What Is Peppermint Oil?
Peppermint oil is derived from the peppermint plant -- a cross between watermint and spearmint -- that thrives in Europe and North America.
Peppermint oil is commonly used as flavoring in foods and beverages and as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. It's also used for a variety of health conditions and can be taken orally in dietary supplements or topically as a skin cream or ointment.
Research suggests that peppermint oil likely can help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. It may also help indigestion and prevent spasms in the GI tract caused by endoscopy or barium enema. Some studies show that used topically it may help soothe tension headaches, but more research is needed to confirm these studies.
Peppermint oil may cause side effects like heartburn and it may interact with certain medications. Talk to your health care provider before using peppermint oil.
Peppermint Oil vs. Extract
Peppermint oil is the essential oil taken from the peppermint plant's flowering parts and leaves. This oil is very concentrated, both with the smell or flavor of the plant.
Extracts, on the other hand, pull the essential oils into a liquid base, usually alcohol. This makes them less concentrated than pure essential oils, which are more intensely peppermint.
Uses of Peppermint Oil
In dietary supplements, peppermint oil has been tried for many digestive problems, including:
Dietary supplements containing peppermint oil are also used by some people for the following conditions, although there is no clear evidence that they are helpful:
- Morning sickness
- Cramps of the upper GI tract and bile ducts
- Inflammation of the mouth and throat
- Sinus and respiratory infections
- Menstrual problems
Peppermint Oil for Skin
Skin preparations containing peppermint oil are used by some people for the following conditions, although, again, there is no clear evidence that they are helpful:
- Muscle pain
- Nerve pain
- Inflammation of the mouth
- Joint conditions
- Allergic rash
Peppermint oil for bugs
You can use peppermint oil to keep away flies, ants, spiders, and sometimes cockroaches. The oil has compounds, such as menthol, that can help manage mites, mosquito larvae, and other pests. These compounds give peppermint oil its strong scent, which insects like ants and spiders don't like. If they sense it, they'll usually avoid it. Keep in mind that peppermint oil doesn't kill these pests. It just repels them.
To create a repellent spray (to keep them away), fill a spray bottle with water and add about 10-15 drops of peppermint oil. Close and shake the bottle to combine before you use it.
Peppermint oil for hair
While peppermint oil is often included in hair products for its scent, some people use the oil specifically as a hair loss treatment. Peppermint oil can not only help keep you from losing hair, but it's also shown to help your hair grow. One study even found that it worked as well as minoxidil, an FDA-approved hair loss treatment. The menthol compound in peppermint also promotes blood flow when applied to the skin, so the oil can help stimulate your scalp, encouraging hair growth.
While some people add a couple of drops of peppermint oil directly onto their scalp, it's generally best to dilute it. You can also combine it with a carrier oil, like coconut or jojoba oil, before you massage it into your hair, or mix a drop or two of the oil into hair products before applying or add a few drops to shampoo and conditioner bottles.
Benefits of Peppermint Oil
Today, peppermint oil is known for its many health benefits, whether applied directly to the skin or taken in other forms.
Several studies suggest that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules -- which allow the oil to pass through the stomach so it can dissolve in the intestines -- may help relieve common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Non-enteric coated forms of peppermint oil, however, actually may cause or worsen heartburn and nausea.
Preliminary studies also suggest that dietary supplements containing a combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil may help relieve indigestion.
Pain. When inhaled or used on your skin, peppermint oil may help soothe headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain.
Skin issues. Peppermint oil can calm and soothe skin because of menthol's cooling effect. This may help ease itching and irritation from issues like hives, poison ivy, or poison oak.
Sickness. You can also use the essential oil to treat colds, sinus infections, and coughs. To help open nasal passages, breathe in steam from hot water mixed with a few drops of peppermint oil. The menthol in peppermint works as a decongestant and can loosen mucus. Studies have also found that the oil has antibacterial traits as well as antiviral properties against herpes.
Peppermint oil may also help:
- Soothe nausea
- Ease gut or muscle spasms
- Fight fatigue
- Boost memory
- Lift mood
Side Effects of Peppermint Oil
In most adults, the small doses of peppermint oil contained in dietary supplements and skin preparations appear to be safe. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, however, should avoid such products because little is known about their safety during pregnancy and lactation.
Possible side effects of peppermint oil include:
- Allergic reactions such as flushing, headache, and mouth sores
- Anal burning during bouts of diarrhea
- Stomach pain
- Dry mouth
- Skin reactions like rashes and irritation
Although enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules may reduce the risk of heartburn, their protective coating can break down more quickly and increase the risk of heartburn when taken at the same time as prescription and over-the-counter medications that decrease stomach acid and which are often used for heartburn or acid reflux. It's best to take such drugs at least 2 hours after taking enteric-coated peppermint oil products. A stomach condition called achlorhydria, in which the stomach doesn't produce hydrochloric acid, also may hasten the coating's breakdown. So people with the condition are advised against using peppermint oil.
Large doses of menthol, a key ingredient in peppermint oil, can be poisonous. This can lead to serious side effects, including seizures, slow heartbeat, and irregular breathing.
Possible Drug Interactions With Peppermint Oil
Before taking peppermint oil, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. Some supplements can interact with medicine. Interactions can be harmful or make medications not work as they should.
Be cautious about combining peppermint oil with certain drugs because it may inhibit the body's ability to metabolize the drugs and increase the risk of side effects.
Where to Buy Peppermint Oil
You can find peppermint oil at a range of stores, including supermarkets, pharmacies, and wellness shops. It's also available online through different e-commerce sites.
In the U.S., there isn't a federal grading system or certification for essential oils, but there are a few tips you can follow to buy high-quality essential oils.
Look for essential oils that have:
- The Latin name of the plant (Mentha piperita for peppermint)
- The country the plant was grown in
- Notes on purity of oil or any added ingredients. Only pick 100% essential oil.
- Dark-colored glass bottles
- A reputable company that's been around for many years
Peppermint oil offers many health benefits, and you can take advantage of it in different ways. When taken in the form of capsules or supplements, it can help with indigestion and IBS symptoms. Applying the oil directly to the skin may help with pain, itching, and hair loss. You can also diffuse the oil through steam to ease symptoms of colds and sinus infections.
Peppermint Oil FAQs
- Does peppermint oil repel mice?
Yes. Rats don't like peppermint oil's strong smell. You can mix a few drops into a spray bottle to create a repellent solution .
- How much peppermint oil is toxic?
While essential oil concentrations range, a 5-15 mL dose is considered toxic to adults.
- How long does peppermint oil last?
Though the shelf life will depend on things like exposure to light, oxygen, and heat, as a general rule of thumb, replace your peppermint oil after 3 years. You can sometimes tell if it's expired if it has an unpleasant smell or changes color. Peppermint oil will usually become greenish.