Maybe you've noticed an odd little tingle from your eye cream. Or maybe you've purposely sought out a lotion that promises to lower your skin temp. An increasing number of beauty items now boast cooling benefits. YouBeauty investigates whether the effects are more than superficial.
How They Work
Cooling products work their magic through menthol, a naturally occurring compound in mint plants. Menthol's cooling properties stumped scientists for decades.
“Nobody had any idea how it worked,” says John Leffingwell Ph.D., an organic chemist and president of Leffingwell and Associates, a flavor and fragrance consultancy company. Only within the last decade did researchers identify a certain kind of receptor on our skin's surface, “the cold receptor,” Leffingwell explains. It sends a signal to your brain when your skin comes in contact with anything below 80 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature. And, “that same receptor that's activated by cold temperature is also activated by substances like menthol,” he says.
When a product containing menthol touches your skin, those receptors send the same sensory signal to your brain as they would if you'd touched a glass of ice water. Although your skin doesn't actually turn cold like you'd plunged your hand into a glass of ice water, your brain gets the same signal so you feel the same kind of refreshing cold on your skin.
More Than Skin Deep
So are the effects all in your head and not on your skin?
Not quite, for while cooling products won't change the temperature of your skin, they can still affect your overall body temperature.
Jason Gillis, Ph.D., a physiologist at Portsmouth University, conducted a study in a warm room where he sprayed either a menthol solution or water over his subject’s upper bodies.Those sprayed with menthol reported feeling significantly cooler than testers sprayed just with only water. But Gillis noticed another difference in the people sprayed with menthol: “Their deep body temperature increased and their skin blood flow decreased,” he says. What that tells us, he explains, is their skin felt cooler so the body slowed down the blood flow in order to store heat.
“When you spray menthol on people it sends a signal from the skin to the body that says, 'hey we're cold it's time to conserve body heat.'”
Gillis' study suggests that although cooling products can make you feel cool, don’t go slathering yourself in menthol products because it may actually do the complete opposite and raise your body temperature.
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