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If you're anything like us, you probably think of peppermint as an ingredient more appropriate for mouthwash or gum than your skincare routine. But peppermint oil can have some pretty specific and targeted effects on your skin. The only caveat? It's important to know exactly how to use it in order to reap those benefits. Here, Gretchen Frieling, MD, and Amanda Doyle, MD, weigh in on the pros of peppermint oil, as well as how to avoid the potential pitfalls.
Meet the Expert
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: An essential oil with antibacterial, anti-viral, and antiseptic properties.
MAIN BENEFITS: Delivers soothing and cooling properties that can be helpful for minor skin irritations; controls the secretion of oil.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Those with oily or acne-prone skin, though it shouldn't be the only ingredient relied on to address acne, notes Frieling. Anyone with minor skin irritations and itching may also find it beneficial.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Generally speaking, once per day, though be cautious as overuse can lead to irritation.
WORKS WELL WITH: Combined and diluted with hydrating ingredients such as aloe vera and coconut oil that can be beneficial for dry and irritated skin.
DON'T USE WITH: Be cautious when pairing with products that contain acids or other harsh exfoliating ingredients, especially if you have sensitive skin.
What is Peppermint Oil?
Peppermint oil is an essential oil derived from the peppermint plant, which is actually a hybrid between watermint and spearmint (technically called mentha piperita). What sets it apart from the many other essential oils out there is its very distinct aroma, as well as its wide variety of uses involving the health, culinary, and cosmetic industries, notes Frieling.
Benefits of Peppermint Oil for Skin
In terms of cosmetic uses and benefits, peppermint oil has several unique attributes that set it apart from other essential oils on the market.
- Has antibacterial properties: While it's not effective against all strains of bacteria, one study compared peppermint oil to an antibiotic and found it to have comparable efficacy. Although it's not entirely clear exactly how much oil is needed topically to achieve these benefits, the oil's antibacterial nature makes it a good option for acne-prone skin, says Frieling.
- Controls oil production: "Peppermint works to prevent excess oil from forming on your surface, which, as a result, lowers the chance of acne," says Frieling. While too strong and irritating to be applied directly onto your entire face, peppermint oil is most effective in tandem with other acne-fighters, she says. Similarly, peppermint oil may be beneficial for use on the scalp and address dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis issues.
- Minimizes itching and inflammation: Peppermint oil is a powerful skin soother; in fact, one study found it to be an effective topical treatment for patients combatting chronic itch. "Topical peppermint oil has been used to relieve itch, irritation, and inflammation," says Doyle. The high concentration of menthol, up to 50 percent, is responsible for peppermint oil's cooling properties—it's the reason why minty products tend to both smell and feel refreshing. Along with working directly on the skin, menthol can also relieve pain. As such, topical peppermint oil can help with headaches and provide relief to achy muscles.
- Has antiviral properties: In addition to fighting bacteria, peppermint oil can also be effective against viruses, specifically the herpes virus, says Doyle. (A 2003 study also confirmed this statement.) So the next time a cold sore pops up, you can try dabbing a little bit of peppermint oil onto it—just make sure it's diluted (more on that to come).
Side Effects of Peppermint Oil
While peppermint oil has skin-soothing properties, too much of it can (ironically) lead to irritation—redness, rashes, itching, and more. It's also possible to have a peppermint oil allergy, notes Frieling. As with any new type of ingredient or product, it's always a good idea to do a small test patch (on a spot other than your face) to make sure your skin can tolerate it. It's also worth pointing out that excessive use can trigger these types of unpleasant irritations, cautions Doyle, so be sure you're using it properly.
How to Use It
First and foremost, peppermint oil should never go onto skin that's cut, broken, or otherwise compromised, says Doyle. Second, if you're using pure peppermint essential oil—and not a product that contains it—you'll need to dilute it first. That could mean mixing it with a carrier oil—a neutral oil such as olive or jojoba—to dab onto any skin issues like a bug bite or sunburn. Add a drop or two into your shampoo to help soothe an itchy, oily scalp. And for an at-home spot treatment, mix a few drops with one tablespoon of tamanu oil and dab it onto pimples. Either way, use it no more than once a day to minimize the likelihood of any unwanted irritation.
The Best Products with Peppermint Oil
Follow Frieling's advice and spritz a refreshing face mist, like this one, on whenever your skin needs a little pick-me-up. Instantly invigorating, the peppermint also makes skin nice and cool, a major win on hot summer days. Technically a hydrasol, the coolness is the result of the steam collected when creating an essential oil (though, in this case, you still get the same refreshing benefits).
This shampoo deep cleanses the scalp and feels light and refreshing, says Frieling. Credit these benefits to a 2.3 percent concentration of peppermint oil, making this product a great option for anyone with an itchy scalp, or who is prone to dandruff. Bonus tip: For the best results, let it sit for one to three minutes before rinsing.
If you're looking for a pure form of peppermint oil, Doyle recommends this organic one. Dilute it with coconut or jojoba oil to use on your body, or add a few drops into your bath to bring relief to stressed skin and sore muscles. You can even apply a few drops directly onto your makeup brushes (followed by a gentle cleanser) to ensure they get squeaky clean, she says.
Not only does this lip tint deliver gorgeous color, but it also has "nourishing benefits due to the high amount of peppermint oil, vitamin C, and vitamin E," says Frieling. "It leaves your lips pigmented, moisturized, and healthy." Sold.
Doyle calls this face mist, "hydrating and invigorating, great for someone with dry skin." Use it as an extra moisturizing layer before serum and moisturizer, on top of makeup to help set it, or anytime throughout the day when your skin could use a little boost.
A testament to peppermint oil being great at controlling oil, Ole Henriksen's toner combines it with several other different botanicals, such as witch hazel, to do just that. Add to that salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids for gentle exfoliation, and this is a top toner pick for those battling breakouts.
Did you know that the beloved classic contains peppermint oil? Indeed it does, which is part of what makes it so refreshing and hydrating for lips, says Doyle. Bonus points for the slightly minty flavor that comes in handy when you don't have actual mints on-hand.