The history of terpenes spans civilizations. Their introduction can be traced back to the 11th century, when terpene-rich extracts were first used to relieve pain.
For hundreds of years, terpenes have been all around us, and people have used them for various applications. However, most of us aren’t aware of what they are despite being some of the most abundant compounds on earth.
This post will explain the reasons why terpenes are and forever will be an important part of our everyday lives.
Common Applications for Terpenes
Here are some of the common applications for terpenes:
Terpenes are found in most essential oils derived from plants. Various herbs, such as eucalyptus, basil, rosemary, and sage contain eucalyptol, a monoterpene known for its fresh, minty smell. Also, bay, thyme, rosewood, lavender, and many other herbaceous plants are rich in linalool, a terpene thought to have calming effects.
People have traditionally used terpene-based essential oils in aromatherapy because of their physical and physiological effects. Modern medicine has likewise recognized the role of terpenes in improving well-being. Now, there are nearly 100 types of essential oils available in the market, and they come in various forms, including diffusers, inhalers, and facial steamers.
Owing to their aromatic scents, terpenes are a major component in many fragrances. For decades, terpene-containing resins have been tapped as the key ingredient for the formulation of colognes. Myrcene, pinene, geraniol, and citronellol are among the terpenes widely used in the perfume industry.
Terpene derivatives are used as additives due to their effectiveness against foodborne pathogens and food spoilage. Geraniol, a monoterpene, is commonly added to beverages, ice cream, candies, and baked goods to enhance their flavors and extend their shelf life. Other types of terpenes are likewise mixed as natural preservatives with various food products, such as meat, milk, and bread.
Research suggests that these plant‐derived preservatives can be an alternative to synthetic ones. According to a study, the bioactive compounds found in these substances may have positive effects on the body and can help protect against diseases.
Their antibacterial properties combined with their aroma and detoxifying effects make terpenes a staple ingredient in the cosmetic industry. Citronella oil, which is extracted from terpene-rich oil grasses, is used by manufacturers to formulate lotions and sunscreens. Meanwhile, limonene and linalool are often added to various beauty products – such as lipstick, mascara, moisturizers, and cleansers – to prevent the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.
Terpene-rich plants have been traditionally applied to treat certain conditions. Curcumin, the active component of turmeric, has been used to alleviate respiratory tract infection and intestinal problems. Meanwhile, tea tree oil, which is famous for its antimicrobial activity, is usually added to mixtures to cure skin infections. In addition, research has shown that some terpenes exhibit anticancer and antiseptic properties.
The Clear Benefits of Terpenes
The therapeutic benefits of terpenes are mainly derived through aromatherapy, a process that activates feel-good chemicals in the brain. Many plants rich in terpenes, such as lavender, hop, and lemongrass, have been found to induce relaxation when inhaled. Rosemary, parsley, and citrus fruits have also been shown to relieve anxiety by suppressing the production of stress hormones.
Various studies suggest that terpenes may be used to relieve acute inflammation. An experiment done on mice concluded that terpene injection reduced swelling in the rat models. Another clinical trial found that pinene and myrcene helped prevent the formation of pro-inflammatory proteins, thereby boosting the body’s immune responses.
Terpene derivatives comprising of organic compounds are usually found in essential oils. These substances have been shown to exhibit potent antimicrobial activity against viruses and bacteria. In particular, oxygenated terpenes have been observed to alleviate respiratory and skin infections by inhibiting the production of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria.
Due to their strong scent, terpenes also double as insect repellants. Limonene, which smells like lemon, is a common pesticide ingredient used in flea and tick control. Meanwhile, citronella oil is an active component of mosquito repellent lotions. A study has shown that citronella oil, when applied with vanillin (an organic compound found in vanilla beans), can provide protection against mosquito bites.
Topical terpenes are known to help improve skin texture due to their nourishing effects. Camphor, a monoterpene, has been found to reduce sun-induced wrinkles by stimulating the production of elastin and collagen. These are proteins that make the skin firm and elastic. Meanwhile, beta-caryophyllene, another type of terpene, has been shown to effectively treat various skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
Research findings indicate that certain terpenes may positively impact the central nervous system. Linalool, for instance, has been found to have beneficial effects on the brain. A study that used rat models showed that linalool induced sleep without significantly impairing cerebral abilities.
Meanwhile, caryophyllene, a terpene found in black pepper, has properties that may enhance brain function. According to a study, it may help protect midbrain neurons from degeneration, preventing the progression of brain-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Terpenes Perform Important Functions in Everyday Life
Terpenes are essential in many ways. They’re involved in almost every aspect of our existence. From enhancing food flavors to treating certain conditions, they perform important functions that help improve everyday life.
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