The 5 Best Essential Oils For Headaches And How To Use Them

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Why use essential oils for headaches?

Headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system, with research estimating that three-quarters of adults around the world experience headaches.

Causes vary, including illness, stress, alcohol, skipping meals, poor posture, dehydration, and more. At present, the most common treatment of headaches is the use of medications such as paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen.

Yet with mounting evidence that over-the-counter painkillers can actually make headache symptoms worse, many people are now looking to natural alternatives for relief . . .

. . . and that’s where essential oils for headaches come in!

In this article on essential oils for headaches, we’ll be covering:

  • Common types of headaches.
  • The benefits of using essential oils for headaches.
  • The 6 best essential oils for headaches.
  • 3 easy ways to use essential oils for headaches.
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Types of headaches:

There are various types of headache disorders. The common types include:

  • tension headache
  • cluster headache
  • migraine headache
  • hemicrania continua
  • thunderclap headache
  • hormonal headache
  • allergy or sinus headache
  • caffeine headache
  • exertion headache
  • hypertension headache
  • rebound headache
  • post-traumatic headache

The Benefits of using essential oils for headaches

Essential oils are liquids containing the natural fragrant essence extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, roots, fruit peel, berries, and other natural sources.

These potent liquids boast various magical benefits for our health, so many in fact, that they have their own therapy treatment category – Aromatherapy.

Also known as essential oil therapy, aromatherapy is a widely used and recognized holistic healing treatment that uses oils from natural plant extracts to promote well-being and treat various conditions.

Amongst these uses are relieving anxiety or depression, encouraging hair growth, aiding restful sleep, healing cold sores, and relieving pain. Most commonly, essential oil therapy occurs through inhalation, topical absorption, or, in some rare cases, ingestion.

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Using Essentials Oils For Pain Management

Whilst research is hugely promising, more research is needed to understand exactly how each essential oil works for pain management.

When it comes to relieving migraines and headaches, it’s thought that essential oils work by enhancing our relaxation response which in turn, lowers our pain perception.

Let’s explore this a little deeper.

Pain and stress have a similar effect on the body – both causing your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, muscles to tighten and your breathing to become faster and more shallow.

These effects both cause and are caused by the overstimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which makes you hyperalert to sensations of pain or discomfort.

Relaxing the PNS can thus help to lower your pain sensitivity and perception by calming your mind, lowering stress hormones in your blood, relaxing your muscles, and elevating your overall sense of well-being. 

So, by encouraging your PNS to relax, essential oils can offer some relief from headaches, migraines, and other pains.

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How Do Essential Oils Relax The PNS?

Put simply, research shows that essential oils act on the brain receptors, encouraging them to relax the areas of our nervous system that detect pain.

When inhaled or applied topically, the active compounds of essential oils travel to the brain either through the olfactory nerves or through the bloodstream, respectively.

A chemical reaction then occurs between the active compounds of the oils and the receptors in the brain. This sends signals to the areas of our nervous system that control mood and perception of pain, encouraging them to relax which decreases their sensitivity.

The most effective way to achieve long-term relief from headaches is to address their root causes, which are often factors like lack of sleep, stress, and anxiety.

Studies recognize the power of essential oils to relieve stress, anxiety and improve sleep, so in this sense, essential oils can act as a prevention and a cure, helping relieve not only the symptoms of headaches but also the cause of them.

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How To Use Essential Oils For Headaches

There are two ways to use essential oils for migraines and headaches; inhalation and topical application.

#1: Inhalation

This method involves inhaling the vapor of essential oils and can be done in various ways.

These include using an aromatherapy diffuser, an essential oil roll-on, or simply filling a bowl with water just below boiling temperature, popping a few drops of your chosen essential oil for headaches in, and inhaling the steam.

#2: Topical Application

This method involves diluting the essential oils in a neutral carrier oil or filtered water and then applying them directly to the skin.

For headaches, apply to the temples or wrists. If using an essential oil for sinus headaches, try applying the oil blend to the chest and upper back for relief.

While the dilution ratio varies on the oil (check this for reference), whichever method you choose, the essential oil content should account only for between 0.5% to 2% of the total blend – roughly 3 to 12 drops per ounce of the final product.

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Safety Note:

Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic or cause irritation if used neat. For this reason, it’s crucial that you always dilute them in a neutral carrier oil such as jojoba oil, and always carry out a patch test before use.

If pregnant or breastfeeding, always make sure to check that your chosen essential oil is safe for use.

Some scents, even those you’d typically find calming, can be overstimulating and make headaches worse. For this reason, it’s recommended to dilute the oil more than you normally would at first, and then build it up once you know what works.

Whilst we wouldn’t recommend replacing doctor-prescribed migraine therapy with essential oils, there are a number of studies that evidence the relief they can offer. There’s no harm in using them to supplement your current pain management program!

The 6 best essential oils for Headaches

So what is the best essential oil for headaches?

Without further ado, here is scientific research’s pick of the best essential oils for migraines, headaches, and more.

#1: Peppermint Oil

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Peppermint oil is one of the best-known essential oils for headaches and migraines. Its active compound is menthol, which is proven to relax muscles and ease pain.

Peppermint oil also lessens the intensity of headaches by stimulating blood flow and eliminating inflammation, which in turn reduces tension.

Research shows that applying diluted peppermint oil topically to the temples can offer relief from tension headaches and migraine attacks.

In fact, a study from 2016 found diluted peppermint oil to be just as effective as aspirin and paracetamol in reducing tension headaches.

Another study from 2015 found that when applied topically to the back of the neck, a gel containing menthol from peppermint oil showed promising results regarding treating acute migraines.

#2: Eucalyptus Oil

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Eucalyptus is one of the best essential oils for sinus headaches, known for its ability to clear the sinuses, open up nasal passages, and help relieve sinus tension which can cause headaches.

A study from 1994 found that a combination of peppermint and eucalyptus essential oil had deeply relaxing effects on participants, easing tension in the muscles and mind when applied topically.

Another study from 2011 further evidences the benefits of eucalyptus essential oil for sinus headaches. This found that the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties of eucalyptus oil helped to ease sinus pressure and headaches as a result.

Another 2013 study found that when inhaled, eucalyptus oil was highly effective for lowering blood pressure, muscle tension and relieving pain.

#3: Rosemary Oil

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Third on our list of best essential oils for headaches is rosemary. This magical oil has been used for hundreds of years for headaches, known for its natural analgesic (pain-relieving) effects.

A study from 2013 showed rosemary oil was a powerful sleep aid, reducing insomnia, encouraging muscles and minds to relax, which in turn offers relief from headaches.

Rosemary oil also does wonders to improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation – both of which help to ease headaches.

Evidencing this, a 2008 study found that rosemary oil successfully inhibited both inflammation and pain. Another study found rosemary essential oil to be a successful treatment for those experience headaches from with withdrawal symptoms.

#4: Chamomile Oil

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Chamomile is recognised around the world for its calming properties. These properties relax both the body and mind, making chamomile oil not only a fantastic sleep aid and anxiety reliever but also a great tension headache treatment.

In fact, the relaxing properties of chamomile oil are so potent that studies show it actually has a mild sedative and analgesic effect.

Research is still emerging regarding the benefits of chamomile essential oils for headaches. A study from 2014 found that chamomile oil exhibited promising properties for migraine treatment.

Another study from 2020 found a combination of chamomile and menthol to be highly effective supplement for the pain management of acute migraines.

#5: Lavender Oil

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Lavender is one of the best selling essential oils, and is heralded for its calming properties. These relaxing properties are so potent that there’s strong evidence that this special oil can help treat both headaches and migraines.

A study from 2013 studied how inhaling lavender oil could relieve pain. Participants all reported a significant reduction in pain in as little as 15 minutes after inhaling lavender oil.

An older study found that inhaling lavender provided relief from migraines, and was especially effective if inhaled in the early stages of the pain. Another study from 2012 found that inhaling lavender oil saw 71% of patients’ migraine attacks partially relieved.

Part of this is explained by lavender’s natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Known for it’s sedative and relaxing effects, it’s the perfect treatment for tension headaches caused by stress and anxiety.

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From Essential Oils for Headaches to Oils for Hair Growth . . .

Now you know what essential oil is good for headaches – but what about essential oils for long luscious locks?

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Tish Qvortrup is a Brighton-born Yogi, with a passion for living intentionally. A Yoga Alliance registered 500hr teacher, she found her calling in Yin and Yang yoga. In her spare time, she loves exploring the outdoors and cooking plant-based goodies.

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