously stated, menthol has made itself a mainstay in not only historical, but modern medicinal practices and spa-like treatments.
In the more topical realm, menthol for skin has been very helpful to those suffering from sun-induced irritations. The cooling sensations created by menthol provides a beneficial touch to creams, gels and lotions used to alleviate pain and headaches. The organic compound has also been known to fight bacteria and therefore allow for quicker, improved healing.
Possible menthol benefits for muscle pain have also been discovered through both personal testimony and clinical studies. Because of its refreshing sensations and ability to encourage targeted blood flow, menthol can temporarily relieve painful muscle stiffness and tightness. In another niche study using menthol for skin, specifically the nipples of brest-feeding mothers, use of a gel or essential oil of its type was helpful in treating pain, dryness and skin cracking.
Menthol, and peppermint oil products at large, demonstrate a considerable selection of potential health benefits and are fairly easy to access. Whether menthol products are applied to the skin directly, massaged into areas of muscle pain, or inhaled through a diluted diffuser, the powerful organic compound is truly what users make out of it.