5 Essential Oils for Headaches and Migraine
Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI — Written by Ana Gotter on April 3, 2020
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids made from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, or other elements of a plant. Aromatherapy often involves essential oils that can offer health benefits like reducing stress and improving circulation via sensory stimuli (scent).
Essential oils can even help treat certain conditions like headaches or migraine. Different oils offer different benefits. They also provide benefits without the long lists of side effects that can accompany prescription headache and migraine medications.
Some essential oils can reduce stress, which can alleviate tension headaches, or soothe pain.
Essential oils must be diluted in a carrier oil such as coconut oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, or jojoba oil before use. Add five drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Essential oils must never be applied directly to the skin or ingested.
Peppermint oil is one of the most commonly used essential oils to treat headaches and migraine attacks. It contains menthol, which can help relax muscles and ease pain.
It’s thought that applying diluted peppermint oil topically can help relieve pain from both tension headaches and migraine attacks.
How to use it
Dilute the peppermint with another carrier oil, like coconut oil, and apply to temples.
Rosemary oil has powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. It’s been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years for stress reduction, pain relief, and improved circulation, which can all help headaches.
A 2013 studyTrusted Source even found that rosemary oil used along with other medications helped with withdrawal symptoms. It also helped reduce insomnia and relax muscles, which can help with headaches.
How to use it
To use rosemary oil, you can massage the affected area with a few drops of rosemary oil mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil. It’s also thought that the scent of rosemary oil — like breathing in the scent from your skin or in a hot bath — can provide pain relief.
Lavender essential oil is commonly used for stress relief and relaxation. There’s also strong evidence that lavender can help treat headaches and migraine.
Breathing in the scent from lavender essential oil can help acute management of migraine attacks. One 2013 studyTrusted Source found that people reported a significant reduction in pain after only 15 minutes of inhaling the lavender oil.
How to use it
You can apply diluted lavender oil to the skin, use an oil diffuser, or add the diluted oil to a warm bath to obtain its benefits.
The essential oil of chamomile relaxes the body and soothes muscles, and for this reason, it can be a great aid in treating tension headaches. It can also help treat anxiety and insomnia, which are common causes of headaches.
Pregnant women shouldn’t use chamomile essential oil as it carries a risk of miscarriage.
How to use it
You can add a few drops of chamomile essential oil diluted in a carrier oil to a bath or hot water, and breathe in the steam.
If your headaches are caused by sinus issues, eucalyptus essential oils can become your new best friend. This oil will open up the nasal passages, clear the sinuses, and help relieve sinus tension that causes the headaches.
One 1994 studyTrusted Source also found that a combination of peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and ethanol provided relaxing effects to both the muscles and the mind, which could help soothe headaches.
How to use it
You can apply a drop of eucalyptus oil to a carrier oil and apply it to the chest to help clear the sinuses, or add a few drops to hot water and breathe in the vapor.
Essential oils are generally regarded as safe, and many have much fewer side effects compared to most traditional migraine and headache medications — including both over-the-counter and prescription medications.
The biggest risk associated with essential oils is the risk of an allergic reaction or irritation. Applying oils to the skin can cause irritation, including a stinging or burning feeling, redness, or rash.
You should dilute all essential oils, including peppermint and eucalyptus oils, with a carrier oilbefore applying to the skin.
To prevent widespread irritation, do a patch test: Apply a few drops of diluted essential oil to a small spot on your skin before applying a large amount. If there’s no reaction in 24 to 48 hours, it should be safe to use.
There are very few essential oils recommended for infants under 1 year or pregnant and breastfeeding women. Lavender and rosemary oils, in particular, can be dangerous.
Essential oils can also cause complications if you have preexisting conditions like asthma or heart problems. Ask your doctor before using any essential oils to make sure they won’t aggravate any existing health problems.
It’s important to remember that essential oils aren’t monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for purity, quality, or safety. If purchasing essential oils, be sure to buy from a reputable company.
Essential oils can have numerous medicinal benefits when used correctly, and they can help to relieve headaches and migraine attacks. When it comes to essential oils, remember that a little goes a long way — one to three drops will do the trick.
If your headaches or migraine attacks are persistent and interfere with your life, make an appointment to see your doctor. For severe or frequent headaches or migraine attacks, essential oils may work best as a complementary treatment to prescription medications.
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