Mmm. Smelling the relaxing scent of lavender or the invigorating aroma of peppermint sure activates the senses, but they can also help alleviate headaches. Our favorite essential oils for headaches include:
- Clary sage
- And ten more
Read on to learn about which essentials oils for headaches could work for you, how to use them correctly, and where to find our favorite pre-mixed and DIY blends.
The basics of essential oils for headaches
The use of essential oils, for aromatherapy or massage, is based on the premise that the body has the potential to heal itself, and that by carefully choosing the right oils, people can harness those innate healing powers to alleviate a variety of ailments, including headaches. Research is sparse, however several studies have revealed benefits of the more popular scents. Headache benefits of other, less-studied scents are based on knowledge accumulated during this centuries-old tradition.
The practice of using essential oils is thought to stretch back to ancient cultures, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese, with each society contributing to the discipline. Several oils specifically have shown promise in alleviating headache pain. These oils work by:
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing stress or anxiety
- Encouraging healthy sleep habits
- Managing hormone levels
- Minimizing sinus pressure or allergies
For a brief overview of types of headaches, their causes, and other treatment options, check out the video below.
Why should you try essential oils for headaches?
There is research backing the use of many of these essential oils. Where there isn’t, many researchers are calling for more research to be done to quantify the health benefits these oils can provide. While essential oils can’t cure or remove your headaches entirely, they have shown in many cases to reduce symptoms, duration, or severity of the headaches. And, more importantly, using them has very few side effects or risks.
Simply Stacie writes about how essential oils have worked for her:
“At first, I doubted they would work. I was skeptical, but also willing to try it out and see if it made a difference. To my surprise, I discovered essentials did help and, in fact, took the pain away altogether for some of my headaches. It was a light bulb kind of moment. I thought wow these things really do work!”
Teri on Migraine.com also discusses at-length how essential oils have helped with her migraines and corresponding symptoms. She writes:
“Although it cannot abort a Migraine, it can offer some symptomatic relief and comfort. In my personal use, I find aromatherapy helpful for fighting nausea and helping me relax or get to sleep while I’m waiting for my medications to kick and for the Migraine to end. Some oils help me feel less of the panic the Migraines sometimes induce.”
Before trying any of the essential oils we list below, do read the health cautions and procedures for use at the end of this post. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances. They should never be applied directly to the skin. Instead, essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil. A little bit goes a long way!
16 of our favorite essential oils for headaches
Peppermint is one of the most highly-touted essential oils for headaches. Many people think of peppermint as an invigorating scent that wakes you and gets you moving. However, studies have shown the fresh-smelling oil also reduces the severity of tension headaches. The cooling effect of peppermint oil can help stimulate blood flow and reduce muscle contractions.
“Applying peppermint essential oil topically across the forehead and on the temples effectively alleviates a tension headache. In a 1996 study, 41 patients (and 164 headache attacks) were analyzed in a placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study. The peppermint oil was applied topically 15 and 30 minutes after a headache began. Participants reported pain relief in their headache diaries, and peppermint oil proved to be a well-tolerated and cost-effective alternative to usual headache therapies.”
In the study, researchers found that peppermint oil and acetaminopen (or tylenol) had similar pain-reducing effects for tension headaches. They also noted that there were few side effects for this oil, and it was largely cost-effective for patients. Do note that peppermint oil should never be applied directly to the skin, so dilute the essential oil with any carrier oil, such as almond or jojoba.
Anybody who has ever used lavender–whether in the bath or in a satchet–can attest to its relaxing and calming properties. This relaxation of the nervous system can spell relief for many tension headache sufferers. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. As AromaWeb reports:
“Lavender essential oil has a high percentage of esters (linalyl acetate), and therefore, offers anti-inflammatory and sedative properties. Lavender oil is a good oil to use if you are trying to alleviate a headache during the evening/nighttime hours.”
A study from European Neurology also points to lavender as one of the best essential oils for migraine relief, calling it a safe and effective treatment option for migraine symptoms.
Essential oils for headaches blends often incorporate eucalyptus for its anti-inflammatory and expectorant qualities. Because of its expectorant effects, it can also help relieve sinus infections and sore throats (a boon for these winter months!).
A study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that eucalyptus oil could reduce pain and swelling for patients who had just had a total knee replacement. Researchers noted that this may be due to 1,8-cineole, a compound in eucalyptus oil. They noted:
“The major component of eucalyptus oil is 1,8-cineole, which had a morphine-like effect relieving pain in mice. Another study also found that 1,8-cineole exhibited antinociceptive properties in rats and mice. These findings, taken together with our results, suggest that subjective pain-reducing effects of eucalyptus oil are due, at least in part, to 1,8-cineole.”
As Doctor’s Health Press explains:
“Rosemary essential oil has been used to treat poor circulation and headaches for centuries due to its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and stimulating properties. It can also reduce potential headache causes such as digestive problems and stress.”
Surprisingly, rosemary oil may also help patients who are experiencing opioid withdrawal. A study in Addiction and Health found that rosemary treatments could reduce the tension, pain, and muscle jerks associated with withdrawal.
Since many headaches are caused by stress, the best essential oils for headaches are often those that encourage deep relaxation. Rose oil can help comfort and soothe the nervous system, and reduce tension in the body that can lead to tension headaches.
Melissa oil? This femininely-named oil is also known as lemon balm or balm mint. And it can be great at relieving headache pain. As Essential Oil Sanctuary writes:
“Melissa oil calms the nerves in our brain, helping to ease the pain caused by headaches and migraines. It also effectively reduces the symptoms of colds and flus by relieving congestion and calming a cough.”
7. Roman chamomile
We’ve all reached for a mug of chamomile tea when trying to get to sleep. While there are no traditional research studies on the use of chamomile, researchers are pushing for more studies into this essential oil. A survey in Molecular Medicine Reports points to classic uses for this oil, suggesting that it could be used for:
- Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits
- Sleep inducement
- Immune system health
Essential Oil Sanctuary notes that:
“Marjoram is known to be beneficial for brain health by strengthening and fortifying brain tissue. It helps relieve anxiety and stress with its warming action on the body and mind. It relieves tight muscles, muscle cramps and muscle strain.”
Never heard of this essential oil for headache? Don’t worry. It’s not well known, in the U.S. at least. Healthy and Natural World writes:
“Although it is relatively unknown in the United States, helichrysum essential oil has been used for many years to treat a variety of medical conditions in countries such as Italy, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Helichrysum has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for ages to treat migraine or headache related issues.”
Love peppermint, but find that the scent can be too overwhelming? Essential Oil Haven recommends trying spearmint instead, claiming that it has many of the same properties as peppermint with a much more subtle scent.
If you love light, citrusy smells, you may want to try out bergamot. Health Central explains that bergamot is “encouraging and uplifting and combats stress, fatigue, tension, and anxiety.”
We’ve long advocated for the use of ginger for pain patients because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea effects. We absolutely recommend incorporating more of it into your diet. (Like this gingered pineapple brown rice!) Turns out, though, ginger also serves double duty as one of the great essential oils for headaches, especially migraine due to its anti-nausea benefits. Everyday Health reports that:
“Ginger is a tropical plant with an underground stem that has been used in Asian medicine to relieve stomachache, nausea, and diarrhea. Ginger oil has a pungent smell and can be used as a massage oil to relieve headache pain. It has also been used to relieve joint and muscle pain, though there is no hard evidence to support its effectiveness.”
Research from Natural Product Communications found that jasmine essential oils can help stimulate mood and reduce depression. Because this oil made participants more alert and vigorous, it’s best to use when your headache symptoms aren’t caused by stress or anxiety. Instead use it when you need more energy or when headache symptoms have made you feel lethargic or worn down. Another similar essential oil that can help with depression symptoms is lemongrass.
Jillee at One Good Thing swears by the addition of birch essential oil to her headache blend. Birch can help reduce pain and inflammation, and it smells great too!
15. Clary sage
Clary sage may have a number of health benefits, from easing menstrual cramps to encouraging creativity to reducing anxiety and stress. Since anxiety and menstrual changes are particularly associated with headaches, this could be an especially useful essential oil for headaches for women. A study from Phytotherapy Research also showed that inhaling clary sage oils could reduce cortisol levels, thereby relieving depression.
16. Sweet basil
Kokokahn Essential Oils writes that sweet basil essential oils are:
“Good for digestive and hormonal headaches, as well as migraines. It helps support overall health and immunity. As well as easing headache pain, its antispasmodic effects help relieve muscle cramps. Also, try sweet basil for coughs, the flu and colds.”
The best essential oils for headaches
Before using any essential oils, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure there are no health risks from using them. Also talk to a doctor before using these oils if you’re pregnant or breast feeding.
Since essential oils are highly concentrated substances, it’s important to find the highest-quality oils you can. Good quality oils won’t be cheap, but that’s okay because a little bit goes a long way. Look for sellers that talk openly about their process and have high customer reviews. Look for in-depth labels. You should look for essential oils that are pure, un-adulterated, and organic. Avoid those that use synthetic fragrances or dyes, as these could trigger headaches.
The Herbal Academy has a great overview and some recommendations for finding the best essential oil brands.
And, if you suffer from headaches, it’s always a good idea to track your symptoms. Since many essential oils are more pure, they likely won’t trigger pain. However, some might for you. Track which ones work and which ones don’t, especially as you’re getting started.
How to use essential oils for headaches
Most importantly, after finding a high-quality essential oil make sure that you’re always using a diluted mixture of it and a carrier oil when it comes into contact with your skin. Some of the best carrier oils for essential oils include:
- Jojoba oil
- Argan oil
- Avocado oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Magnesium oil
- Coconut oil
The blends we have listed below explain the best ratios for essential oils to carrier oils depending on how you’re going to use them. You can use essential oils by:
- Applying topically, diluted in carrier oil, with a gentle massage at key pressure points (forehead, temples, back of your neck)
- Diffusing in a room diffuser
- Inhaling your preferred essential oils from the palms of your hands, breathing slowly and evenly
- Using a cold compress (see instructions in the infographic below)
- Add five to ten drops in your bathtub, along with one tablespoon of a carrier oil and a cup of epsom salts
Our 10 favorite essential oils for headaches blends
You can find a lot of great inspiration for essential oil blends and recipes over on Pinterest. Our 10 favorite essential oils for headaches blends include:
- The Headache Buster Blend you can make at home from One Good Thing
- Migraine Support Essential Oil Blend from Rocky Mountain Oils
- The Natural Headache Relief stick at-home recipe from Wellness Mama
- 21 Drops’ Headache Essential Oil Blend
- The Headache Relief Essential Oil Blend from BioSource Naturals
- DIY Headache Helper Roll-On from Simply Stacie
- Aroma Head’s Muscle Tension blend
- Humblebee & Me’s Essential Oil Headache Eraser
- The DIY Tension Blend from Natural Health 365
- The Headache Relief Blend From Ben and Me
Finally, if essential oils don’t work for your headaches and other at-home remedies also haven’t worked, it may be time to talk to a pain doctor who specializes in treating severe or chronic causes of pain. Click the button below to talk to a pain doctor in your area about how you can find more advanced help and relief from your headache pain.