Essential Oils

Healing the Pain: Essential Oils for Headaches

By Justin Fowler-Lindner
Anh Nguyen

Headaches affect roughly half of the adult population at least once a year.

Some poor souls, however, get recurring headaches that cause significant chronic pain.

If this sounds like you, keep reading…

Unfortunately, over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can cause gut inflammation.

Essential oils, on the other hand, can reduce inflammation (the primary cause of migraine headaches) and relieve muscle tension (the primary cause of tension headaches), without damaging the gut.

According to the latest research, the best essential oils for headaches are…

  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Chamomile
  • Eucalyptus

Let’s take a closer look at how these four essential oils can take your head pain away:

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are compounds extracted from the flowers, leaves, stems, seeds, fruit, and bark of certain plants.

They’re extracted through a process called distillation, where the oil is separated from the water in the plant by steaming.

How Do Essential Oils Treat Headaches?

Why are some essential oils so effective at treating stubborn headaches?

Because they contain active compounds that are small enough to pass through cell walls and travel across the blood-brain barrier.

As a result, they can quickly enter the bloodstream and deliver fast-acting relief.

Essential oils have a wide variety of health benefits from pain relief to anxiety reduction.

Many of them are also anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial.

How to Use Essential Oils for Headaches

Essential oils can be inhaled, applied topically, or taken orally.

However, when it comes to headache relief, aromatherapy and topical application are best.

In fact, by mixing essential oils with a carrier oil like almond oil, coconut oil, or hemp seed oil, you can soak up the aromatherapy and topical benefits all at once.

Carrier oils spread the essential oil across a wider surface area and prolong the aromatic effects. 

All it takes is one or two drops of essential oil and headache relief can begin within seconds.

You can also try installing an essential oil diffuser in your home to automate your aromatherapy treatments.

4 Best Essential Oils for Headaches

The best part of treating headaches with essential oils is that they can do far more than just relieve head pain.

Depending on the oil, it may also strengthen the immune system, balance hormones, increase energy, and stabilize mood.

Here’s what recent studies have to say about lavender, peppermint, chamomile, and eucalyptus oils as treatments for headaches:

1. Lavender

Lavender essential oil can be used to treat almost all types of headaches.

In a 2012 clinical trial, 47 patients with recurring migraine headaches were treated with either lavender oil aromatherapy or a placebo. They were asked to inhale lavender for 15 minutes and then monitored for two hours.

Out of the 129 headaches treated over the course of the study, 92 headaches were eliminated or greatly reduced by lavender oil.

Lavender oil is ideal for treating migraines and reducing stress headaches because it can reduce cortisol and lower blood pressure.

It may also reduce muscle tension and relieve pain when applied topically.

Rub 1-2 drops into the back of the neck or temples to relieve stress and tension.

Poor sleep can cause certain types of headaches, but luckily lavender can help in that department as well.

Other health benefits of lavender oil include:

Believe it or not, lavender aromatherapy may even improve behavior in Alzheimer’s patients.

Linalool and linalyl acetate are the active compounds in lavender that are responsible for the majority of its health benefits.

2. Peppermint

Peppermint essential oil has an immediate cooling effect and is ideal for inhibiting muscle contraction and relieving tension headaches.

Plus, it can stimulate blood flow when applied to the forehead and temples.

Tension headaches can be caused by intense exercise, congestion, sinus pressure, or tensing up in response to stimuli like bright lights.

In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study, topical peppermint oil was tested side-by-side against paracetamol (Tylenol). Peppermint oil was found to be equally effective at reducing headaches compared to paracetamol.

According to the study’s authors, “This controlled study showed for the first time that a 10% peppermint oil in ethanol solution efficiently alleviates tension-type headaches.”

Mix 2-3 drops of peppermint essential oil in coconut oil and rub it into your forehead, temples, shoulders, or back of the neck.

3. Chamomile

As an herbal supplement, chamomile is best known as a calming bedtime tea.

However, emerging research shows that topical chamomile may also be an effective natural remedy for migraines.

In a 2018 study, 100 participants with migraines were given either topical chamomile or a placebo. They were then asked to rate any changes in symptoms.

Patients reported a reduction in pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light after just 30 minutes.

According to the study’s authors, “[The] results support the efficacy of chamomile oleogel as a pain relief in migraine without aura.”

In a recent article published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, researchers state that chamomile oil treats migraine attacks through the following mechanisms:

  • The compounds chamazulene and apigenin inhibit nitrous oxide release and synthesis.
  • Flavonoids inhibit prostaglandin.
  • Polyphenols reduce inflammation.
  • A variety of compounds exert neuroprotective effects and reduce nitrous oxide levels.

4. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus essential oil can open the nasal passages and relieve sinus pressure: a common cause of recurring headaches, especially for people with airborne allergies or other respiratory issues.

It can also cleanse the respiratory system of toxins and harmful pathogens.

For example, a 2011 study found that inhaling eucalyptus oil can relieve tension-type headaches, reduce inflammation, and alleviate sinus pressure in patients with upper respiratory tract infections.

In a separate study published in the International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, researchers spread different mixtures of eucalyptus and peppermint oil across the foreheads of participants with headaches.

Together these essential oils were found to “…exert significant effects on mechanisms associated with the pathophysiology of clinical headache syndromes.”

Get creative with your own DIY headache remedies by combining floral lavender oil with cooling peppermint oil. Heck, toss in a little rosemary oil while your at it (another great essential oil for headache relief).

The beauty of essential oil aromatherapy is that there are so many interesting combinations to try, and with almost no risk of side effects, they can be a much healthier option to over-the-counter painkillers.

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