Ingredient Decoder: Menthol

That tingly sensation you get when you put Tiger Balm on a sore muscle or pop a minty cough drop? It makes you feel like something—whatever that something may be—is working. But is it? In the case of menthol, the answer is yes.

Where it’s From

Menthol is a naturally occurring compound (technically an alcohol) found in mint oils. It can also be synthetically produced.

Where it’s Found

You find it in everything from cigarettes to cough drops. It’s in candies and gum, toothpaste and mouthwash, lip balm and face masks.

How it Works

Menthol is most known for the cooling effect it produces when inhaled, ingested, or applied to the skin. To geek out for a moment: Menthol triggers cold-sensitive receptors in much the same way that the chemical in hot peppers (capsaicin) stimulates heat-sensitive receptors. Neither causes an actual change in temperature–it’s just the sensation.

What it’s Good For

When it comes to skincare, menthol can reduce redness and increase circulation to invigorate dull, tired complexions. In ZIRH's Clean face wash, for example, menthol acts as an anti-irritant and leaves your skin feeling tingly and cool. Menthol can also be an analgesic (pain killer), local anesthetic, or decongestant. It can aid digestion, treat sunburn, and even fight bad breath, as it does in the case of C.O. BIGELOW's Mentha Lip Balm, which pairs menthol with moisturizing shea butter.

Need to Know

If you have sensitive skin, be careful not to overdo it on the menthol. It is an alcohol and can, in some cases, cause mild irritation or skin dehydration. If your skin is really sensitive, look for L-Menthyl Lactate, a combination of menthol and lactic acid, which is less irritating but comes with the same cooling, calming effect.

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