- Peppermint oil may help relieve headaches, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and itching.
- The essential oil has muscle-relaxing properties, which are responsible for many of its benefits.
- It’s important to pick an organic peppermint oil for treatment since it’s free from synthetic pesticides.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Mint plants have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, stretching back to at least ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, when it was used to calm upset stomachs.
Today, peppermint essential oil, a highly-concentrated form obtained by steam distilling the leaves, is recommended by the medical community for treating a host of everyday ailments.
Here are four conditions that may benefit from peppermint oil.
1. Peppermint oil may help headaches and migraines
Research has found that applying peppermint oil to the forehead and temples can be useful for treating headaches and migraines.
A 2016 review noted that peppermint oil is recommended for the treatment of tension-type headaches in adults and children over the age of 6 years old. The review authors suggested that it may even be as effective as acetaminophen (Paracetamol or Tylenol), a common over-the-counter medication to relieve pain.
“For my patients with headaches, I typically recommend initially treating pain with topical treatments like peppermint oil, or with a pain-relieving ointment like Tiger Balm, which contains menthol, a cooling substance derived from peppermint,” says Lisa Ravindra, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and a board-certified internal medicine physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure how peppermint oil eases headaches and migraines, Ravindra says, but it’s thought to help by relaxing muscles around the skull.
“The associated cooling sensation also appears to distract nerves from the pain response,” Ravindra says. “Additionally, topical peppermint has been shown to increase blood flow to the area it is applied to, which can speed up healing.”
If you aren’t experiencing relief after 15 to 30 minutes of peppermint oil, Ravindra advises that patients use more traditional oral pain-relievers like Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, Excedrin, or any prescription headache medications you might have.
2. Peppermint oil may reduce nausea
Simply inhaling the scent of peppermint oil — or applying a few drops of peppermint oil to a cool damp washcloth and applying to the forehead — has been shown to alleviate nausea in pregnant parents, patients receiving chemotherapy, and patients recovering from surgery.
In a 2020 study, hospitalized patients could choose to treat their nausea with either peppermint oil alone or peppermint oil and a prescription anti-nausea medicine. Both groups experienced nausea relief, but those who chose peppermint oil alone had significantly more improvement. However, the quality of the study is somewhat lacking.
“I extrapolate this data to support using inhaled peppermint oil as an option to treat my primary care patients that may have nausea due to migraines, stomach viruses, food poisoning, or other conditions,” says Ravindra.
According to Ravindra, the same muscle-relaxing qualities that peppermint oil offers for headaches are likely responsible for its nausea-relieving abilities.” It is also possible that the act of slow, deep breathing while inhaling peppermint oil is actually responsible for some of the perceived effects,” Ravindra says.
3. Peppermint oil can be used as a treatment for IBS
But in addition to diet and lifestyle changes, doctors often recommend peppermint oil capsules before moving on to prescription medicines, according to Robert Shulman, MD, a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist and professor of pediatric nutrition at the Baylor College of Medicine.
The use of peppermint oil to treat IBS symptoms, especially abdominal pain, has been supported in multiple human clinical trials. A 2019 meta-analysis found that people with IBS who took peppermint oil were 2.4 times more likely to experience overall symptom relief compared to those given placebo, and 1.8 times more likely to experience abdominal pain relief in particular.
There are virtually no prescription medications approved to treat IBS in children, Shulman says, so he often recommends peppermint oil to his pediatric patients.
Peppermint oil may help IBS in a number of ways, Shulman says. Although researchers are still investigating the exact mechanisms, peppermint oil has long been thought to have anti-spasm properties, he says, which may relax the smooth muscle tissue of the lower gastrointestinal tract in people with IBS.
Shulman doesn’t recommend any one brand of peppermint oil capsule over another, but be sure to get one with an enteric coating, otherwise you might experience heartburn. This special coating allows the peppermint oil to mostly bypass the stomach and later be released in the intestines, where doctors believe it has the best effect.
Shulman says if you haven’t noticed any improvements in your IBS symptoms after about a week of taking peppermint oil capsules, it might just not work for you. And those who already deal with severe heartburn may need to avoid peppermint oil, he says.
4. Peppermint oil may calm itching
There are fewer robust studies examining the effectiveness of peppermint oil to treat itching from insect bites, poison ivy rashes, or healing scars.
But Ravindra says it’s a good alternative to topical over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, which shouldn’t be used for more than two weeks because of potential side effects like skin thinning, discoloration, and acne.
Peppermint oil may help relieve itch because of its skin-cooling effects and by distracting the nerves around the itchy spot. Peppermint oil should not be applied to broken skin, Ravindra says, because it could burn or aggravate the wound further.
What kind of peppermint oil to get
Ravindra recommends choosing an organic peppermint essential oil, since it’s produced from plants that aren’t treated with synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers.
Peppermint oil can be applied topically undiluted, but some may prefer to dilute with a carrier oil, like coconut or argan oil, which is gentler on the skin. A small number of people may experience irritation from topical peppermint oil, in which case you should stop using it.
Peppermint oil has a very low risk of toxicity when applied topically or taken orally, and has been used safely in numerous clinical studies. There is still a very small risk of allergic reaction, so if you experience redness, itching, or blistering where you’ve applied peppermint oil, you should stop using it.
Peppermint oil is a low-risk, over-the-counter option for headaches, nausea, stomach pain associated with IBS, and everyday itching. Still, it’s always a good idea to discuss any supplemental treatments with your doctor before you try them.