What Is Menthol?
Menthol is a naturally occurring ingredient that is used in cosmetics and skincare products for its cooling properties and scent. Some studies suggest that menthol can also help relieve mild pain when used as a topical analgesic.
Menthol is an organic compound that can be obtained from peppermint, corn mint, or other mint oils. Mentha arvensis or wild mint is the primary species of mint used to make natural menthol crystals and natural menthol flakes. Menthol can also be synthetically produced. It is a waxy, crystalline substance, clear or white in color, which is solid at room temperature and melts slightly above.
In addition to use in the cosmetic industry, menthol is also a component of several over-the-counter or OTC medications because it has local anesthetic and counterirritant properties. A counterirritant is a substance which creates irritation or mild inflammation in one location with the goal of lessening discomfort and/or inflammation in another location. For this reason, menthol is used in some OTC cold medications as a topical cough remedy, think menthol-based ointments that you rub on your chest.
the good:Helps to give the skin the sensation of cooling, improves the scent of products and may help to reduce mild pain when used topically.
the not so good:Can cause some mild eye irritation from vapour when formulated with alcohol bases.
Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients
Keep an eye on:Nothing to keep an eye on here.
Why Is Menthol Used in Skincare?
In cosmetics and skincare products, menthol is used to help relieve pain and to improve the scent and flavour of the product.
Cooling and pain relief
Menthol can also function as a topical analgesic or pain reliever in certain skincare products. You will often find menthol in cleansers and washes designed for acne or other painful skin conditions that aren’t particularly sensitive or after sun care. This is due to menthol’s ability to create a cooling sensation.
Rather than lowering the temperature of the skin, the cooling effect occurs when menthol blocks the calcium current along the nerves responsible for detecting temperature. The nerve endings translate a message to the brain that the skin is cooling. The cooling sensation provided by menthol makes it a very useful ingredient for after-sun products, such as creams, lotions, and gels, because it alleviates the hot, painful sensation caused by overexposure to the sun. Menthol is also found in products that can be applied topically to the forehead in order to relieve pain due to headaches.
Scent and flavor
Other uses for menthol in cosmetics and personal care products include as a fragrance and flavoring ingredient. Menthol has a characteristic minty taste and smell. Lastly, menthol is used in lip care products because it improves blood flow to that area, resulting in a temporary plumping effect.
Is Menthol Safe to Use on Skin?
The United States Food and Drug Administration or FDA includes menthol on its list of substances considered Generally Recognized As Safe for use in food. It is also an approved direct food additive. The FDA has also determined that menthol is safe and effective in OTC cold drug products as a topical antitussive (cough remedy) and in OTC anorectal drug products as an analgesic, anesthetic, and antipruritic. Studies by the US National Toxicology Program have determined that menthol is not genotoxic or carcinogenic.
What Are Some Other Uses of Menthol?
Menthol is used as a denaturant which is used in products that contain ethanol. Since ethanol is used to make alcohol that is able to be digested such as liquor, wine, and beer, menthol is used to avoid paying taxes on alcohol that is not intended to be consumed. In the United States, alcoholic beverages are heavily taxed. In order to avoid paying beverage taxes on alcohol that is not meant to be consumed such as for use in cosmetic and personal care products, the alcohol must be denatured per specific formulations given by the U.S. Government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The process adds a small amount of a denaturant to the alcohol to make it taste bad, thus creating alcohol that is not suitable for drinking, but is otherwise similar for other purposes.
References:Yosipovitch, G, Szolar, C, Hui, X & Maibach, H, 1996. ‘Effect of topically applied menthol on thermal pain and itch sensations and biophysical properties of the skin’, Archives of Dermatological Research, vol. 288, pp. 245-248.
Pergolizzi, J, et al. 2018. ‘The role and mechanism of action of menthol in topical analgesic products’, The Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, vol. 43, is.3.