Menthol is either derived naturally from peppermint or other mint oils or synthetically manufactured. When used as an active ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, menthol has a number of different uses. Depending on the dose and form, menthol can be used to relieve coughs; help control plaque or kill bacteria that can contribute to the development of gingivitis; relieve oral discomfort associated with canker sores, injury of the mouth and gums, sore throat, fever blisters, or cold sores; relieve minor aches and pains of muscles and joints; and relieve irritated lips and skin.

When taken orally or used topically in or around the mouth, menthol can be the only ingredient in topical cough suppressant medicines (such as lozenges or sprays) or it can be combined with other ingredients in oral multi-symptom cough and cold medicines, anti-gingivitis and anti-plaque products, or oral discomfort products.

Products used externally for topical pain relief may contain either menthol alone or menthol in combination with other active ingredients. Menthol can also be combined with other active ingredients in cough suppressant medicines (such as chest rubs and steam vaporizers) and skin protectants.

Menthol is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is safe and effective when used according to the Drug Facts label directions. Because menthol can be found in a number of different medicines that contain more than one active ingredient, you should always read the Drug Facts label carefully for a complete listing of ingredients.

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Menthol-Containing Medicines for Cough or Sore Throat

Mouth Rinse Containing Menthol

  • Anti-gingivitis and anti-plaque products should not be swallowed.
  • Your symptoms do not improve, get worse, or if you develop additional symptoms.
  • You take too much or you accidentally ingest a medicine that is not intended to be swallowed. Immediately contact a healthcare provider or the poison control national helpline at 800.222.1222.
  • Never give an oral OTC cough medicine or multi-symptom cough and cold product to a child under the age of 4.
  • Before giving a topical cough suppressant lozenge to a child, make sure the child is able to safely dissolve a lozenge in their mouth without choking. Read the Drug Facts label carefully for appropriate use in children and contact a healthcare provider as directed.
  • Do not use an anti-gingivitis or anti-plaque mouth rinse containing menthol with a child under the age of 12.
  • Talk to a healthcare provider before using an oral discomfort product containing menthol with a child under the age of 2. Children between the ages of 2 and 12 should be supervised when using these medicines.
  • Click here for more information on giving OTCs to children.

Menthol-Containing Topical Medicines

  • Medicines intended to be applied to the skin should not be swallowed.
  • Certain products may be flammable. Keep away from open flame.
  • You should never heat, microwave, or add the medicine to hot water.
  • You should not bandage tightly or use a heating pad on the treated area.
  • You should avoid getting the product into your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • You should not apply to wounds or damaged skin.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Your symptoms do not improve, get worse, or if you develop additional symptoms.
  • You accidentally swallow the medicine. Immediately contact a healthcare provider or the poison control national helpline at 800.222.1222.