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Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids made from leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, or other plant elements. 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 topical use. Add 5 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Essential oils must never be applied directly to the skin or ingested.

Shop for carrier oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, or jojoba oil online.

When looking for the best essential oils, it’s important to consider the following criteria:

  • Quality: It’s best to buy “pure” essential oils. Many knock-off essential oils contain additives or dilutions that can harm the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
  • Label: Look for “100 percent pure essential oil” on the product label or “certified organic” for peace of mind. It should also state the common and Latin name, what plant parts were used, how it was extracted, and country of origin and/or lot number.
  • Brand: Some essential oil brands are better than others. The best oil brands are transparent about where their plants are sourced and the extraction process. Aura Cacia, Eden Botanicals, and Rocky Mountain Oils are a few examples of essential oil companies with good brand reputations.

Most cooling

Eden Botanicals peppermint essential oil

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.

Best for circulation

Eden Botanicals rosemary essential oil

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 with headaches.

A 2013 study 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.

Best for muscle relaxation

Eden Botanicals wild grown lavender essential oil

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 of lavender essential oil can help the acute management of migraine attacks. One 2013 study 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.

Best for tension headaches

German blue chamomile essential oil

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 people 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.

Best for sinus headaches

Australian blue gum eucalyptus essential oil

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 older 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.

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 oil before 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 people. 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 ensure 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.

Additionally, always keep essential oils out of reach of children and pets.

If you’re experiencing headaches or migraine episodes three or more times per month, it’s important to talk with your doctor. They can determine the underlying cause or refer you to a neurologist.

Also, consider seeing a doctor if forms of self-care, such as essential oils and massage, aren’t helping your headaches or migraine episodes.

You should see a doctor if you’re experiencing signs of an allergic reaction from the oils.

The symptoms to look out for include:

  • dry, cracked skin
  • burning and stinging sensation
  • raised red bumps that itch (hives)
  • oozing blisters or bumps

If you need help finding a primary care doctor, then check out our FindCare tool here.

Where do I put essential oils for headaches?

The forehead, back of the ears, back of the neck, and temples are common places to ease headaches. You can also massage it into the area where you’re experiencing pain the most. Before using, be sure to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as almond, olive, or jojoba oil. Keep out of your eyes!

What smell is good for headaches?

Peppermint, rosemary, lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus are all helpful scents for reducing the symptoms of a headache. Be careful not to overdo it, though, as some people find that strong scents can trigger their headaches.

How can I get rid of a headache fast?

Massage therapy, heat or cold compress, and aromatherapy are all helpful remedies to get rid of a headache. For example, you can leave a cold compress on your forehead, or wherever the pain is, for 10 minutes.

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.

Read this article in Spanish.