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Peppermint oil for skin: The benefits and risks

This ingredient has a whole host of potential skin benefits.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 25, 2023 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 25, 2023 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

People have been using peppermint essential oil since ancient times as a remedy for a variety of conditions, including some for the skin. More recently, however, it’s gained popularity as an ingredient in commercial skincare products. While some health claims surrounding popular ingredients end up being mostly hype, many of the benefits of peppermint oil for skin have been backed by scientific research.

Here, we’ll take a look at the science-backed benefits of peppermint oil for your skin and how you can incorporate it into your skincare regimen. Of course, no ingredient is one-size-fits-all, so we’ll also go over potential risks and how you can use peppermint safely.

What is peppermint oil?

Peppermint oil is a multi-purpose essential oil extracted from the peppermint plant. Originally it was native to the Mediterranean region, but now it is grown worldwide.¹

People have been using the peppermint plant for its medicinal properties for a long time to help alleviate a variety of ailments, such as stomach complaints, headaches, and cramps. It doesn't stop there, though. Peppermint's diverse benefits have been gaining more recognition, especially in skincare.²

Menthol is the main active ingredient in peppermint. This is a compound that produces a cooling sensation. You’ve probably seen it in topical gels for muscle and joint pain relief. This cooling property also plays a part in peppermint oil's effectiveness in skincare.³

This essential oil has shown potential in treating various skin conditions, including:⁴

  • Wounds.

  • Skin infections.

  • Inflammation.

  • Eczema.

  • Hives.

  • Psoriasis.

  • Scabies.

Additionally, it may be able to provide some relief from itchy bug bites.⁵

What can peppermint oil do for your skin? 

Peppermint essential oil offers a range of impressive benefits for skin health thanks to its unique composition and soothing properties. From its anti-inflammatory effects to its antimicrobial capabilities, this essential oil can be a powerful skincare ingredient. Here's a look at some of the key benefits peppermint oil can provide for your skin:

Antibacterial

Multiple medical studies have shown that peppermint oil may stop or slow the growth of several kinds of bacteria, including: 

  • Staphylococcus aureus (a common skin bacteria).⁶

  • Staphylococcus epidermidis (a bacteria associated with acne).⁷

  • Propionibacterium acnes (another bacteria associated with acne).⁸ 

It’s not just regular strains of bacteria, though. Peppermint oil may also have the ability to fight several multi-drug-resistant strains of bacteria.⁹

Anti-inflammatory

The main active compound in peppermint oil that gives it many of its beneficial properties is menthol. Scientific studies show that when menthol is applied topically to the skin, it may have anti-inflammatory effects. These properties could potentially help to soothe irritation, reduce redness, and calm inflammation.¹⁰

Anti-itching

Researchers have noted the ability of peppermint oil, specifically its active component, menthol, to alleviate itching sensations. This is largely due to menthol's cooling effects on the skin, which seem to effectively diminish the sensation of itch triggered by histamine, a compound involved in local immune responses.¹¹

Additionally, in a small study, a preparation of 5% peppermint oil in a petrolatum base was effective in relieving chronic itchiness resulting from various medical conditions. This solution was more effective than using petrolatum alone, suggesting the potential of peppermint oil as a beneficial ingredient for managing itchiness.¹²

Anti-viral

Using peppermint oil on your skin may be effective against herpes simplex virus type 2 infections. The only catch is that it seems to work better when it's used to suppress cold sores—keep them from erupting in the first place—rather than treating existing cold sores.¹³ 

Sun-protective

Research shows peppermint oil has some sun-protective properties with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) value of around 7.¹⁴ This means it can provide a small amount of protection against the sun's harmful UV rays. In fact, it can even help to improve the potency of traditional sunscreens, enhancing your overall sun protection.¹⁵

However, it's important to note the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 for adequate sun protection.¹⁶ So, while peppermint oil can supplement your sunscreen, it shouldn't be used as your only method of sun protection. Always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, such as Curology’s Everyday Sunscreen, for optimal protection against the sun's harmful rays. It’s also important to remember that sunscreen cannot prevent all harm from UV rays, so be sure to wear protective clothing and seek shade when possible. 

Side effects of peppermint oil 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared peppermint essential oil “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” when used as directed.¹⁷ However, like all essential oils, there are some precautions you should take to avoid potential side effects. 

Essential oils have to be diluted. One of the common concerns with topical essential oils is skin irritation and rashes.¹⁸ Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause contact dermatitis if you don’t dilute them first.¹⁹ Undiluted oils could leave you with itchy, inflamed skin—no one wants that!

You also shouldn’t apply peppermint oil to the face of infants or young children. This is because menthol may potentially affect the breathing of babies and small children. The chances of this happening are low, but it's better to be on the safe side and avoid using peppermint oil in this way.²⁰

In rare cases, you might experience an allergic reaction to peppermint oil. This is more likely (but still rare) in people who have a history of sensitive skin or allergies to other products.²¹ 

Remember, the best way to avoid these potential side effects is to use peppermint oil responsibly. Dilute it in a carrier oil before applying it to your skin, and always perform a patch test to check for any adverse reactions. This involves applying a small amount of the product to your skin twice a day for seven to ten days while you observe for a reaction.²² Ask your dermatology provider for additional patch test instructions! 

How to use peppermint oil on your skin 

While there are many potential benefits to using peppermint essential oil on your skin, it's important to use it correctly to avoid irritation. First, remember never to apply essential oils, including peppermint oil, directly to your skin, as they're highly concentrated. Instead, dilute the peppermint oil with a carrier oil. This reduces the risk of skin irritation, enhances absorption, and slows evaporation. Popular choices of carrier oils for skincare include:²³

Want to know the easiest way to start using peppermint oil in your routine? Check out the variety of skincare products at your local drugstore or beauty aisle that already incorporate peppermint oil in a safe, diluted form. This can be a convenient way to enjoy the potential benefits of peppermint oil without the hassle of diluting it yourself.

Donna McIntyre, a nurse practitioner at Curology advises, “If you have a specific skin condition that you're concerned about or if you're unsure about how to use peppermint oil safely, it's best to consult with a licensed dermatology provider. We can provide personalized recommendations based on your individual skin type and concerns!”

Curology-s The Sunscreen

Curology is here to help 

Looking for other effective skincare ingredients? Get recommendations made just for your skin’s specific needs from a licensed dermatology provider like those at Curology.

Curology was founded by dermatologists who believe everyone should have access to skincare products that actually work. We make it easy to access products with proven ingredients to treat acne, signs of aging, dark spots, or rosacea. 

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FAQs

Can I apply peppermint oil directly to my face?

While peppermint oil has several potential skin benefits, it shouldn't be applied directly to your face. Essential oils like peppermint oil can cause skin irritation due to their concentrated nature. Instead, you should dilute them in a carrier oil before applying. The carrier oil helps to “carry” the essential oil onto the skin, making it safer and more effective to use.²⁴

Is peppermint oil good for face wrinkles?

Peppermint essential oil is known for a variety of health benefits, but, unfortunately, the ability to reduce facial wrinkles isn’t one of them. The oil does have properties that may soothe skin and reduce inflammation, which can be beneficial for certain skin infections.²⁵ However, there's no solid evidence that it can effectively treat or prevent wrinkles on your face. If you’re interested in preventing or treating facial wrinkles, your best bet is to talk with a licensed dermatology provider.

Can you put peppermint oil on your skin?

Yes, you can use peppermint oil on your skin, but you need to know how to do it safely. Peppermint oil has been used for a range of skin conditions due to its potential soothing properties.²⁶ However, its concentrated nature can cause skin irritation if used directly. To prevent this, peppermint oil should be diluted in a carrier oil. Blending an essential oil and carrier oil is believed to make the oil less intense on the skin, slow down the evaporation rate, and increase essential oil absorption.²⁷

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to:

  1. Elsaie, L.T., et al. Effectiveness of topical peppermint oil on symptomatic treatment of chronic pruritus. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2016, October 11).

  2. Elsaie, L.T., et al. Effectiveness of topical peppermint oil on symptomatic treatment of chronic pruritus. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  3. Craighead, D.H. and Alexander, L.M. Topical menthol increases cutaneous blood flow. Microvasc Res. (2016, April 27).

  4. Zhao, H., et al. Peppermint essential oil: its phytochemistry, biological activity, pharmacological effect and application. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. (2022, August 19).

  5. Zhao, H, et al. Peppermint essential oil: its phytochemistry, biological activity, pharmacological effect and application. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Ibid.

  6. Li, J., et al. Peppermint Oil Decreases the Production of Virulence-Associated Exoproteins by Staphylococcus aureus. Molecules. (2011, February 15).

  7. Ghodrati, M., et al. Encapsulation of Peppermint essential oil in nanostructured lipid carriers: In-vitro antibacterial activity and accelerative effect on infected wound healing. Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects. (2019, March 5).

  8. Orchard, A. and van Vuuren, S. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (2017, May 4).

  9. Muntean D, et al. Evaluation of essential oil obtained from Mentha×piperita L. against multidrug-resistant strains. Infect Drug Resist. (2019 September 13).

  10. Zhao, H., et al. Peppermint essential oil: its phytochemistry, biological activity, pharmacological effect and application. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Ibid.

  11. Zhao, H., et al. Peppermint essential oil: its phytochemistry, biological activity, pharmacological effect and application. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Ibid.Ghodrati, M., et al.

  12. Elsaie, L.T., et al. Effectiveness of topical peppermint oil on symptomatic treatment of chronic pruritus. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  13. Mathew, Jr., J. and Sapra, A. Herpes Simplex Type 2. StatPearls. (2022, August 8).

  14. Kaur, C.D. and Saraf, S. In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics. Pharmacognosy Res. (January-February 2010).

  15. Zhao, H., et al. Peppermint essential oil: its phytochemistry, biological activity, pharmacological effect and application. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Ibid.

  16. Hruza, G.J. The American Academy of Dermatology statement on the safety of sunscreen. (2019, May 22). 

  17. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (2023, March 28).

  18. Orchard, A., et al. The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (2019, January

  19. Orchard, A., et al. The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (2019, January 14).

  20. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Peppermint Oil. (October 2020).

  21. Tisserand, R. and Young, R. Essential Oil Safety, Second edition. Churchill, Livingstone, Elsevier. (2014, n.d.).

  22. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to Test Skin Care Products. (2021, August 10).

  23. Orchard, A., et al. The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Ibid.

  24. Orchard, A., et al. The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Ibid.

  25. Muntean D, et al. Evaluation of essential oil obtained from Mentha×piperita L. against multidrug-resistant strains. Infect Drug Resist. Ibid.

  26. Zhao, H., et al. Peppermint essential oil: its phytochemistry, biological activity, pharmacological effect and application. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Ibid.

  27. Orchard, A., et al. The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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