Why does a freshly brushed mouth have that cool, fresh feeling? Most people love mint for the sweet flavor and cool, refreshing taste it leaves in your mouth. But what creates that pleasant sensation? Is the temperature of your mouth actually lowered? As usual, nature is clever and the answers aren’t what we might think.
Turns out the key to that cool sensation or fresh breath feeling you get from mint comes from menthol, a main molecule associated with the herb. Menthol is a natural chemical compound found in the herb. It’s a waxy, crystal-like substance that can look clear or white. The leaves and the stems of the herbs carry menthol. Menthol also accounts for the strong aromatic smell
For hundreds of years, people thought the cooling effect of menthol had to do with how it evaporated and that when applied it lowered the temperature of your mouth or skin. Within the last 50 years scientists found that menthol does not decrease surface temperature. And within the last 15 years, they determined menthol doesn’t really cool you — but it does make you feel cooler.
Nature is Clever
Menthol is actually tricking the brain into thinking a cough drop is cold or a muscle salve is cooling your skin. In 2001, scientists proved that menthol has the ability to bind to and open up pores or cold- sensitive nerve receptors, a protein called TRPM8. They don’t know exactly how it works but they know it has a role in sensing temperature falls. They believe, by opening up these channels, menthol helps your mouth or skin receive more outside air which is typically quite a bit cooler than the air inside your body or on its surface. Your body’s temperature remains the same, but menthol helps it pull in a cooler feeling.
Do you like it mildly minty or super minty?
Peppermint typically has a high percentage of menthol, sometimes four times the amount found in spearmint. The less menthol in a mint makes the taste milder and the smell less pungent and more delicate. In addition to toothpastes, menthol may be found in mouthwash, as well as mint teas and gums. Typically, if you want a strong minty sensation go with peppermint, if you prefer a more subtle experience choose spearmint.
You can experience menthol in some of TOM’s toothpastes and mouthwashes and in our organic peppermint lip balm. We encourage you to try our new, refreshing Natural Morning Mint Beauty Bar! What’s your favorite mint product?
Learn more about Tom’s of Maine products here.