What do you think of when you hear the word peppermint? Do you feel the refreshing and chilly sensation of chewing mint gum? Peppermint tea to improve a blocked nose? The mint balm that eases your stress and headache? Would it surprise you to know that peppermint is a miracle worker for your skin too?
In all honesty, I wasn’t sold on the idea of mint in skin care at first. I mean, the chilly, tingly sensation is great in toothpaste or a headache balm. But do you want that feeling on your skin?
As it turns out, peppermint is a common ingredient in all kinds of beauty products, from lip balms to shampoos and body washes.
A little bit of background
There are more than 25 species in the family of mint plants. The 2 most common kinds are peppermint and spearmint. Peppermint with its scientific name Mentha piperita is actually a cross between spearmint (Mentha spicata). It grows wild throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. It’s also cultured mostly for its oil.
The perennial plant is hardy and grows to about 30-90 cm tall. The leaves are lance-shaped and dark green with reddish veins. The stems and leaves have an overall “hairiness” – are slightly fuzzy. The flowers bloom from mid to late summer. They’re tiny and purple.
As a hybrid, it’s usually sterile. It produces no seeds but spreads quickly through runners. This means you may want to restrict their root run by planting it in a container. The container will limit how far it can spread – and prevent it from taking over your garden.
Its scientific name comes from the Latin word Mintha who was a nymph in Greek mythology and got turned into a mint plant and piper which means pepper.
The pepper part describes the plant well. It has a distinct powerful minty-fresh and spicy fragrance due to its combination of menthol, menthone, limonene, and other terpenoids.
Historic and current uses
Mint plants have long been known for their medicinal properties. It’s one of the oldest medicinal herbs used in Europe. And sure you’re not surprised to know that it was also used in Chinese and Japanese folk medicine.
Since ancient Egyptian times, mint plants were used as a remedy for indigestions. So did the ancient Greeks and Romans, they used it as a stomach soother.
Peppermint was introduced to Europe and was mentioned as early as 1240 in Icelandic Pharmacopoeias. It gained popularity as a culinary and medicinal herb.
The British Medical Journal noted in 1879 that smelling menthol which is one of its fragrance components relieves headaches and never pain.
Did you know you can even ward off pests with peppermint? You can repel mice, ants, and the like. They seem to hate the strong smell of peppermint, this is backed by science.
Of course, countless recipes to make dishes and beverages, from teas and alcoholic beverages to sauces, salads, desserts, and candies.
So why use it on your skin?
If you look at the labels on your beauty products, chances are you’ll find Mentha piperita or Mentha spicata in the ingredient listing. Aside from its role as a fragrance, mint also works as an astringent and an emollient.
As astringent, it cleanses your skin while also toning and lifting excess oils. As an emollient, it goes into the gaps of your skin and smoothes and helps it retain its existing moisture.
Even if you normally wouldn’t consume mint in huge quantities, it contains a fair amount of nutrients, most notably
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B (folate)
It’s a rich source of antioxidants. You need these nutrients to help you parent oxidative stress. This is a kind of cell damage caused by free radicals.
Last but not least it contains menthol, menthone, and other terpenoids that make up its flavour. Menthol is valued for its strong antibacterial properties.
Putting it all together, peppermint is used to treat, soothe, and calm a variety of skin issues.
Heals and calms
You can use mint to sooth rashes and heal minor cuts, insect bites, and relieve itchy skin. Mint as a source for menthol has strong anti-microbial and anti-septic activity. As it’s also a rich source of antioxidants, it has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Hence you can also use it to calm down a sunburn. Also, since you can use the cooling effect of menthol to relieve the sensation of heat and burning on your skin.
Stimulates blood flow
Smelling mint makes you feel energised, right? It does the same when you apply it to your skin. It improves blood circulation which carries away any waste that can damage the cells but also brings with it nutrients to nourish your skin. You’ll see an overall improved complexion, less dry skin, and just a glow.
One of the reasons you see spots sprout is that dirt, debris, and dead skin cells get trapped in the pores of your skin. Add bacteria and voila, a zit. Since mint is antibacterial, it helps prevent the growth of acne-causing bacteria. Also, as an astringent, it removes dirt and other gunk from your pores.
Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce redness, irritation, and inflammation that often accompany spots.
Protects from Pollution and UV
As you go about your everyday life, you’re exposed to the sun and air pollution. This exposure to environmental aggressors has a significant effect on the skin. Free radicals are formed that can cause havoc with your skin. They damage your skin.
The damage ranges from interfering with your skin’s ability to heal itself to changes in colour and wrinkles. The presence of antioxidants helps neutralise the free radicals and thus aids in preventing skin damage.
Use mint the right way
Mint can be very strong, so you have to be careful. There are many products on the markets. You’ll find anything from cleansers to masks.
You can also go the DYI route. If you want to make your own skin care, you can use fresh mint leaves or mint oil.
Keep in mind that mint oil is an essential oil and extremely strong. The iron rule is to never use any kind of undiluted essential oil directly on the skin or it can cause serious irritation.
Mint can be combined with other ingredients. When paired with nourishing oils and actives, it can help improve your skin’s overall complexion.
Since it can be paired with other ingredients and must be diluted anyways (essential oil!), a simple solution is to dilute it in aloe vera. Still, always try it on a small patch of skin and see how you react before you use it on a larger area of skin.
Keep in mind to spare the eye area when using products or DYI with mint to avoid irritation.
Mint is a great addition in a cleanser, astringent, toner, and moisturiser thanks to menthol, and other plant compounds such as flavonoids, phenols, and carotenoids. This means mint can soothe and clear up your skin.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a simple DYI sunburn reliever recipe. You just need to grind enough mint leaves into a paste and apply it to the affected area. If you don’t have fresh mint at hand, you can also dilute a few drops of mint oil with olive oil or aloe vera (another classic for sunburn).