If you’ve ever had a soap or shampoo send your skin into a tingling frenzy, you might have wondered just what’s going on there. And if you didn’t read the label and weren’t expecting your skin to suddenly start tingling, you may have wondered the same thing in a much louder voice, along with several worried expletives.
The short answer is that your skin is reacting—in a positive way—to peppermint oil, an ingredient commonly found in grooming products across the board. DSC’s very own chemist and product wiz, Fadi Mourad, sat down with us for a biological deep dive into the tingle.
So why does peppermint oil make your skin feel like a sunbathing Edward Cullen? “It’s stimulating blood flow at the surface of the skin, which gives you that tingling or cooling sensation,” Mourad explains. “That’s why it’s used in lots of shaving, scalp and skin products—the increased blood flow promotes healthy cell renewal, which negates the skin-stripping effects of a razor, or heavy exfoliation, and clears up itchiness and dandruff.”
As an added bonus, peppermint oil has a secret tingling ingredient of its own, called menthol. “Menthol works as a numbing agent,” says Fadi. “It reduces pain associated with razor burn, itching, or any sort of skin irritation.” Science isn’t exactly sure how this happens, but it’s possible that menthol activates the cold-sensing nerves in our skin, producing a sort of ice pack effect.
Peppermint oil is a marvel ingredient in general. In addition to having natural antiseptic properties, applying a small dab to the temples and forehead can relieve headaches and migraines, as shown in this German study (don’t try dabbing the undiluted stuff on your face, though—concentrated peppermint oil can irritate your skin). It can also relieve stomach problems, specifically symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). According to a study performed at the University of Missouri-Columbia, 75 percent of patients with IBS had reduced pain after being fed controlled doses of peppermint oil. Hear that? That’s the sound of bowels around the world beginning a slow clap.
So next time your skin starts tingling after a shower, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. Unless, of course, peppermint oil (or menthol) isn’t on the ingredients list after all, in which case you might want to pay your doctor an urgent visit.