In my massage therapy practice, I have found that applying muscle rubs containing menthol onto target areas has helped in reducing inflammation and pain for my clients. Multiple human studies have backed up the topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities of diluted menthol. This article will describe the benefits of menthol for aching muscles and includes one of my favorite easy to make muscle rub recipes.
Menthol is the key constituent found in cornmint (Mentha arvensis) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oil, offering a refreshing minty aroma. While menthol is available in both natural and synthetic forms, the natural source is preferred.
Applied to the skin, menthol can have an instant cooling effect. To use topically, it should be diluted heavily, to no more than a 5% strength. This equals 1 ounce of menthol per 20 ounces of carrier oil(s). At low concentrations, menthol can have an analgesic effect, but at high concentrations, it can be an irritant (1).
In a recent review of scientific research, it was shown that menthol creates a topical cooling action that desensitizes local nociceptors to offer an analgesic effect (1). Topical applications have also shown to reduce blood flow, which can help lesson the inflammatory response (2).
Multiple human studies have demonstrated the analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities of menthol. Most of these studies are small, and studies with more people across a variety of population demographics are needed to further determine the ideal dilution rate, duration of use, and possible contraindications. Here are a few studies to consider.
In formulating a menthol infused recipe to massage onto my clients’ sore muscles, I wanted a subtle cooling effect without an overpowering menthol aroma. The recipe below is roughly a 1% dilution of menthol, offering a slight but significant cooling of the local tissue. Combining cocoa butter wafers blends a chocolate note to the minty menthol in a pleasing way and is soothing for the skin. Arnica infused oil is also added to further aid in muscle comfort (8). Rosemary antioxidant lengthens the shelf life of the recipe, but I also like the way it offers a slight herby note to the scent of the lotion.
Hint: With this recipe, it is best to measure by weight using a small kitchen scale (as opposed to using typical measuring cups). Especially with the beeswax, the amount of space that the beeswax pastilles occupy when they fill up a four-ounce measuring cup only actually ends up weighing about 2 ounces! That is because measuring cups are based off the weight of water. Not adding enough beeswax will result in a runny lotion. Further, it is important to measure potent ingredients like the menthol crystals and the rosemary antioxidant by weight to get the most accurate measurement!
To use: adults can rub about ½ Tbsp to a local area. Avoid with young children and those with certain medical conditions. Avoid getting into the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and other orifices.
Skin patch test a small area before using if you have sensitive skin. Discontinue use if any irritation occurs. Properly stored, this recipe should last at least a year.
PS – this recipe works great on aching feet!