If you’ve ever had a cough drop, you’ve probably felt the refreshing effects of menthol. Naturally found in peppermint, spearmint, and other mint plants, menthol is known for its tingly, cool sensation in a variety of foods and pain-relieving products.
Menthol has been used to treat pain and irritation for quite some time, and today it’s an ingredient in a variety of lotions, creams, and other skincare products. We know that menthol feels good and smells good, but does it actually benefit your skin? Allow us to explain.
Menthol is an organic compound naturally found in peppermint, spearmint, and other mint plants. It can either be extracted from mint essential oil or synthetically made. Today, menthol is often used to flavor drinks, liqueurs, candy, and cough drops; people love it for its cooling sensation.
It’s also used in topical ointments for irritation, muscle and joint pain, arthritis, and more. In fact, menthol has been used as a tool to relieve pain since the 5th century BC, when Hippocrates used it for peripheral pain, such as in the hands and feet.¹
Menthol can be cooling to our bodies internally, alongside having positive effects when used topically as a skincare ingredient. Studies have shown that menthol is active against bacteria and fungi.²
So what does this mean for your skin? While it’s best to consult a licensed dermatology provider to determine which products may be most effective for you, using skincare products with menthol may be beneficial in a number of ways.
While products made with menthol may feel refreshing on your skin and give off a minty aroma, that’s not all this ingredient can do. Here are a few reasons to consider incorporating menthol into your skincare routine.
Research shows that menthol reduces inflammation through several phases of wound healing, including the tissue remodeling stage and the inflammatory stage.³ Try pairing it with other products that calm inflammation, like The Cleanser, which uses oat extract to help balance and soothe skin.
Because menthol is an anti-inflammatory ingredient, it may accelerate wound healing by influencing the inflammatory response, according to one study. It may also affect epithelialization (wound closure) and cells’ antioxidant systems.⁴
As we mentioned, menthol has been used as a pain reliever throughout history. Today, we know it can desensitize pain receptors and activate central analgesic pathways, which block pain signals that get sent to the brain.⁵
In fact, one study concluded that a topical gel containing menthol was more effective at soothing muscle soreness than topically applied ice, and it allowed for increased muscle contraction.⁶
Topical applications were found to temporarily increase vasodilation, or blood flow. In one study, the ingredient’s effects appeared within 15 minutes and lasted about 45 minutes.⁷
Menthol is penetration-enhancing, meaning it can alter the structure of your skin and allow it to absorb substances.⁸ Not only can it help your skin absorb other ingredients, but menthol itself is able to permeate into your skin effectively.
There are many reasons to give products with menthol a try. But before you do so, keep these potential negative effects and safety guidelines in mind.
Menthol is safely used in a variety of food and medicinal products. However, consuming it in large quantities can lead to dizziness, agitation, and coma, among other symptoms.⁹ When using products with menthol, make sure to carefully follow instructions.
Skincare products with menthol may produce a cooling sensation on your face, but they can be highly irritating if they get in your eyes. To be safe, stay away from eye creams that contain menthol.
In 2012, serious burns were reported with over the counter topical muscle and joint pain relievers containing menthol as a single ingredient or combination products with over 3% menthol and 10% methyl salicylate. These were rare cases, but do be careful to check the label of a menthol product before use.¹⁰
Make sure not to use menthol around heat sources, such as fire, heating pads, hot water, or microwaves, as menthol-containing products such as inhalers/sprays pose a danger to splatter and cause serious burns due to flammability.¹¹ Heat can also cause over-absorption of menthol in your skin, resulting in the death of skin tissue.¹²
Menthol has low water solubility, and it may be difficult to incorporate into skincare products.¹³ As a result, there may be limited options available.
Menthol has been shown to have temporary pain blocking effects, and it may not completely treat skin irritation or pain. It can produce a cooling sensation, but it doesn’t actually lower your skin’s temperature. To find products that treat your symptoms long-term, try consulting with a licensed medical provider.
Menthol may not solve all your skin problems, but by using the right products, you may be able to reap its benefits. Its cooling sensation may be the most useful for those with inflamed or irritated skin, potentially due to acne. Here are a few examples of cosmetic products that can help you get the most out of menthol:
Shaving gels, creams, or foams
Headache balms or roll-ons
Itch-relief lotions, patches, or ointments (in combination with ingested treatment like ibuprofen)
Lip balm (for a plumping effect)
Pain-relief gels or menthol rub
Some people may want to take caution before using menthol products, even if they’re applied properly. We suggest avoiding menthol if the following conditions apply to you:
Allergic to mint: If you’re allergic to any type of mint, or specifically to menthol, stay away from it in skincare products. The menthol in peppermint can lead to contact dermatitis.¹⁴
Prone to dry skin: Menthol can be a skin irritant, and may increase water loss in the skin’s outer layer, potentially leading to dryness.¹⁵ For deep hydration, those with dry skin may benefit from a moisturizer like our Rich Moisturizer, which deploys six hydrating ingredients to restore your skin’s barrier without clogging pores.
When assessing the effectiveness of any new ingredients for your skin, it’s important to get advice you can trust. That’s why Curology uses the recommendations of licensed dermatology providers to answer patient questions and curate individualized treatment plans for each of our patients.
When you sign up with Curology*, all you need to do is send us some closeup pictures of your skin and tell us about your skin goals. We’ll analyze your skin, answer any questions you may have, and get you started with a prescription formula that targets your specific skin concerns. If you want to change it up at any time, just let us know.. And the best part? There’s no pharmacy visits required, as your prescription formula gets sent straight to your door. Visit here to find out more.
There isn’t much direct evidence that menthol clogs pores, and peppermint, which contains menthol, has been used to help treat acne and blackheads.¹⁶
Menthol may temporarily relieve inflammation and may help your skin absorb acne-treating ingredients more effectively. However, it may also increase skin irritation and dryness. To help determine which products may be the most beneficial for your skin, try consulting a licensed dermatology provider. Our Acne Cleanser and Emergency Spot Patch may also help treat symptoms of acne.
If used properly, menthol may provide a number of skin benefits. However, it’s important to make sure you don’t ingest it, use it around your eyes, use it with heat, or apply products with high concentrations of menthol, as doing so may produce harmful results. Also, if you’re allergic to mint, it may be best to stay away from menthol products.
Li, Z., et al. The distinctive role of menthol in pain and analgesia: Mechanisms, practices, and advances. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience. (2022, October 5).
Landau, E. and Shapira, R. Effects of Subinhibitory Concentrations of Menthol on Adaptation, Morphological, and Gene Expression Changes in Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli. Appl Environ Microbiol. (August 2012).
Rozza, A., et al. The Use of Menthol in Skin Wound Healing—Anti-Inflammatory Potential, Antioxidant Defense System Stimulation and Increased Epithelialization. Pharmaceutics. (2021, November 9).
Rozza, A., et al. The Use of Menthol in Skin Wound Healing—Anti-Inflammatory Potential, Antioxidant Defense System Stimulation and Increased Epithelialization. Pharmaceutics. Ibid.
Pergolizzi Jr, J.V., et al. The role and mechanism of action of menthol in topical analgesic products. J Clin Pharm Ther. (June 2018).
Johar, P., et al. A COMPARISON OF TOPICAL MENTHOL TO ICE ON PAIN, EVOKED TETANIC AND VOLUNTARY FORCE DURING DELAYED ONSET MUSCLE SORENESS. Int J Sports Phys Ther. (June 2012).
Craighead, D.H., et al. Mechanisms and time course of menthol-induced cutaneous vasodilation. Microvasc Res. (2016, November 27).
Chen, L., et al. A multiscale study of the penetration-enhancing mechanism of menthol. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences. (October 2019).
Kumar, A., et al. A fatal case of menthol poisoning. Int J Appl Basic Med Res. (April-June 2016).
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Drug Safety Communication: Rare cases of serious burns with the use of over-the-counter topical muscle and joint pain relievers. (2012, September 13).
Federal Register. 21 CFR Parts 201 and 341: Cold, Cough, Allergy, Bronchodilator, and Antiasthmatic Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Amendment of Final Monograph for OTC Antitussive Drug Products. (2000, August 1).