The origin story.
A nondescript aluminum tub appeared on my desk, labeled in black marker, “#2.” No explanation. No instruction. I opened it and nearly rocketed out of my seat from the powerhouse blend of camphor and menthol and mint and something else I couldn’t quite place. What was this stuff?!
I had just met the Dr. Bronner’s Arnica-Menthol Organic Magic Balm.
Since no one told me what this was or what this was for, I drew my own conclusions. It smelled like a decongesting vapor rub. It was already having that impact on me, so I started using it as such.
(Word to the wise here: In general, it’s not a good idea to start applying to your body random unlabeled substances that appear on your desk. Optimist that I am, I did assume that someone I knew and trusted compounded this and set it there. Fortunately, I was right.)
Some time later, I happened to mention to others this awesome vapor balm that appeared on my desk. It was then I learned that it was a post-surfing muscle rub that my brother David* had thrown together for personal use. He realized he was on to something pretty great and introduced it for consideration as a new product.
Let me break down the ingredients, each of which bring their own special organic magic.
The base of the Arnica-Menthol Organic Magic Balm is our Unscented Organic Magic Balm. The blend of avocado, coconut, olive, jojoba, hemp seed oils, and beeswax (all organic) provide super deep moisturizing and nourishment. There’s nothing synthetic. Nothing petrochemical. Nothing artificial.
The further magic comes with the additional ingredients: two types of peppermint oil, camphor oil, menthol crystals, and arnica oil. All of these powerhouse ingredients, like much of nature, are beneficial in small doses but not so in large quantities. However, the amounts in this balm are far lower than any hazard threshold while still concentrated enough to bring their special type of help.
As with many traditional remedies, there is insufficient research to engender medical endorsements so we must rely on more homespun wisdom.
- Why arnica – Arnica is an alpine plant whose daisy-like flowers are, for our purposes, infused into organic extra virgin olive oil. Arnica has been used for centuries as a topical treatment to increase blood flow to the applied area which can aid healing of bruises and relieving of muscle pain.
- Why menthol crystals – Menthol crystals are distilled from the oils in the mentha arvensis plant, a type of peppermint, which can have a menthol concentration of 50-70%. Menthol does a funny thing which might just sound like so much mental trickery. It triggers your cold receptors, so you experience a cooling sensation without an actual drop in temperature. It can bring relief to overheated, or even burned skin, headaches, or insect bites. Research has demonstrated that topically applied menthol can bring greater relief to carpal tunnel and muscle pain than some oral pain killers. Menthol, along with Camphor, has also long been used as a decongestant.
- Why camphor – Camphor essential oil is extracted from the bark of the Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum Camphora) by steam distillation. Camphor, like menthol, triggers that cold sensation. Camphor and menthol together are known as counter-irritants, a characteristic that makes them useful as analgesics, or pain reducers. Again, in some sense they trick, or distract, the nervous system with that icy/hot sensation, making the nervous system forget about whatever else in the area might have been triggering pain receptors.
- Why peppermint oil – There are two types of peppermint oil in this balm – mentha pepperita and mentha arvensis – produced by steam distillation of two different varieties of mint leaves. Peppermint oil has been used in so many home remedies that I can’t possibly summarize them all here. For topical applications, peppermint oil can bring cooling, congesting clearing, wakefulness and mental stimulation.
Every time I discuss this product with someone, I hear of a different way they’re using it. Here are four popular applications, but I hope to hear more from you.
- Decongestant – My first use. Rub it on the chest – under a shirt so the balm doesn’t get on the sheets – before bed and breathe clearly all night long. The scent fades by morning, so there’s no weird leftover smells. My neighbor swears that putting a thick layer of this on her feet and wearing socks opens up all her breathing passages.
- Muscle Rub – My brother’s original intended use. The tingly cold/warm sensation penetrates to loosen or soothe clenched muscles.
- Massage Balm – Instead of a massage oil, use the Arnica-Menthol balm in your massage. You get the double action of the camphor/menthol/mint plus the massage to loosen and relax tension.
- Achy Feet Relief – Massage it on at the end of a long day. Not only will the balm soften tough skin, but also the magic blend will invigorate tired feet. Just say, “Aaah!”
Other areas of help I’ve heard are headache relief when applied to the temples (avoid the eyes) and itch relief on insect bites. There’s even discussion around these ingredients alleviating pain related to osteoarthritis and accelerating healing for bruising. Dr. Bronner’s own Stacey Oparnica summarized several staff testimonials in her 2016 piece for the All-One blog, “How to Use Dr. Bronner’s Arnica-Menthol Organic Magic Balm.” If you’d like to share your personal experience, please do in the comments below.
Because of the potency of the camphor/menthol/mint/arnica blend, take care to avoid broken skin, as well as contact with the eyes or other mucous membranes. Wash your hands thoroughly after applying so that you don’t inadvertently touch it in your eyes.
Naming the balms “Magic” is partially a throwback to a moniker for the Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soaps, and even the company itself for many decades, bestowed by a 1973 Esquire article. However, biased though my opinion may be, the efficacy and versatility these balms earns them the descriptor in their own right.
* My brother, David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) at Dr. Bronner’s. He’s older.
This use and many more are in my book, Soap & Soul: A Practical Guide to Minding Your Home, Your Body, and Your Spirit with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, available now in hardback on DrBronner.com or at your favorite bookseller, and as an eBook and audiobook (read by me!) from wherever you download or listen.