Looking for the best essential oils for headaches? Find out which oils or blends are most effective when a pounding headache comes on–or auras in advance of them.
Flip a coin. Heads you’re a headache sufferer. Tails, you’re lucky.
Virtually half of adults around the world experience headaches. [SOURCE]
Did the coin land on heads? Are your temples throbbing?
Or maybe you’re the rare breed that suffers a true sinus headache.
(Are you sure it’s a sinus headache? These types of headaches are misdiagnosed 90% of the time. More likely, it’s a migraine.)
Regardless if your headache is a tension type (the most common) or cluster or migraine, you have a few choices.
You can drink a lot of water (maybe you’re dehydrated) and wait it out, hopefully in a peaceful environment.
Another option that millions of people choose is over-the-counter remedies (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen or acetaminophen).
However, these OTC remedies kill 16,500 people each year and hospitalize over 100,000. [SOURCE]
Natural headache remedies
There are a couple primary reasons more people are turning to natural remedies for headaches.
One is the sobering statistic above. An increasing number of people are now aware of the potential dangers of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) drugs, which also includes liver damage.
The second reason is it seems like every other mom is a consultant for an essential oil company.
It’s great that moms and other regular folk on social media are sharing tips on how to use essential oils.
But if you’re one of the almost 40 million people (in the U.S.) that suffer from migraines, does using essential oils for headaches truly offer relief? [SOURCE]
And what about for other headache types? Can essential oils (EOs) mitigate the severity of the pounding, piercing pain?
Without doubt, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that EOs have helped many.
However, is there any research to back these everyday people claims?
The answer: sort of.
If you’re looking for gold-standard proof involving lots of random-placebo-double blind-human trials, there’s not much evidence EOs for headaches work.
In other words, if you’re a strict disciple or follower of western medicine, the research is scant.
But that doesn’t mean EOs for headaches don’t work. It’s just that there’s not a lot of big studies involving thousands of people offering clear-cut efficacy.
Here’s what we do know about essential oils for headaches….
How do they work?
EOs mostly reduce headaches simply by the fact that they reduce stress.
If you drink plenty of water, get 8 hours of sleep a night, eat a low-carb diet mostly consisting of vegetables, learn how to balance your hormones, meditate, do some yoga and get a weekly massage, you probably won’t ever get a headache.
But in the real world, very few people lead this idyllic lifestyle; most people have at least low-levels of chronic stress.
Therefore, if your stress can be reduced, simply by inhaling the vapor of an EO, your headache symptoms may improve.
That’s the basic theory of how an EO works on headaches. The
y also may work by clearing up sinus congestion and improving circulation throughout the body.
How do you use the best essential oils for headaches?
There are a few ways. One of the most popular is taking an essential oil roller and applying the oil to the temples or forehead.
You have to make sure, however, that the oil is safe for topical use.
This fact might seem obvious, but to someone who has never used an EO, it’s important to mention. Even if the oil is safe for topical use, keep in mind that a particular oil may cause the skin to burn or become red. (Test only a small amount on a small area of skin.)
It’s also important to mention if you’re inexperienced with EOs that most oils in a roller are likely blends of at least two oils.
One of the oils will be a carrier oil, which dilutes the therapeutic oil enough so that it’s safe to apply to the skin. (Coconut and almond are popular carrier oils.)
In addition to rubbing the oil on the forehead, you can also just inhale the oil. To do this, simply open the bottle and take a few whiffs.
But not too many whiffs; there might be danger in inhaling EOs too much; see below for a cautionary tale.
You can also place a few drops into a rag, tissue or compress to inhale.
Speaking of compress, you can also soak a towel in cold water and apply some drops of an EO to it. Put the compress on your head.
Another popular way to use essential oils for headaches: take a bath.
The luxurious escape of a warm bath will bring your stress levels down. Adding 10 drops or so of an EO to the bath will enhance the potential therapeutic effect.
What are the best essential oils for headaches?
Now that you know how EOs work and how to use them, let’s discuss which ones to use….
Of these five, lavender and peppermint have more backing in peer-reviewed research journals.
In this study, German researchers examine if peppermint oil works well on tension-type headaches (the most common type of primary headache). This study is the first of its kind as a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind crossover study (a gold-standard of medical research).
The study compares the effectiveness of peppermint to that of acetaminophen (aka Tylenol).
If you’re looking for an effective EO for headaches, try peppermint first.
The conclusion of the study is promising for peppermint: “this study shows for the first time that a 10% peppermint oil in ethanol solution efficiently alleviates tension-type headache.”
The researchers write, “peppermint oil thus proves to be a well-tolerated and cost-effective alternative to usual therapies.”
There is some research proving that rosemary isn’t just an herb for Italian seasoning—it also may be one of the best essential oils for headaches….
For centuries, rosemary was in fact used therapeutically for headaches and circulatory problems.
And a decade ago, a 2008 study suggests that it possesses anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties. The problem is that the study involves rats, not humans.
Another more recent study on rosemary, however does involve humans. It offers promise for the EO as a headache remedy.
However, curb your enthusiasm for rosemary. The study concludes it’s good for reducing pain and insomnia in people going through opiate withdrawal.
Whether it works for general headaches in people not undergoing withdrawal symptoms is unclear.
Best essential oils for headaches: Chamomile
People usually drink Chamomile tea for its relaxation effects. No surprise that the oil produces the same results.
In fact, this research suggests it improves symptoms of anxiety and depression. But will using chamomile oil cure your headache?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Do essential oils cause headaches?
Before looking at more research, let’s first address something that’s becoming more common in ‘EO and headaches’ search results.
There are some reports that EOs may themselves either cause headaches or make them worse.
According to this warning on an acupuncturist’s website, prolonged inhalation of concentrated EOs can cause headaches, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, and lethargy.
Taking big whiffs of EO even caused one blogger to black out. In her article, “I Loved Essential Oils… Until They Triggered Blinding Migraines,” the blogger says she set the diffuser to four hours.
A friend of hers had recommended two of the best essential oils for headaches: a blend peppermint and lavender.
However, after three days of diffusing the peppermint and lavender, her migraines hadn’t stopped.
“In fact, I thought I was going a bit crazy because they seemed to be getting worse,” she says.
The occurrence of the blogger’s migraines increased from one per week to daily. Moreover, these migraines were accompanied by nausea “all day long.”
Initially, the blogger thought she might be pregnant. A pregnancy test came back negative.
Eventually, the blogger stopped diffusing the oils and was told by her doctor that her sinuses were inflamed. Therefore, what she was experiencing wasn’t migraines but sinus headaches (which are actually quite rare in comparison to other headache types.)
Just like any remedy, whether it’s all-natural or pharmaceutical, negative side-effects can occur.
That’s why it’s prudent to start small. Instead of inhaling for hours, set the diffuser for one hour or even less.
Test a couple drops on a small patch of skin. Or just take one whiff of a roller instead of 10.
Essential oil for sinus headache
Despite the blogger’s unfortunate experience, this research article on aromatherapy says that direct inhalation from an inhaler can alleviate sinus headaches.
You may also get relief by placing a few drops on your upper lip. This may clear up breathing problems by reducing the head and sinus pressure.
Peppermint oil for migraines
Let’s get back to how peppermint might be one of the best essential oils for headaches, especially migraines.
This study explores peppermint’s pain-relieving actions.
According to the research, applying it locally generates a long-lasting cooling effect on the skin.
(If you’re interested in learning exactly how, it’s because peppermint alters the atomic structure of calcium channels in cold-receptors.)
Furthermore, peppermint inhibits serotonin. Yes, serotonin is a “happy hormone.”
But serotonin also constricts blood vessels. And when you have a throbbing tension headache, you need your blood vessels to relax, not constrict more.
In addition, peppermint significantly increases skin blood flow of the forehead after local application. (Measurement by a laser doppler confirm this fact in the study.)
It’s too bad the blogger with the bad experience above didn’t get relief from the lavender-peppermint combo. This study is the first placebo-control, clinical trial to demonstrate that inhaling it for migraines works.
And according to this best essential oils for headaches article, wintergreen, frankincense and marjoram work well for migraines as well.
The website suggests placing two drops of frankincense oil on your finger and rubbing it on the roof of your mouth at the first sign of an impending migraine.
The author also recommends placing wintergreen or peppermint on the back of your neck.
And one more tip: blend some of these oils and rub into your palms throughout the day. Occasionally take a whiff to prevent or relieve a headache.
Best Essential Oils for Headaches: superblend
The blogger, Oilologist, gets headaches when a storm is coming. She recommends a rollerball blend of cilantro and basil, in addition to all the oils above.
Of this blend, she says, “This combination contains some of the heavy-hitter oils in the anti-inflammatory category.”
But if you don’t have this blend, she adds, relief is possible with peppermint.
What do you think are the best essential oils for headaches?