A natural compound extracted from mint plants and oils, menthol produces a cooling sensation on the skin. It’s found in cosmetics, pedicure products, perfumes, lotions, hair products, hygiene products, confectionaries, food, and medicine.
What it is: A natural compound extracted from mint plants and oils; it also can be synthetically produced.
Where it comes from: It is cultivated everywhere, but the U.S. imports a large amount of menthol from India. To extract mint oil from the plant, it is first dried and then distilled. This oil is chilled to -40°C to separate the menthol, which is later crystallized by slow cooling.
Properties: Solid flakes and crystals are waxy and crystalline, and are clear or white in color. At room temperature menthol is solid, but it melts at slightly higher temperatures. Menthol oil is a colorless or pale yellow with a mint odor. Because it is an alcohol, it can be drying.
What it’s good for: Acting as a topical analgesic, menthol helps to relieve minor aches and pains. Often used in pedicure products, menthol cools and soothes foot discomfort. When it is applied to the skin, its chemical structure allows it to quickly penetrate the skin layers and stimulate the cold-sensing nerve endings in the skin, creating a cooling sensation. It is also thought to nourish dull skin and improve oily skin. Cosmetics and perfumes contain menthol, used as a denaturant (so you won’t drink it), flavoring agent, and fragrance ingredient. Its anesthetic properties make it widely used in throat irritation and itch relief medicine and its fresh flavor makes it a common ingredient in food.
Where you’ll find it: Cosmetics, pedicure products, perfumes, lotions, hair products, hygiene products, confectionaries, food, and medicine.
Other uses: It is also a popular additive in cigarettes to cool down the mouth and to lessen the bitter flavor and scent of nicotine. Although the claim is disputed, it is stated that the addition of menthol makes it harder to quit.