Essential oils are used as home remedies for a variety of ailments. But is using essential oils an effective way to relieve headaches.
An essential oil is a concentrated liquid extracted from a plant. Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy based on the use of these oils. Aromatherapists believe that each essential oil offers a different set of health benefits.
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Many people with frequent headaches choose to seek out alternative treatments such as essential oils. It is estimated that more than half of the adult population worldwide experiences occasional headaches, with the most common type being a tension headache.
While there are a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications available for headaches, these treatments can cause side effects. When someone experiences headaches regularly, they may look for natural treatments, including essential oils.
5 Best Essential Oils for Headaches
There are a number of studies that show specific essential oils may be beneficial for headaches. These include:
1. Lavender oil: Lavender is often used to help people get to sleep and to reduce stress, anxiety, or depression. Many believe that it can help relieve headaches and migraines that are triggered by stress. A 2012 study suggests that the inhalation of lavender essential oil can be a safe and effective treatment to manage migraine headaches. Scientific research supports the theory that stress can trigger headaches. Enter essential oils. Inhaling essential oils daily significantly lowered blood pressure, pulse, serum cortisol levels, and subjective stress in a 2006 study with 52 participants.
2. Rosemary oil: Rosemary oil is traditionally used to treat headaches and improve circulation. There are few studies that specifically support rosemary oil as an effective headache treatment. However, a 2008 study suggests that rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties.
Another study from 2013 found that rosemary oil helped to reduce pain and insomnia in people going through opium withdrawal treatment. These research examples suggest that rosemary oil may reduce the pain associated with a headache.
3. Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil is stimulating and may relieve tension headaches when applied topically. Peppermint has been used in alternative medicines for thousands of years. It is one of the most popular essential oils for treating headaches. A recent 2015 review of published studies on essential oils states that applying peppermint oil to the temples and forehead provides relief from tension headaches. The active ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. Research published in 2015 shows menthol may be effective in treating migraines when applied to the head as a gel.
4. Chamomile oil: People traditionally drink chamomile tea to relax and unwind. Chamomile oil is commonly believed to have a similar effect. Research from 2012 showed that chamomile oil might improve some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. As headaches are often caused by stress and anxiety, it follows that chamomile oil may help treat headaches. There are anti-inflammatory properties in chamomile that may also reduce a headache, but more research is needed into its health benefits.
5. Eucalyptus oil: Eucalyptus is traditionally used to clear sinuses and reduce inflammation. People experiencing headaches due to blocked sinuses may find that inhaling eucalyptus reduces their symptoms. One study found that eucalyptus oil was effective for relieving pain and lowering blood pressure when it was inhaled.
Peppermint: Feel like a clamp is tightening around your head? You’ve hit tension headache territory. Try hitting back with peppermint oil. Some research shows applying diluted peppermint oil solution may reduce the intensity of tension-type headaches after 15 minutes. Add 10 drops peppermint oil to 1-ounce carrier oil, like jojoba or coconut, and massage into the neck and shoulders.
Lavender, Frankincense, Neroli, or Citrus: Scientific research supports the theory that stress can trigger headaches. Enter essential oils. Inhaling essential oils daily significantly lowered blood pressure, pulse, serum cortisol levels, and subjective stress in a 2006 study with 52 participants. But which one to choose? It depends on what you find personally relaxing, but Green likes lavender, frankincense, neroli, and citrus oils for unwinding. “If an aroma is perceived as pleasant, we take a deeper breath; that in itself helps to slow the heart, align the nervous system, and help us to relax,” says Green. Pick an essential oil you love and inhale 1-2 drops from a tissue, add to an essential oil diffuser, or apply 1-2 drops to your palms with carrier oil, rub together gently, and inhale deeply.
Lavender: There’s a lot to love about lavender. Inhaling lavender essential oil for 15 minutes helped relieve migraine pain more than a placebo, according to a 2012 study published in European Neurology. Try inhaling straight from the bottle at the first sign of a headache or use it in a face massage: Add 1 drop lavender to a teaspoon of unscented face cream, massaging the jaw, temples, and forehead.
Geranium: Fluctuating hormonal levels — especially a dip in estrogen right before and during your period is associated with more frequent headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you suspect PMS is behind your headache, Green suggests using geraniumon the abdomen (add 1 drop to a teaspoon of carrier oil and massage in a circular motion) or in the bath (add 5-8 drops to a tablespoon of carrier oil and add to the tub).
Peppermint, Orange, or Tangerine: Dehydration can cause migraines and headaches, so start drinking water to catch up on what you’ve missed. While you’re replenishing your body, a cold compress spiked with essential oils may help, says Green. Add 1-2 drops peppermint, orange, or tangerine to a small bowl of cold water. Dip a face cloth, ring it out, and put it across your forehead while you chill out.
Custom Blend: “Headaches are shape shifters because they can be caused by so many things,” says Green, who uses a blend of rosemary, peppermint, and lavender as her general headache go-to. “A blend gives you a wider range of constituents that may help address a wider range of unknown problems.” Add the blend to a diffuser or make your own headache roller ball by adding 1 drop each of the essential oils to a 10 ml roller ball and fill with a carrier oil (like jojoba or sweet almond); shake well and store in a cool, dark place.