Peppermint Oil for Migraine and Headache Relief

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD MSN RN IBCLC AHN-BC CHT   on April 6, 2017Written by James Roland and Neel Duggal on April 6, 2017

Does peppermint oil work?

Recently, many people have been discussing using peppermint oil for headaches. While there aren’t many high-quality studies to confirm the efficacy of peppermint oil, some researchers suspect that the oil helps control blood flow in the body and open up the sinuses for better oxygen flow. Many people also report using the oil for relief from their migraines and other types of headaches.

You can find peppermint oil:

  • in gel capsules
  • as a liquid oil
  • in tea
  • in incense sticks
  • in candy or other chewables

Keep reading to learn how to find relief from headaches using peppermint oil. Some types of headaches, such as sinus and tension headaches, may respond better to peppermint oil than others, but the methods of use are the same.

5 ways to use peppermint oil for headaches

1. Put a few drops in your bath

Taking a bath can help decrease headache intensity. Add a few drops of peppermint oil to your bath to really increase the relaxation benefits. Turn the bathroom lights off and use a candle if your headache gets worse with bright lights. Try taking a bath to prevent a headache from coming on or worsening.

2. Inhale peppermint oil with steam

Pour hot water into a bowl and add 3 to 7 drops of essential oil. Cover your head with a towel, close your eyes, and breathe through your nose. Do this for no more than two minutes. Steam inhalation can help with sinus headaches, especially if you also have symptoms of congestion.

3. Add it to your massage oil

Essential oils need to be diluted in a carrier oil before being applied directly to the skin. Usually, the recommended ratio is 3 to 5 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of sweet almond oil, warmed coconut oil, or mineral oil. People with nut allergies should always avoid nut-based oils.

Before applying any essential oil, do an allergy test. Mix 3 to 5 drops of essential oil with 1 ounce of your favorite carrier oil. Apply the mixture to the skin of your forearm. If there is no reaction within 24 to 48 hours, the essential oil should be safe to use.

Dab a couple drops of your oil mixture onto your fingers and massage it onto your temples, the back of your neck, your shoulders, and your chest area. Tension headaches are often caused by muscle contractions in this part of your body.

Research also shows that a 30-minute massage can help relieve headache symptoms within 24 hours. To make a homemade massage oil, add a few drops of peppermint oil to an ounce of a carrier oil.

4. Diffuse it into the air

Use a diffuser to help diffuse the oil into the air. You can also inhale peppermint oil directly from the bottle. If the scent is too strong, add a few drops to a cloth, cotton ball, or tissue and breathe it in. Avoid incense sticks, as the smell of smoke may worsen your symptoms.

Read more: Aromatherapy for headaches »

5. Drink peppermint tea

Peppermint oil shouldn’t bet taken orally, but you can make tea using peppermint leaves. Drinking peppermint tea may help you think more clearly and feel more alert.

You can also try eating peppermint or menthol candy, which has been used for digestive ailments for centuries.

When buying peppermint oil

You can buy peppermint oil at a local health store or online. Take caution when buying peppermint oil. Always buy from a reputable source, as herbal remedies have a higher chance of being contaminated. Be sure to buy food-grade peppermint oil if you’re planning to consume it.

Peppermint oil can also interact with compounds found in prescription drugs. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist before taking peppermint oil if you’re currently taking medication.

Are there any risks to using peppermint oil?

Peppermint oil is generally safe, but large doses can be toxic. When taken orally, it’s known to cause heartburn. As for peppermint leaf tea, there are no reports of harmful effects, but the long-term safety of drinking peppermint tea over time is unknown.

Avoid peppermint oil

  • for infants or children, especially if it’s undiluted
  • if you have gallbladder disease, gallstones, chronic heartburn, or kidney problems
  • if you have sensitive skin or are allergic
  • orally when taking medication, as it can slow absorption rate

Using peppermint oil for headaches during pregnancy

Peppermint oil is safe to use during pregnancy. You can use the methods mentioned above. If you’re breastfeeding, be sure to remove the peppermint oil from your skin before nursing. Children and infants should not inhale peppermint oil.

How does it work?

Researchers have looked at the benefits of peppermint oil on headaches for decades. A 2015 review of essential oils and aromatherapy suggested that peppermint oil may work for headaches. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, limited research suggests that peppermint oil works for tension headaches.

The active ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. About 44 percent of peppermint is menthol, which may also lessen the intensity of acute migraines. One study found that a topical gel with 6 percent menthol decreased pain intensity after 2 hours.

Peppermint oil is also shown to be effective for the additional symptoms that migraine, sinus, tension, and cluster headaches may cause, such as:

  • nausea
  • stress
  • congestion
  • runny nose
  • muscle pain

Tips for headache prevention

Some headaches are caused by specific triggers. The good news is that if you know the trigger, you can take additional steps for relief. Look at the table below for tips.

TriggerTreatment
stressFor stress, inhale lavender oil instead of peppermint.
alcohol consumption, or hangoversDrink lots of water and electrolytes and take a nap. If you feel tightness around your neck and shoulders, make sure you have neck support before resting.
dehydrationDrink a sports drink for rehydration. Avoid sweet drinks, caffeine, and soda.
flu or coldDrink ginger and lemon tea to help fight the flu or a cold.
bright lightsTake a break from your current environment and walk outside or to a new room.
painTake aspirin for pain or apply a cold pack (wrapped in a towel) to your head. Children and teens should not be given aspirin.

Read more: Essential oils for sinus congestion »

What else you can do for relief

Headaches that are caused by a trigger can often be prevented. Try these tips:

To prevent headaches

  • Try regular hot baths, which help with relaxation and prevent headaches.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day.
  • Eat a healthy diet, and avoid foods that may trigger migraines, such as red wine and aged cheeses.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene and get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Practice good posture to avoid headaches caused by tight neck or shoulder muscles.
  • Manage stress with self-care exercises such as yoga or medication.

When should you see a doctor?

Generally, a headache will subside within a few hours or days. See a doctor if your headache persists for more than a few days or gets increasingly worse.

Seek emergency care if your headache is due to trauma or a concussion, or if it comes on very suddenly for no apparent reason. You should also see a doctor if your headache is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • trouble walking or moving
  • confusion
  • slurred speech
  • fainting or falling
  • fever higher than 102°F (39°C)
  • numbness or weakness in one part of your body
  • weak vision
  • difficulty speaking
  • nausea or vomiting
  • stiffness in the neck, arms, or legs

Your doctor can help diagnose the type of headache you have, as well as what’s causing your headache.

Keep reading: Migraine vs. headache: How to tell them apart »

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