If your goal is to find a natural pain relief ingredient, menthol is one of the most effective natural pain killers around. Menthol is present in a variety of medical and cosmetic products including mouthwash, gum and breath mints, Chap Stick and toothpaste. Thousands of products contain menthol, but it is most effective in pain relief products.
Menthol is derived from the plant family known as ‘genus mentha’ but you may know it as peppermint or mint plants. There is a large family of mint that includes winter mint, spearmint and corn mint among others. Plants from the genus menthe family grow all over the world in Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and Australia.
Deriving the menthol from these plants is a complicated process that involves extracting the oils from the leaves, that end up in pain relief products.
Menthol & Pain Relief
Although when most of us think of minty pain relief products, we think of products like Icy Hot that give off that tingling sensation and strong odor. That is part of the magic of menthol, but only a part. That cooling sensation that provides instant pain relief is due to the analgesic properties found in menthol products.
This is one of the reasons that the most effective menthol products for pain relief are topical, that is they are lotions and gels that are applied directly to the skin. Molecules present in menthol are known as ‘ligands’ and they attach to pain receptors in the body to numb the pain. This is why many people associate that menthol scent with soothing pain relief.
But there are other reasons that menthol pain relief products are so effective, and it is also related to the topical nature of these products. When you apply menthol pain relief creams and gels to your sore muscles, it causes the blood vessels to widen and increase blood circulation to the injured area. This is known as vasodilation and it is yet another reason that menthol products are so effective for pain relief.
The rubbing motion helps get oxygen-rich blood flowing through the affected area, and that provides almost instant pain relief. The menthol combined with other ingredients found in these products expedite the pain relief and the rubbing motion increases blood flow for quicker cell repair.
Menthol also acts as an anti-inflammatory to sore muscles, which is what causes that instant cooling sensation common with pain relief creams. By stimulating what is known as ‘thermo receptors’ menthol helps the body identify changes in temperature. While menthol does not cause your body to change its temperature, it does trigger a signal to the brain that it interprets as cold, which reduces the discomfort of inflammation. Inflammation often presents as hot to the touch and menthol provides cooling relief.
Using Menthol Products
Using pain relief products that contain menthol can be a helpful tool when suffering from pain or muscle pain. However it is important that you use these products carefully to avoid further damage.
You should always apply topical menthol products to clean skin that is free of open scars and wounds. In addition to causing a world of pain, these products are not intended for internal usage. If you have any visible scars or sunburn on the affected area, do not use topical menthol products.
If you have medical conditions such as allergies or pregnancy, consult your physician before using these products. Many of these products contain aspirin, a common allergy which can cause unpleasant side effects which is why it is important to read the ingredients list before you purchase these products.
If you notice rashes, itching, dizziness or trouble breathing after using these products, stop use immediately and seek medical help.