Does it work?

For centuries, people have used essential oils to treat a variety of conditions ranging from headaches to heartburn. Today, these potent plant oils are gaining popularity once again as more and more people are turning to nontraditional treatments.

The essential oils of plants gives off a smell to provide the aromatherapy. Essentials oils can also be applied to the skin after diluting with a carrier oil. Essential oils should not be swallowed. Some are toxic.

Although most medical research supports the oils as an aromatherapy treatment, few reports have found they can be useful in other ways. Here’s what you need to know about using essential oils to relieve menstrual cramps.

Essential oils are commonly used in skincare products and some foods. They’re also recognized as powerful aromatherapy tools for easing stress and anxiety. Few oils, however, actually have enough clinically significant research to support their use as a medical treatment beyond aromatherapy.

If you dig through the research that has been conducted, you can find mild support for using these oils as alternative therapies. These essential oils may be useful for treating menstrual cramps:


Using lavender oil as an aromatherapy massage oil may greatly reduce pain and discomfort associated with menstrual cramps. In a 2012 study, nursing students used either lavender oil or a placebo paraffin product to determine if the essential oil had any benefit. Students who used the lavender oil reported greatly reduced cramping.


Cinnamon may be most famous for its culinary uses, but the aromatic spice has been used for centuries in alternative medical treatments. Cinnamon is known to reduce inflammation in the body. Massaging your lower abdomen with cinnamon essential oil may help reduce inflammation and symptoms of menstrual cramping.

Oil blends

Combining more than one type of essential oil may be beneficial. In one 2012 study, researchers used a combination that included lavender, sage, and marjoram oils. The oils were mixed with an unscented cream.

Study participants were instructed to massage the cream mixture into their lower abdomen from the end of their last period to the beginning of their next one. Women who used the cream with the essential oils reported less pain and discomfort during menstruation than women who used synthetic oils.

A 2013 study examined a combination of oils from:

  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • rose
  • lavender

These oils were added to almond oil. Women in the study were instructed to massage the oil combo into the abdomens. This study also found that women using the essential oils reported less pain and bleeding during menstruation than women who used the placebo treatment.

If you’re looking to use essential oils to relieve menstrual cramps, massaging the oils into the affected area is considered to be the best approach. Add a few drops of your preferred oil to a carrier oil.

Carrier oils are neutral oils that will help stretch the potent oils and make it easier to apply and use during a massage. Common carrier oils include:

  • coconut
  • avocado
  • almond
  • extra-virgin olive

Massage a small amount into your abdomen once per day for at least one week before the start of your period.

Check out: How taking birth control can affect cramping »

Before you massage your entire lower abdomen with these essential oil products, apply it first to a small area of skin. Wait at least one day to see if you may have a reaction. If you experience any irritation or discomfort, you shouldn’t use the oils. If you don’t, it’s likely that it’s safe to massage your entire lower abdomen with the product.

Even though your doctor isn’t prescribing this treatment for you, it’s always a good idea to let your doctor know what treatments you’re using. Alternative treatments may impact prescription treatments you’re using. Let your doctor know everything you’re using so that they can watch for interactions or possible issues.

The most common treatments for menstrual cramps include:

Pain relievers

Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pain relievers are usually successful at treating menstrual cramps. You may begin taking a low dose of pain relievers a day or two prior to your anticipated menstrual start date. This may help you avoid painful cramps. Continue taking the pills two or three days into your period, or until the cramps stop.


Some women find relief from painful menstrual cramps simply by resting. Being active during the earliest days of menstruation may make cramps worse. Maintain a normal schedule as best you can while also letting your body rest.

Hormonal birth control

Birth control isn’t just for women who are trying to prevent pregnancy. Birth control can also help reduce menstrual cramps. In some cases, birth control can prevent menstruation altogether.

If OTC pain relievers or birth control options aren’t relieving your symptoms, consult your doctor. They may recommend a prescription-strength medication.

If you’re interested in treating your menstrual cramps with essential oils, keep these tips in mind:

Find a trustworthy supplier

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils. The FDA lists the essential oils that are “generally recognized as safe,” but they don’t inspect or test them for purity because they don’t make any treatment claim. For this reason alone, it’s important you find an oil company you trust is supplying you with pure oils. Many of these oils can be expensive. Don’t waste your money on a cheaper product.

Do your research

Once you find an oil you trust, it’s important you feel comfortable using the product. Find an aromatherapist or talk with your doctor about the proper use of these oils. The store or website where you purchase your oils should also have a trained professional who can help you and answer your questions.

Watch for side effects

Because essential oils haven’t been widely studied, it’s possible that certain side effects aren’t yet known. If you begin experiencing anything unusual after you use essential oils, stop using the product. Contact your doctor, and examine what might be causing the issues.

Learn more: Safe ways to use your birth control to skip your period »