5 Essential Oils for Headaches and Migraines

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on April 26, 2017Written by Ana Gotter

Overview

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 migraines. 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.

To use essential oils, they must be diluted in a carrier oil such as coconut oil, olive oil, or sweet almond oil. Add 5 drops to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Essential oils must never be applied directly to the skin or ingested.

1. Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil is one of the most commonly used essential oils to treat headaches or migraines. It contains menthol, which can help muscles relax and ease pain. It’s thought that applying diluted peppermint oil directly to the temples can help relieve pain from both tension headaches and migraines.

How to use it

Dilute the peppermint with another carrier oil, like coconut oil, and apply to temples.

2. Rosemary oil

Rosemary oil has powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain killing) 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. One study even found that rosemary oil helped with withdrawal symptoms. It also helps 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 offer pain relief.

3. Lavender oil

Lavender essential oil is commonly used for stress relief and relaxation. There’s also strong evidence that lavender can help treat headaches and migraines.

Breathing in the scent from lavender essential oil can help acute management of migraine headaches. One study found that people reported a significant reduction in pain after only fifteen 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 oil to a warm bath to obtain its benefits.

4. Chamomile essential oil

The essential oil of chamomile relaxes the body and soothes muscles, and for this reason 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 should not 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 to hot water, and breathe in the steam.

5. Eucalyptus

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 can help relieve sinus tension that causes the headaches.

One study 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.

Risks and complications

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 medicines.

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, burning feeling, redness, or a rash. You should dilute all essential oils, including peppermint and eucalyptus oils, with a carrier oil before applying to the skin. To prevent widespread irritation, do a small test spot on your skin before applying a large amount. If there is 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 for 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 is important to remember that essential oils are not monitored by the FDA for purity, quality, or safety. If purchasing essential oils, be sure to buy from a reputable company.

Takeaway

Essential oils can have numerous medicinal benefits when used correctly, and can help to relieve headaches and migraines. When it comes to essential oils, remember that a little goes a long way (1-3 drops will do the trick).

If your headaches or migraines are persistent and interfere with your life, make an appointment to see your doctor. For severe or frequent headaches or migraines, essential oils may work best as a complementary treatment to prescription medications.

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