About 45 million Americans are said to suffer from chronic daily headaches, especially women, who develop about twice as many as men. Headache disorders are fairly common, including migraines, tension headaches, and cluster aches – in fact, it’s been estimated that around the world, about 50 percent suffer from one type of headache or another.
Suffering from frequent headaches, meaning headaches that occur over at least half the days in any given month, or daily for three months or more, is defined as CDH, or chronic daily headaches. And headaches aren’t just painful, they can be disabling. According to the latest statistic provided by the Global Burden of Disease Study, migraines themselves were the sixth highest global cause of years lost due to disability, and collectively headache disorders were the third highest.
If you’re one of the millions of headache sufferers, we probably don’t have to tell you how negatively it can impact one’s life, physically, emotionally and financially. Repeated headaches, the constant fear of when the next one is going to hit, can cause problems with your career, your relationships, and social life. It can also predispose one to other illnesses, like anxiety and depression, which for obvious reasons, are a lot more common in migraine sufferers than people who are healthy, according to the World Health Organization.
Part of the problem in figuring out how to prevent getting a headache or migraine in the first place is that there are so many potential causes, as well as possible combinations of causes, it’s hard to know what to do – just some of the possibilities include low blood sugar, stress, allergies, fatigue, hormones, alcohol or drugs, nutritional deficiencies, or even poor posture.
But no matter how often you get headaches or migraines, or the reason behind them, essential oils may bring relief. Of course, many people turn to painkillers, but pills typically come with a long list of unwanted side effects, such as liver and kidney damage, and they don’t address the root of the problem either.
Treating headaches with essential oils can safely and effectively treat the trigger, getting to the root of the problem, rather than temporarily minimizing the pain. Many come with a wide range of health benefits too, like strengthening your immune system, instead of damaging your precious organs. They can work wonders at reducing inflammation, swelling, pain and muscle spasms. Many also offer calming effects and improve blood flow to the brain.
Before choosing the perfect essential oil, or essential oil blend to treat your headache, keep in mind that scents are a very personal thing, and many sufferers tend to be extra sensitive to them during an attack. There are many different essential oils that can be effective, so you might need to do a little experimenting first. For example, you could add a drop to a tissue and take a whiff first, if you don’t have a problem with it, you’re good to go. If you plan to use it directly on your skin, dilute it with a carrier oil like almond or olive oil first and do a quick patch test on a small area, before applying it to a larger area of the skin.
With that said, here are some of the best essential oils for treating your headache.
6 Best Essential Oils For Treating Headaches
1. Peppermint essential oil
Peppermint is actually a hybrid species of spearmint and watermint. It’s known for its cooling sensation, and it offers a calming effect as well as the ability to inhibit muscle contractions and stimulate blood flow in the forehead when applied topically. Not only does it smell wonderful, it’s one of the oldest herbs used for medicinal purposes, with historical recorded uses in ancient Japanese and Chinese medicine. Its uses and health benefits go all the way back to 1,000 BC, and it’s even been found in a number of Egyptian pyramids.
As peppermint essential oil is quite an effective natural painkiller, as well as a muscle relaxant, it’s particularly helpful for soothing away a tension headache when used topically on the temples and across the forehead. Research in 1996 using participants who received the oil topically 15 and 30 minutes after their headache started to kick in, reported pain relief without any adverse side effects. The experts concluded that it was a cost-effective, well-tolerated alternative to traditional headache treatments.
As peppermint is an uplifting scent that can energize, avoid using it just before bedtime as it can interfere with sleep. Otherwise, it may become your first go-to item whenever you feel a headache or migraine coming on. As soon as you notice the signs, mix a few drops of 100% pure peppermint oil (we like this Plant Therapy Peppermint Oil) in a carrier oil like almond, coconut, olive or jojoba oil, and rub it onto your temples, across your forehead and the back of your neck.
2. Helichrysum essential oil
This oil is relatively unknown in the United States, and tends to cost quite a bit more than other essential oils, but it’s been used for thousands of years to treat a host of medical conditions, including migraines and other headache-related problems in Mediterranean countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Turkey as it contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that make it effective for many conditions.
While helichrysum essential oil is best known for its skin and wound healing applications, due to its analgesic qualities and anti-inflammatory properties, it is considered a safe and effective headache remedy. It also helps soothe the nerves, which is is good for relieving those tension based headaches.
3. Lavender essential oil
The most popular essential oil of all, lavender offers well-known calming effects that are often used to help battle symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety and nerve-related insomnia. It’s also grown a reputation for its ability to naturally heal migraines and headaches caused by anxiety or stress. In fact, research has confirmed this – a study conducted in 2012 out of Iran’s Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, evaluated its effects on participants suffering from frequent migraines. Whenever a migraine started to come on, they would inhale lavender essential oil and record their symptoms. As compared to those who received a placebo, the percentage of participants who enjoyed relief was significantly higher. There were 92 of 129 who positively responded, either completely or partially, to inhaling lavender essential oil, compared to less than half of participants who positively responded to the placebo.
Lavender essential oil is also said to be the best oil for treating headaches that are allergy triggered. While participants in the study mention used the inhalation method, the oil can also be topically applied to the temples or the back of the neck whenever you feel the symptoms of a headache coming on.
4. Rosemary essential oil
Rosemary essential oil has long been used traditionally to treat headaches as well as circulatory problems due to its natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It also offers a calming effect, lowering stress and reducing emotional triggers that can lead to a headache. It also helps to soothe an upset stomach and aid the digestion process, which can be symptoms of a severe headache.
Research published in 2013 in Addiction Health can back this up scientifically too. The study specifically evaluated rosemary essential oil effects on withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, nausea and headaches. They found that the rosemary essential oil was able to effectively reduce many of those symptoms. It also reduced pain, tension and muscle jerks like improving sleeping patterns.
You can use rosemary oil to treat a headache with a carrier oil like olive or coconut oil by applying it to the back of the neck, the temples and forehead.
5. Eucalyptus essential oil
Eucalyptus may be the top pick for headaches that develop from sinus pressure, as it acts as an expectorant to help cleanse the body of harmful microorganisms and toxins while opening up nasal airways and eliminating sinus pressure. It’s also known for improving one’s mood and promoting emotional balance – something that all of us can use when suffering from any type of illness.
Science has backed this one up too, as a 2013 clinical trial conducted in Korea showed that inhaling eucalyptus oil could reduce pain as well as lower blood pressure. It was also found to promote emotional stability and contain anti-inflammatory properties. That combination can be especially beneficial for those who suffer from tension headaches.
An early study out of Israel also evaluated the efficacy of eucalyptus oil. Patients suffering from respiratory conditions known to lead to other problems like a sore throat, cough, and tension headaches, reported that inhaling the oil reduced their runny nose and helped them breath better. The researchers also noted that the oil’s anti-inflammatory effects, along with antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial compounds, helped to alleviate sinus pressure related to the inflammatory response, and relieve sinus headaches.
It’s best to breathe in the aroma to eliminate nasal buildup and clear the airways first, as that alleviates sinus tension that can cause a headache or a migraine. You can also dilute a few drops of the oil with a carrier oil and apply it topically to your temples, back of your neck and your chest.
6. Roman chamomile essential oil
You’ve probably heard about drinking chamomile tea for promoting a sense of calm and relaxation, and the essential oil works much in the same way. It contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that are used to relieve generally feelings of anxiety and stress, as well as to treat neuralgic pain. That makes Roman chamomile especially effective when used for a stress-related headache.
5 Ways to Use Essential Oils For Headaches
While we included some of the ways essential oils can be used to treat headaches in the information on the oils themselves, there are lots of options available to you.
Apply it topically: You can dilute 10 drops of your favorite essential oil into about an ounce of the carrier oil of your choice and gently massage several drops to the back of your neck and temples, and across your forehead. Avoid the area around your eyes.
Diffuser: You can diffuse an essential oil, or a blend of essential oils, in a diffuser throughout the day, or at night, to prevent or relieve a headache or a migraine.
Inhalation: You can inhale the essential oil aroma by placing a couple drops onto a tissue or cotton ball. Place under your nose and slowly inhale, taking about five deep breaths.
Alternatively, place several drops of the desired essential oil into a pot or bowl of boiling water. Drape a towel over your head and then breathe in the steam. This is especially effective for headaches or migraines that are sinus related.
Compress: Dilute five drops of your chosen essential oil in a tablespoon of carrier oil and add to about a quart of cold water in a bowl. Soak a cloth in the bowl and then use it to apply as a compress on the back of your neck or forehead. Generally cold works better for relieving headaches, but if you use a warm compress it can help improve circulation.
Aromatherapy Bath: Finally, a nice relaxing aromatherapy bath can be wonderful for alleviating migraine or headache pain. All you need to do is add about 5 drops of the essential oil to half a cup of milk or a tablespoon of carrier oil. Don’t add it under running water as it will evaporate faster. For migraine attacks, you may want to add a cup of Epsom salt too as it will help replenish your magnesium levels – a magnesium deficiency can often trigger an attack.