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Do you remember that cool sensation the last time you ate a peppermint lozenge? Or maybe when you rubbed Vicks Vaporub on your chest when you were ill? Surely, if it feels so cool in your mouth or on your skin, it must keep you cool, right?
Peppermint oil can keep you cool, but it doesn’t do a good job of cooling you down or keeping you cool over a period of time. One of the main chemical components in peppermint oil is menthol, which is well known for the cooling sensation it causes. However, it only causes localized cooling.
The rest of this article will provide more detail on topics related to the question, including how peppermint oil cools, why peppermint oil isn’t very good at cooling you down or keeping you cool, why it is important to keep cool and what you can do if you want to keep cool.
How does peppermint oil cool you down?
One of the main chemical compounds in peppermint oil is menthol. It’s menthol that causes the cool sensation when you eat a mint sweet or drink mint tea. You will also find menthol in some medicines, cosmetic products, and foodstuffs. Naturally, menthol occurs in the oils of several mints, but can also be synthetically manufactured.
If applied to your skin, menthol activates Transient Receptor Potential Melastatin 8 (TRPM8) receptor proteins in the skin, which are non–selective and not activated above temperatures of 27℃ (80.6℉). TRPM8 is found in cold sensing nerve cells, and its activation causes the skin’s cold receptor to become sensitive. The brain receives the signal, and you feel cold. In layman’s terms, menthol tricks the body into feeling cooler.
If it tricks your body into feeling cool, how could it actually cool you down? This study seemingly proved that menthol gel can, in fact, cool and that it can have a similar cooling effect as ice. After 80 minutes, the effect of the menthol gel compared to the ice was the same. As will be shown below, the results are not what they seem; however, the study did prove that the perception of cooling was highest with the menthol gel.
Why peppermint oil is not very good at cooling you down or keeping you cool.
So, now we know that peppermint oil can cool, but why isn’t it good at it? To effectively keep cool, you should keep your core temperature within the normal ranges. Depending on where it’s measured, normal body temperature is anything between 36.1℃ (97℉) and 37.2℃ (99℉). To keep cool, you should, therefore, keep your core temperature within these ranges.
The study referred to hereinabove, found that menthol gel reduced the temperature in the muscles and the skin by approximately 1.9℃ (35.4℉). After 80 minutes, this reduction was still at 1.5℃ to 2.0℃ (34.7℉ – 35.7℉). At first sight, it might seem that these results are promising and that menthol has some real cooling effects. Unfortunately, the results are misleading.
Although the application of the menthol gel had the mentioned cooling effects, these effects were only localized to where the gel was applied. The results showed that there was no change in core temperature. This was also confirmed by articles that found that thermal sensation was lower in athletes who used menthol during sports events. The cooling effect is, therefore, really only menthol tricking the brain.
In addition, a placebo gel was also applied and had the same effect as the menthol gel. The likely cause pointed to the evaporative cooling where the gel was applied.
Why is it important to keep cool?
There are several reasons why your body temperature may be outside the normal range. Some are serious and others not so serious, but you should remember that high body temperature can be dangerous, irrespective of the cause. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the high body temperature is due to hot outside temperatures, physical activity, or illness; you should always be careful to keep it in check.
In order to keep body temperatures in check, your body has its own natural cooling system. The main tool the body uses for cooling is sweating. Once your body temperature rises, you sweat, and the drying of sweat carries heat away from your body’s surface, effectively lowering your body temperature.
Once sweating is no longer enough to lower your body temperature, you increase your risk of getting hyperthermia, which can cause dehydration, heat cramps, heat edema, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, all diseases which range from mild to serious. In addition, excess body heat can stress the heart, harm the brain, and, in extreme cases, may lead to coma.
What can you do to keep cool?
We have now established that peppermint oil won’t be able to keep you cool. So, what can you do to keep cool? There are several ways to control your body temperature and keep it within the normal range. There are basically two ways in which you can control your body heat:
- internally, for example, by drinking a glass of ice-cold water; or
- externally, for example, by jumping into a cold pool.
In turn, your body regulates body temperature in one or more of the following ways:
- vaporization, for instance, by sweating;
- radiation, by releasing heat into the surrounding air;
- convection, when cooler air surrounds the body;
- conduction, by transferring body heat into the surrounding cold water or ice.
Now taking into account how body temperature can be regulated, some of the easiest ways you keep cool are the following:
- Drink cold liquids. This is a surefire way to reduce body temperature. The heat transfer between the cold liquid and the digestive system directly influences body temperature. The lowering of body temperature in this way, unfortunately, doesn’t last long.
- Take a swim. Swimming is an effective way to lower your body temperature. Generally, swimming is also a way to lower body temperature quickly, and the overall effects last longer.
- Take an ice bath. Similar to swimming, an ice bath can lower body temperature very quickly and will keep you cooler for longer. Keep in mind that being submerged in an ice bath for extended periods of time can be dangerous.
- Apply cold to the body. Applying water or ice to your wrists, neck, chest, and temples can be an effective way to reduce body temperature. This is because here, the veins are close to the skin surface, which helps with the heat transfer between the circulatory system and the ice.
- Go somewhere with cooler air. An ideal place to reduce body temperature would be an air-conditioned room. This might also be the best option to keep cooler for longer.
Although there are good ways to keep cool, practically, all of them might not work so well. For instance, you might not have access to a pool or ice bath. Further, when you’re ill with a fever, you’re hardly in the mood for a swim. In a practical sense, drinking cold liquids, applying cold to the body, and going somewhere with cooler air might be the easiest.
It’s very important that we keep our body temperature in check. Too high body temperature can cause havoc in our bodies. Although something like peppermint oil can trick us into thinking that we are keeping cool, ultimately, it’s of no use.
In order to keep cool, we have to use methods that can provide effective and lasting effects. As shown, there are several methods, both internal and external, that are both effective and practical.