Around 37 million people in the US suffer from headaches (1). These headaches vary in duration from four to 72 hours and can be triggered by many causes including stress, fatigue, allergies, hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies, low blood sugar, and lack of sleep. Although there are many different ways to get rid of headaches like painkillers and balms, these can lead to side effects like kidney and liver problems. Essential oils for headaches and migraines are the age-old home remedy.
They are useful for treating headaches as they address the root of the problem and have no side effects. Five best essential oils for headaches are peppermint oil, rosemary oil, lavender oil, chamomile oil, and eucalyptus oil.
Read on to learn more about essential oils, how they treat headaches and which essential oils are the best for treating headaches.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated versions of oils naturally found in plants. These oils capture the scent and the flavor of the plant and are called its essence.
These are obtained either through cold pressing or distillation methods. Once this oil is extracted, it is mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil or almond oil for use.
Different cultures have used essential oils for centuries. The Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, and Greeks have been using essential oils for their healing properties since the ancient times.
How do essential oils treat headaches?
Although essential oils can’t cure your headaches completely, they help reduce the symptoms, duration, and severity of the headaches.
They provide relief, aid circulation and reduce stress. Since using them has minimal side effects, they are also safe to use.
Essential oils are quite useful in treating headaches triggered by hormonal changes. Many women start to experience migraines during pregnancy or menopause. Essential oils are very safe and effective in such cases.
Stress can trigger headaches, which can also lead to insomnia. Lavender and rosemary oil can reduce stress headaches.
Essential oils can also treat headaches caused by physical exhaustion and allergies.
Top five essential oils for headaches
Peppermint oil is one of the best essential oils for headaches. It contains menthol which is useful in relieving pain and relaxing muscles.
It has a long-lasting cooling effect on the skin, it prevents muscle contractions and stimulates blood flow to the forehead when applied.
Massaging diluted peppermint oil directly to the forehead and temples can help relieve pain from tension headaches and migraine.
During one study, researchers treated 41 patients in a double-blind, randomized crossover design. Peppermint oil was applied to their forehead and temples and repeated after 15 and 30 minutes.
Compared to the placebo, the 10 percent peppermint oil solution reduced the intensity of the headaches significantly after 15 minutes. The pain level continued to go down for one hour (2).
In another study, researchers tested the effects of eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil on 32 healthy subjects. The researchers discovered a significant analgesic effect with a reduction in sensitivity to the headaches with a combination of peppermint oil and ethanol (3).
According to a 2015 review of published studies, applying peppermint oil to the temples provides relief from tension headaches (2).
Ways to use
Dilute some drops of peppermint oil with coconut oil and apply it on the forehead and temples.
2. Rosemary oil
Rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory and an analgesic property, which is the reason why it has been used traditionally to treat headaches, reduce stress, and boost circulation.
It also helps reduce insomnia and relaxes muscles, which help with headache relief. During one study, scientists used rosemary during treatment for opium addiction.
The study discovered that the group that took rosemary experienced less severe withdrawal symptoms than the control group (5).
Rosemary oil is also used to reduce stress and emotional triggers that can lead to a headache. It also helps soothe upset stomachs, which is also a symptom of severe headaches (6).
Ways to use
If you are experiencing a migraine or a headache, add one drop of rosemary essential oil to your tea, soup or water and drink it.
Mix three drops of rosemary oil with an equal amount of peppermint oil and one teaspoon of coconut oil and massage it on your forehead and temples.
3. Lavender oil
Lavender oil improves sleep and reduces stress, the two main triggers of a headache. During a 2012 study, 47 patients with a migraine headache were studied for the efficacy of lavender oil inhalation for the treatment of migraines.
The study concluded that lavender essential oil could be a safe and effective treatment for the acute management of migraine headaches (7).
During a double-blind placebo-controlled study which was conducted over a period of three months, the subjects reported reduced frequency and severity of migraines (8).
Lavender oil contains linalool and linalyl acetate, which are rapidly absorbed through the skin and cause a central nervous system depression. So, this oil can be used to treat headaches caused by anxiety disorders.
Ways to use
- Add five or six drops of lavender essential oil warm bath water and take deep breaths while bathing.
- Add two or three drops of lavender oil to a bowl of warm water and cover your head with a cotton towel to inhale the vapors.
- Add a few drops of lavender oil to a teaspoon of coconut oil and massage it behind your ears, temples and at the back of your neck.
If your headaches are a result of chronic sinusitis, eucalyptus oil can be a great help. Not only will this oil open up the nasal passages and clear the sinuses, but it can also relieve tension caused by sinus headaches.
During the 2013 trial, 52 patients who recently underwent knee replacement surgery were studied for the effects of eucalyptus oil inhalation.
The study found that eucalyptus oil treatment promoted emotional stability and had anti-inflammatory effects in the patients. These effects are beneficial to the patient suffering from headaches as well (9).
According to another study patients of upper respiratory tract infection were treated with a spray containing aromatic oil of five plants including Eucalyptus citriodora, Eucalyptus globulus, Mentha piperita, Origanum striacum and Rosmarinus officinalis.
After 20 minutes of treatment, the patients reported a significant decrease in URTI symptoms (10).
Ways to use
Mix two drops of eucalyptus oil with one teaspoon of carrier oil and massage on your chest, temples, and forehead.
5. Chamomile oil
Chamomile essential oil helps relax the body and sooth muscles, both of which help in treating tension headaches. It also helps in treating insomnia and anxiety, which can lead to headaches.
According to a 2014 study, when chamomile is prepared in traditional Persian medicine by boiling aqueous extract of chamomile in sesame oil, it provides relief for migraine pain. (11).
Ways to use
- Dilute one or two drops of chamomile oil in a carrier oil and massage it on your forehead and temples.
- Add a few drops of chamomile oil to hot water and inhale the steam.
Treating different headaches with essential oils
Tension headaches or stress headaches feel like a constant pressure on the head, usually around the temples or back of the neck.
Chamomile, lavender, peppermint and rosemary oils can help relieve tension headaches. The relaxing scent of these oils is effective in reducing stress.
The symptoms of this type of headaches include stabbing pain and watery eyes. Peppermint oil is beneficial in treating cluster headaches.
Eucalyptus oils are the best for treating sinus headaches. This oil helps clear congestion and mucus from the nasal passage so that you can breathe better. A headache goes away when this oil clears the nasal passage.
Migraine headaches are excruciating and are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Lavender and peppermint oil help ease the pain and other symptoms of migraine headaches.
Sometimes the medicines you take for headaches can trigger more headaches. This can lead to a vicious cycle of medication and headaches. Peppermint and lavender oils provide relief and help treat rebound headaches naturally.
Low blood sugar levels can also cause severe headaches. Lavender and rosemary oil, when taken together with carrier oils can help with sugar headaches.
Tips for using essential oils for headaches
- Always remember to dilute your essential oil properly. Diluted oils work the best for headaches.
- If you have a particularly severe headache or a migraine, use a warm compress after you have massaged the oil on your forehead.
- Use a good quality diffuser to diffuse the oil for headache relief.
- If you feel no pain relief, you can reapply the oil after 20 minutes.
Side effects and precautions while using essential oils for headaches
- If you are using essential oil for the first time, always do a patch test.
- When using an essential oil on your nose or forehead, always make sure that you dilute it first.
- When using the essential oil internally, use it sparingly. Remember, when it comes to essential oils, a little goes a long way.
- Children under one year and pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid using essential oils.
- If you have pre-existing conditions like asthma or heart condition, check with your doctor before using any essential oils.
Final words on essential oils for headaches
Essential oils are the natural way to treat this ailment. Peppermint oil, lavender oil, rosemary oil, eucalyptus oil and chamomile oil are the five best essential oils for headaches.
They can be used in a diffuser, massaged on the forehead, added to the bath water and used as a compress. Make sure you dilute these oils with a carrier oil and do a patch test before you use them.