Cymene is a naturally occurring compound and is found in many essential oils, including cumin and thyme. It is also formed by the sulfite pulping process from certain wood terpenes. The most common form of cymene is p-cymene, which is a colorless liquid that has a mild, pleasant scent and floats on water.
Other forms of cymene include o-cymene and m-cymene. In the case of o-cymene, the alkyl groups have been ortho-substituted, and in the case of m-cymene, the alkyl groups have been meta-substituted. P-cymene is the only isomer that is naturally occurring.
Classifications Within Terpenes: Alkylbenzene related to a monoterpene
Uses in Aromatherapy
There are many benefits to Cymene, and as such, it is a popular aromatherapy aid:
Cymene’s antimicrobial properties make it useful for topical creams, and it has also been found to be useful to help as an immunoprotective. Many essential oils are antimicrobial, but cymene appears to be particularly powerful. Because cymene is a component of so many essential oils, it, in some ways, serves a dual purpose. It is one of many agents that serves the antimicrobial purpose, and when they all act together it produces a stronger result than any one of the terpenes acting alone.
Cymene is also anti-fungal, and again, many of the other terpenes that are found in essential oils alongside cymene are anti-fungal too. Together, they are a strong protective influence against skin infections and fungal growths.
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The antimicrobial and antifungal features are of particularly special interest to the commercial packaging industry. The idea of edible films is nothing new. The wax coatings that are added to fruits and vegetables have been around for over 100 years. The idea of using edible films that are functional in other ways, such as blocking light, or acting in an antimicrobial fashion, is a relatively new thing. There are some considerations being given to active biomolecules which can act as a biodegradable, non-toxic, antimicrobial agent. One new film is chitosan, which is safe and quite useful in and of itself, but has still suffered from some issues in terms of water permeability that lower its effectiveness. Oregano essential oil is being added to chitosan to make a powerful antifungal and antimicrobial wrap. The active ingredient in oregano essential oil is p-cymene, along with other agents such as carvacrol and thymol.1
P-cymene is found in sweet marjoram oil, and there is evidence to suggest that it has analgesic properties. This is explored in detail in the book Essential Oils: A Handbook for Aromatherapy Practice, 2nd Ed., that was written by the aromatherapy expert Jennifer Peace Rhind. It can be difficult to determine exactly what is impacting on the nervous system with essential oils, given the complexity and the variety of terpenes that are found in any one oil, however, p-cymene combined with the other terpenes that are found in sweet marjoram oil clearly has beneficial effects for numbing and soothing pain.
Cymene can help to inhibit the action of AchE, which means that the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine has a longer duration. When this happens with low doses, it can help improve memory, attention, and motivation. Taken in excessive quantities, AchE inhibitors can cause problems, but small amounts are helpful for people who have attention disorders, and those who are nervous, stressed or struggling with mood.
Understanding the Impact of Cymene
Essential oils and their component terpenes have many benefits, and research shows that cymene is antimicrobial, antifungal, and an AchE inhibitor. There are other potential benefits of cymene that can help to preserve foods (because of the properties already mentioned), and that it can give flavor and color to foods. Some oils have been found to be anti-carcinogenic and be healthful in other ways too. What’s interesting, though, is that cymene has been found to have synergistic effects with thymol and carvacrol, which it is a precursor to.2 The way that cymene works is complex and has not been fully documented yet, but it appears that p-cymene has an impact on mitochondrial functions, and does not change the oxygen consumption, however it does change the membrane potential. Further research is needed to determine what this impact could have on the body and whether this is a channel for toxicity.
Using Essential Oils that Contain Cymene
There are many essential oils that contain cymene. One of the most popular is cumin, which is used by women who are struggling during the menopause, as well as people who are feeling anxious or stressed. It is used as a digestive aid, and can also be used to stimulate the appetite. The appetite-stimulating effects are sometimes used to help those who are suffering from mild stomach bugs, those who are stressed or otherwise mentally down and have lost their appetite because of that, those who are in recovery treatment for eating disorders, and for those who are using a combination of CBT and other therapies to help with their mental aversion to food, and then using appetite stimulating agents to help themselves feel hunger, thereby make it easier to eat. This is a complex issue which needs a multi-pronged approach, but cymene and the other terpenes that are found in popular essential oils can be a huge help.
Common ways of using essential oils include:
Add a few drops to a diffuser, or add one drop to a carrier oil which can then be dabbed to the skin under the nose.
Dilute the oil with a carrier oil, adding just a single drop of the active oil. Massage into the skin. Instead of using a carrier oil, the active oil can be added to high quality, unscented skin cleansers or lotions. Do not apply any essential oil or terpene to the skin neat, because most oils are severe irritants when highly concentrated.
Additional Information on Cymene
Cymene is just one of the compounds found in nature that is thought to be hugely beneficial to our wellbeing. Research into the benefits of terpene exposure through forest bathing shows that plant oils and substances, including cymene, can help to improve your immune function, neuronal health, and general well-being.3
Excessive doses of cymene, however, could cause blistering, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and at extremely high doss there is the risk of loss of consciousness or coma. For this reason, it is usually used only as a very small additive in aromatherapy oils, and as a flavoring in cakes, beverages, and confectionery. When used in fragrances and aromatherapy oils or for topical applications, only very small quantities are added, and because of the nature of it as a skin irritant.4
Molecular Formula: C10H14
Molecular Weight: 134.21 g/mol
Boiling Point: 177C