A few years ago, I was encouraged to become an independent essential oils consultant. I’d never tried essential oils before but they were becoming increasingly popular. Almost everyone I knew was hosting an essential oils party. My friends raved about the amazing benefits. Their skin was glowing, their allergies no longer bothered them, their kids never got sick... And one friend told me her migraines almost completely stopped when she started to diffuse oils.
Wait, her migraines disappeared? This was music to my ears. I’ve suffered from aura migraines since I was 6 years old. If essential oils could prevent my migraines it would be a miracle to me.
I signed up to be a consultant so I could save a ton of money on the welcome package and get 10 of the “best” essential oils to try. The oils came with a diffuser, too.
When they arrived, I promptly did what I do with everything I buy from direct sales companies: I put the oils in the closet and forgot all about them.
When you think you know your migraines…
A few months ago, my migraines started to get worse. I usually got cluster migraines — I’d get an aura migraine 2-3 times a week, about six to nine months apart. But about six months ago, the migraines started happening about once a week. The sudden change made me desperate to find a solution.
Over the years I’ve tried many treatments and medicines to alleviate the migraines — and always with little to no success. I remembered my friend who’d told me how much essential oils helped to alleviate her aura migraines. I decided to give them a try.
I texted her to ask which oils I should start with, and she suggested I diffuse peppermint and lavender together — four drops of peppermint and three drops of lavender.
At that point, it would have been wise to consult a doctor to see if using essential oils was a good home remedy for my migraines. Instead, I did a quick Google search and found the top search results supporting the use of essential oils for migraines. Articles like The Top 4 Oils to Help Migraines popped up and confirmed to me what my friend had said. Essential oils must work for migraines.
And then… unexplained symptoms started
I’m fortunate to work from home and could diffuse oils all day long. I was excited to start because the migraines had become a debilitating nuisance in my everyday life.
On the first day, I set the diffuser to four hours and used the recommended oil combination my friend had told me about. My house smelled fantastic! I was telling everyone on Facebook that I had jumped on the essential oil bandwagon.
Of course, this made my essential oil consultant friends leap for joy. Soon, my Facebook feed was flooded with oil combinations and a ton of different remedies for curing everyday ailments. There wasn’t a single person who mentioned that there’s a dark side to essential oils — a dark side that I was about to discover for myself.
After three days of diffusing the peppermint and lavender oils, my migraines hadn’t stopped. In fact, I thought I was going a bit crazy because they seemed to be getting worse. Instead of getting one once a week, I had one every single day.
A week in I started commenting to my husband that I felt extremely nauseous all day long. We both assumed I was pregnant and were baffled when we found out I wasn’t. The symptoms were extremely similar to the all-day morning sickness I’d experienced with our daughter.
My husband pointed out that the essential oils didn’t seem to be helping, and perhaps I should switch the oils I was diffusing. I considered what he said but forgot to do anything about it until a few days later.
I was walking up the stairs to our bedroom when I was hit with the worst nausea I’d ever felt — and then I blacked out. The blackout lasted for only a few seconds, but when I regained my balance my vision was extremely blurry.
It reminded me of an aura migraine, but I’d never had one come on so quickly and change my vision so fast. At that point, I was really concerned something was wrong with me. Then I remembered my husband’s comment about doing some research on the side effects of essential oils, and suddenly it all made sense.
My new symptoms clearly started the day I began diffusing oils.
The dark side of essential oils
Essential oils have become a popular trend. Since many people swear by the positive effects of oils, it took some digging to discover what I like to call “the dark side.” After my bad experience with essential oils, my first Google search was: “essential oils causing migraines.”
Again, pro-essential oil articles flooded the first page. I scrolled a little further and read several blogs where people defended essential oils and claimed it was impossible that they led to migraines.
My second Google search was: “Are migraines a side effect of essential oils?”
This time, I found a ton of information about the link between essential oils and migraines. I also discovered some disturbing facts about essential oils that I’d never heard before.
They may smell lovely, but essential oils can also burn your skin and be harmful to babies, pregnant women, and pets. You should never apply them directly to skin. Instead you should dilute 3 to 5 drops in a carrier oil.
Essential oils can cause extreme itching and irritate existing conditions such as asthma. People can be allergic to essential oils and develop allergies to oils they have used previously. Essentials oils can also be lethal if swallowed.
The scents and sensibility of migraines
According to a study, 40 to 50 percent of people who experience migraines also experience a change in their sense of smell during an attack. Aversion to scents during migraines are also closely linked to symptoms of nausea.
Given the close relationship between the sense of smell and migraines, it may be beneficial to seek out alternative remedies — other than essential oils.
There are medications on the market today that your doctor can prescribe to help with your migraines. And there are other alternative treatments and lifestyle changes to consider, which may impact the frequency of your migraines.
Alternatives to try:
- Stop taking birth control containing estrogen.
- Pay attention to triggers that may set your migraines off, and mitigate the risk of future triggers.
- Consume less alcohol and caffeine.
- Take a multivitamin.
- Try acupuncture.
If you experience aura migraines and you tend to be near a lot of different scents, be aware of your surroundings and document the different scents you experience when your migraine hits.
The best way to understand your triggers is to be aware of your surroundings.
Life after essential oils
Once I stopped diffusing oils, the nausea and daily headaches cleared up almost immediately. I was still living with regular headaches about once a week, though, so I made an appointment with my doctor.
My doctor informed me that my sinus cavity was swollen, and he believed I was experiencing sinus headaches and not migraines. We also discussed the symptoms I was having when diffusing oils.
My doctor recommended that as someone who experiences chronic migraines, I should avoid future use. He believes it was very likely that the oils instigated the cluster migraines I was experiencing during the time I was diffusing!
Bottom line? I no longer diffuse oils, and haven’t had similar symptoms since. Essential oils are everywhere these days, and you’ve probably heard about their many amazing benefits. I don’t doubt that they may work beautifully for many conditions and many people — but not for everyone.
Always remember to take what you hear with a grain of salt, and get your doctor’s advice before jumping on the essential oil bandwagon. Your doctor will be able to help you decide what’s right for you.
Editor’s note: The writer’s views don’t necessarily reflect Healthline as a company.
Monica Froese is a mom, wife, and business strategist for mom entrepreneurs. She has an MBA degree in finance and marketing and blogs at Redefining Mom, a site for helping moms build thriving online businesses. In 2015, she traveled to the White House to discuss family-friendly workplace policies with President Obama’s senior advisors and has been featured on several media outlets, including Fox News, Scary Mommy, Healthline, and Mom Talk Radio. With her tactical approach to balancing family and online business, she helps moms build successful businesses and change their lives at the same time.