Social media posts have been passed around touting the benefits of Johnson’s Vapor Bath to relieve migraine symptoms. There are a lot of so-called “cures” for migraine circulating on the internet. Most have no scientific support and some are even dangerous. This is one internet rumor that may have some truth to it. In fact, any product containing menthol may ease migraine pain.
In an interview with the UK Daily Mail, Peter Goadsby, MD explained:
“There’s good documentation migraine sufferers will go through good periods and bad periods. The disorder randomly varies. It may be the shower gel or she may be in a period where she’s randomly better. And I don’t want to be cynical, but it’s likely this lady’s migraine is controlled but not cured. However, studies show menthol, one of the ingredients in the product, can relieve migraines. This is because it activates the menthol receptor in the skin, which makes us feel cooler. “
He went on to explain that any product containing menthol may ease migraine because it activates receptors that produce a cooling sensation. Many migraine patients report that applying ice packs reduces the pain of a migraine. These receptors are called transient potential receptor channels (TRP). The specific receptor responsive to cold is TRPM8. The trigeminal nerve that is irritated during migraine attacks contains these TRP channels. When menthol-containing products are applied to the head and face, these TRP channels are activated. often producing a reduction in pain sensation.
He also pointed out that this particular product isn’t the only one with menthol. Any product containing menthol may ease migraine, producing the same results. Menthol is naturally occuring in eucalyptus, peppermint, and other mints. It is also produced synthetically. Menthol is commonly found in products used for topical pain relief, clearing sinus congestion, and easing nausea.
Some menthol-containing products:
- MigraStick is a small tube filled with essential oils of peppermint and lavender. The applicator tip is a metal roller ball, so it can be discretely and easily applied wherever you feel pain.
- Tiger Balm is an ointment that can be applied to relieve pain. It can be very strong and some formulations tend to stain clothing. There is a non-staining version. Use it sparingly as it can be irritating to the skin and cause redness in sensitive individuals.
- BioFreeze is gentler than Tiger Balm. It is a gel-based formula that does not cause staining or run the same risk of skin irritation. It feels more like aloe vera gel on application.
- SalonPas are medicated pads that stick on the skin, delivering its ingredients over time.
- BeKool strips are medicated gel pads that can be applied to the forehead or neck.
A word of caution
Everyone responds differently, even to non-medical comfort measures. Some people either dislike the scent of menthol or find that it is a Migraine trigger rather than a helpful tool. When trying menthol-containing products for the first time, it may be wise to try a small amount on a small patch of skin. The sensation and smell can last for a long time, so a poor response could be unpleasant.
Dr. Goadsby also reminded patients not stop medications and consult with their doctors about any change in treatment. That’s good advice whenever we’re thinking about making a change in our migraine treatment plan.
- Davies, M. Could a menthol bubble bath cure MIGRAINES? Sufferer claims lathering herself and breathing in minty smell relieves her excruciating headaches. UK Daily Mail 14 March 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3487599/Could-menthol-bubble-bath-cure-MIGRAINES-Sufferer-claims-lathering-breathing-minty-smell-relieves-excruciating-headaches.html
- McKemy DD. TRPM8: The Cold and Menthol Receptor. TRP Ion Channel Function in Sensory Transduction and Cellular Signaling Cascades. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2007. Chapter 13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK5238/
- Peppermint Oil. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 01 Dec 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermintoil
- Eucalyptus. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version 19 Dec 2017. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/700.html