What is menthol and how does it work?

For centuries (surprisingly no exaggeration) people have been using menthol as a source of relief, thanks to its minty properties. Often, we do not question past the obvious. Menthol has a cooling sensation. Everyone knows that. But what most people do not know is how menthol tricks us into thinking it is cool. So how does a leaf feel cool?

Our bodies have what is called a “trigeminal nerve” or TRPM8 – an ion channel, that is normally triggered by the presence of cold (or more accurately a lack of heat).[1]When taken orally, menthol oil triggers our trigeminal nerve. Menthol does such an effective job that even after you have taken it, some molecules still remain bound to the receptors, keeping them “open” and maintaining that cool feeling.[2]

Another way of thinking about it is the difference between breathing in during the winter vs. any other time of the year. When it is freezing temperatures outside, we can tell that our body is warmer than outside. The difference is when you breathe normally, without taking menthol, the air also feels “cool”, but it seems so normal that we do not notice it. You can look at the menthol as an amplifier, increasing the “cool” feeling that you would have felt anyways.

Menthol has also been found to activate our k- receptor[3]– a receptor associated with pain management[4]. The k- receptor is commonly abbreviated as “kappa-(κ)” or “κ-”. This receptor modifies our pain threshold[5]to create a numbing effect.[6]

Lastly, menthol is a member of the mint family which include peppermint and spearmint.[7]Menthol has a distinctive minty smell that stimulates our olfactory nerve when reaching our nose, impacting our senses and creating the feeling of clear nasal passages.[8]

In short, menthol stimulates our temperature detection nerve (TRPM8), provides a numbing effect (kappa opioid receptor)[9], and stimulates our sense of smell (olfactory nerve)[10]This trifecta of cooling sensations is exactly the reason why menthol has been used for symptom relief.[11]

This therapeutic leaf helps distract you from your aches and pain while we give our body the rest it needs.[12]After all, life doesn’t stop being busy when we’re not feeling well. If anything, it feels like our busiest time.


  1. http://theconversation.com/why-menthol-chills-your-mouth-when-its-not-actually-cold-33115
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2042-7158.1994.tb03871.x
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394001025277
  4. https://www.the-scientist.com/cover-story/pain-and-progress-38043
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394001025277
  6. http://theconversation.com/why-menthol-chills-your-mouth-when-its-not-actually-cold-33115
  7. https://smellofevolution.com/2011/10/28/smell-of-the-week-peppermint-mentha-piperita/
  8. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2042-7158.1994.tb03871.x
  9. http://theconversation.com/why-menthol-chills-your-mouth-when-its-not-actually-cold-33115
  10. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2042-7158.1994.tb03871.x
  11. http://theconversation.com/why-menthol-chills-your-mouth-when-its-not-actually-cold-33115
  12. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Rubbing_it_in

Eff Taeger | Brands Director, PNBaby

Samantha is a marketer with a personal interest in all things health & living a healthy lifestyle. Coming from a research background, she enjoys breaking down complicated topics into light-hearted posts, throwing in a corny joke or two for enjoyable reading.

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