If you are like the majority of the population, you have experienced a headache at some point. Luckily you can use essential oils for headaches instead of over-the-counter drugs.
Headaches are actually the most common nervous system disorder, with at least 50 percent of the population experiencing at least one in the last year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
For some people, headaches can be a weekly occurrence. And when they come on, they can severely limit your life. Worldwide, few headache disorders are ever properly diagnosed because they can be difficult to pinpoint.
The headache itself, while painful and disabling, is actually a feature of a smaller number of principal headache disorders—migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches.
Headaches can occur for a variety of reasons. Things like stress, fatigue, allergies, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, constipation, poor posture, low blood sugar, and alcohol use for example. Often, as well, headaches can result from a secondary condition.
MOH are also known as rebound headaches. These headaches can start after regular, long-term use of the very medications you take to treat your headaches. While pain relievers like Tylenol or Advil will offer relief for occasional headaches, if you take them more than a couple of days a week, they can trigger rebound headaches (2).
Most of the common OTC headache remedies also come with a slew of side effects like severe digestive issues, cardiovascular risks, and even liver damage. And even though they may help relieve the pain of a headache temporarily, they don’t address the root cause of the headaches, so they will never help you cure the problem. This is why so many people are now turning to more natural headache relief treatments. And one of the best is essential oils.
Essential Oils For Headaches
The beauty of essential oils is that they are not only natural but depending on the type of oil you use, they also address a number of underlying issues that can be at the root of your headaches.
Like conventional medications for headaches, essential oils can effectively reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, swelling and pain. Many oils also have a calming effect on your body and can even improve blood circulation to your brain, which is essential when dealing with headaches.
Essential oils are essentially minute molecules that are easily absorbed. Every oil has a unique chemical composition made up from a variety of terpenes (a class of organic compounds), esters, oxides, alcohols, phenols, ketones, and aldehydes. Together, these components interact with your body to trigger and strengthen its own natural processes. These tiny molecules deliver healing properties to the various systems in your body that control your physiological state.
You can use essential oils for headaches in several ways. Typically, you can apply them to your skin directly or you can inhale them. While some trained professionals can advise you on ingesting them, this is not recommended unless under the supervision of a certified naturopath.
When you apply an essential oil directly on your skin, their healing components are absorbed into your bloodstream through your pores and hair follicles. From there, they move to the specific organs and systems they are intended to help. Your body has what is known as “pulse points,” which are the areas where your blood vessels are closest to your skin’s surface.
If you apply the essential oil to these areas, it will absorb and start to work faster. Good pulse points are your wrists, temples and the back of your neck. You can also massage the area first to increase circulation, which will also help the essential oil to absorb better and faster. Often if you warm the area slightly with a warm cloth, for example, this slight heat will increase circulation and absorption.
As well, some researchers claim that essential oils are more readily absorbed in the areas that have greater concentrations of sweat glands and hair follicles, like your head, soles, and palms. However, the essential oils should always be combined with almond or coconut oil in 1-3 drops per teaspoon ratio before being applied.
Inhaling Essential Oils
When essential oils are inhaled, tiny nerves in your nose send a signal to a variety of receptor sites in your brain, including your limbic system, which is often called your “emotional brain.”
The limbic system is directly connected to the parts of your brain that control your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormones, to name just a few (3). The limbic system is what is responsible for the relationship between certain smells that can trigger emotions or a memory. It is this same relationship that allows essential oils to have such a profound physiological and psychological effect on your body and wellbeing.
Inhalation is the fastest delivery method since the active ingredients in the essential oils can quickly trigger the chemical messengers in your nasal cavity that then signal your brain. This is also why essential oils can have an immediate effect on headaches.
8 Best Essential Oils for Headaches and Migraines
Inhale these oils or apply them to your temples and neck when you feel a headache coming on.
Peppermint oil has a long-lasting cooling effect on your skin. It is wonderful for tense muscles and can stimulate blood flow in your forehead, which is one of the places you should apply peppermint oil for a headache. You can also apply a drop to your temples and on the back of your neck for a tension headache.
An earlier study published in the International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology. further shows that applying a combination of peppermint and eucalyptus oils, as well as ethanol to your forehead and temples can soothe and relax muscles. Researchers also found that when peppermint oil is mixed with just ethanol, it can reduce the sensitivity during a headache (5).
You can improve blood circulation, reduce your pain and relieve tension by diluting it in a carrier oil. Gently rub it into your shoulders, forehead and the back of your neck and your headache will ease within minutes.
Lavender is well-known for its relaxing effect. It can quickly relieve tension and stress, as it has sedative, antidepressant, anti-anxiety, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant and calming effects. A 2012 study shows that inhaling lavender oil is an effective and safe treatment for migraine headaches. (6)
Other studies show that lavender essential oil is effective for a number of neurological conditions and disorders. Studies show that both aromatic and topical use of lavender oil can affect the limbic system, causing central nervous system depression, which makes it a good option for headaches related to anxiety. (7)
Lavender oil can also regulate serotonin levels, something researchers know helps to reduce nervous system pain linked to migraine headaches. (8) Lavender oil can further relieve feelings of restlessness and insomnia or interrupted sleep caused by headaches. Inhale lavender oil for 15 minutes at the onset of a migraine headache.
Eucalyptus is commonly used as an expectorant for colds. It can quickly open your nasal passages to eliminate sinus pressure that can often lead to painful sinus headaches. A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that inhaling eucalyptus oil can decrease pain and blood pressure. It also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can lead to reduced pain and relaxation, which is effective for tension headaches. (9)
A 2011 study shows that eucalyptus oil can improve breathing in people with respiratory conditions and reduce a runny nose. It also has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties that help to alleviate sinus pressure caused by an inflammatory response. (10)
Just dilute 2 to 4 drops of eucalyptus oil with a carrier oil, and apply it to your chest, the back of your neck, temples, and forehead. This will help to relieve nasal buildup and clear your airways, thus preventing a headache or migraine caused by sinus tension.
Rosemary essential oil has stimulating, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that make it a good oil for headaches and poor circulation. It also has a calming effect and can help improve personal orientation and alertness. Studies show it can reduce stress and emotional triggers that can lead to headaches. And for severe headaches that often cause nausea, rosemary can help digestion and soothe an upset stomach. (11)
Rosemary is so powerful that it can ease the effects of opiate withdrawal that include dysphoric mood, nausea, muscle aches, headaches, fever, and insomnia. The 2013 study reveals that when taken internally for four weeks, rosemary can reduce tension and muscle jerks, alleviate pain, improve sleep, and even treat convulsions. (12)
Drink rosemary tea during the onset of a headache or migraine. To reduce headache pain, you can also mix 2 drops of rosemary oil with 2 drops of peppermint oil and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil. Rub the mixture onto your temples, forehead and the back of your neck for relief within minutes.
Rose oil is one of the most expensive essential oils in the world, but it is well worth it. This beautiful aromatic oil can comfort and soothe your nervous system, leaving you calm and relaxed, something that is helpful for tension headaches. Studies also show rose oil can help relieve some allergies, headaches, and migraines. (13)
Also known as lemon balm, Melisssa is so powerful that it is listed as a narcotic in France. Plus, the oil is good for nervous anxiety, as it can calm the nerves in your brain, which can ease the pain of headaches and migraines. It is also effective for depression and insomnia. (14)
A nice cup of chamomile tea is just what you need to calm your nerves and relax a tense body. Chamomile essential oil is also very good for relaxing your entire body. It not only calms your mind but also your muscles and nerves. And because it is also an effective diuretic, it helps detoxify your body, something that is also very important for relieving headaches caused by a toxin overload.
Roman and German chamomile oils are both good for relieving headaches, especially at night, as the oil has powerful anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and sedative properties. In a 2014 study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, researchers hypothesized that chamomile oil is a novel medicine for the relief of migraine pain. (15) Use chamomile oil also to encourage relaxation and treat other conditions linked to headaches such as depression, nervous tension, and irritability.
Marjoram is well-known in the kitchen, but as an essential oil, it is also especially good for strengthening brain tissue. It can help relieve anxiety and stress and relieve tight muscles, muscle cramps and muscle strain, all of which are common in headaches. To treat a headache or migraine, add 2 to 3 drops of marjoram oil to a carrier oil and then gently massage it onto your temples and the back of your neck. You can also use marjoram in a hot or cold compress. (16)
Recipe for Essential Oil Migraine Relief
Cure migraine headaches with this simple remedy in under 15 minutes!
- 1 medium sized bowl partly filled with cold (i.e. refrigerated) water
- 2 cups ice cubes
- 2 drops marjoram essential oil
- 2 drops rosemary or ginger essential oil
- 1 drop peppermint essential oil
- 1 small washcloth
- Put the ice cubes and the drops of each oil into the bowl of refrigerated water. Stir briefly to mix. The oils will float on top of the water, but that’s okay.
- Place the washcloth into the oily, icy mixture then place the cloth on your forehead, being careful to avoid you eyes. The cloth can also be applied to the sides of the neck where the carotid arteries lie.
- When the cloth warms up, dip it into the icy, oily mixture again and keep reapplying until the headache abates. It should only take 10-15 minutes!
Other Essential Oils for Headaches or Migraines
You can mix and blend any of the following essential oils to relieve the pain, swelling, tension, nausea and other symptoms caused by the odd or even chronic headaches.
- Helichrysum italicum
- Idaho balsam fir
Find the essential oil(s) that work best for you and keep them in your medicine cabinet. The next time you feel a headache coming on, you can pass on the Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen and ease your headache naturally.