Headaches and migraines, whether they are chronic or occasional, can be debilitating to say the least. They have the ability to prevent us from enjoying the activities we love most, while their onset always seems to occur at the worst of times. Although for some these headaches are minor and last only for 15-20 minutes, for others they are severe and long-lasting, and can take time away from our work lives or family moments. What’s more is that they are surprisingly common – in fact, more than 38 million people in the United States suffer from migraines, while some studies estimate that 13 percent of the U.S. adult population regularly experiences them. During such migraine attacks, nearly 91 percent of people report that they cannot function normally, resulting in missed work or adverse effects on their relationships (1).
What Causes Headaches?
In order to briefly explain what causes headaches, we must first understand the two general types of headaches (2)
These are not a sign of any underlying disease, but rather they represent an overactivity of pain-sensitive pathways in the brain. The nerves and blood vessels surrounding the skull, or those in the muscles of the head and neck are normally responsible for these headaches. Genetics often plays a large contributing role
- Cluster headaches
- Tension headaches
(Some primary headache types can be an indicator of an underlying disease. These include sex headaches, exercise headaches, cough headaches, and chronic daily headaches)
So, what causes primary headaches? While genetics does play a big role, some can be attributed to lifestyle factors that include:
- Consumption of alcohol
- Sleep deficiency
- Poor posture
These, however, differ from what are known as secondary headaches.
Most often represents a symptom of a disease that activates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Types include:
- Sinus headaches
- Spinal headaches
- Thunderclap headaches
There are a few possible causes of secondary headaches that include:
- Blood clots
- Sinus infections
Using Essential Oil for Headaches
Given the cause examples behind the two primary types of headaches, one can easily guess that using natural remedies such as essential oils can only be so effective at easing some of the primary headache types. Due to fact that secondary headaches point to a more severe underlying cause, people experiencing regular headaches should take the extra precaution necessary to confirm that they are not suffering from an illness that is responsible.
That being said, essential oil is widely used as an effective, all-natural remedy to help ease the symptoms of many types of primary headaches. Due to their ease of accessibility, relative low cost, and other benefits they provide to the brain, more and more people are seeking them out to help ease the pain, and in some cases prevent migraines to set in.
1. Lavender Essential Oil
Out of all the soothing essential oils out there, lavender stands out from the rest due to its seemingly endless benefits and distinct, delicate scent. The use of lavender for bathing purposes dates back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – these cultures believed that lavender could help purify the mind and the body. It has been studied for its benefits as a sleep aid, its ability to cause hair regrowth, and is even cited by the National Cancer Institute for its ability to help cancer patients manage the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.
As for lavender’s ability to ease the pain of migraines and headaches, research has shown that using lavender for aromatherapy (inhaling the oil) significantly reduces migraine pain only 15 minutes after breathing in the aroma (3). Some evidence even shows that lavender inhalation can be used to treat the symptoms of more serious illnesses as well, such as Multiple Sclerosis (4).
How to Use Lavender Essential Oil for Headaches:
- Put a few drops into your favorite water vapor diffusor to fill your bedroom or office with the scent
- Gently waft the scent from an open lavender essential oil bottle into your nostrils, inhaling slowly
- Dilute with your favorite carrier oil and massage gently into temples
2. Rosemary Essential Oil
Though often used as a food seasoning, this herb is often enjoyed as an essential oil for its benefits on cognition and overall well-being. Interestingly enough, the extracted version is not actually an oil since it does not contain any fat. However, similar to lavender, the use of rosemary oil dates back to ancient cultures in both Rome and Greece for memory improvement, as well as other benefits such as pain relief and easing stress. Research has also pointed to rosemary as a viable supplement to help treat alopecia, reducing the loss of hair among individuals who would massage it into the scalp (5).
As for headache relief, research has displayed the effectiveness rosemary can have when massaged topically into the temples (6). Other studies have shown that the inhalation of rosemary essential oil can significantly improve circulation to the brain, showing potential to help ease acute headaches and migraines (7).
How to Use Rosemary Essential Oil for Headaches:
- Breath in the scent gently by wafting the aroma from your essential oil bottle into your nostrils
- Place several drops into your favorite vapor diffusor and allow the scent to fill your room
- Place several drops onto the floor of a hot shower and allow the scent to mix with the steam of your bathroom
3. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint is one of the most commonly used herbs across teas, toothpastes, gum, and even car fresheners for its crisp and detoxifying scent. While it can be ingested in the form of herbal teas, it is also often concentrated into an essential oil for helping to ease indigestion and improve IBS symptoms (8). However, what many people don’t know about peppermint essential oil is that it has been studied for its effectiveness in easing tension-type headaches. For example, one study revealed that the topical treatment of peppermint oil showed significant results in easing the pain of acute tension headaches (9).
When using peppermint oil topically (or any essential oil for that matter), always remember to mix with a carrier oil that is skin-safe in order to dilute the concentration of the essential oil. This is because essential oils are concentrated and quite strong, and are not designed to be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil. Popular carrier oils include:
- Hemp seed oil
- Jojoba oil
- Coconut oil
- …and many more
For more information on choosing a carrier oil, visit aromaweb.com.
How to use Peppermint Essential Oil for Headaches:
- Mix with a carrier oil such as coconut oil (using a 10% dilution mix, or 10 drops of peppermint into 1 teaspoon of coconut oil) and massage into temples
- Waft the aroma into the nostrils gently while breathing in
4. Roman Chamomile Essential Oil
Similar to peppermint, chamomile is commonly used as an herbal tea for its calming, soothing effects. In fact, due to its analgesic properties, it can also decrease pain caused from sinus pressure, toothaches, and even bone injuries. The essential oil has also proven to be useful in relieving anxiety and stress given its sedative effects. As for headaches, research has shown that chamomile essential oil possesses pain relief effects for migraines for several reasons, one of which is that it reduces inflammation in neurovascular units (10). Similar to peppermint, other research has shown that topical application of the essential oil (mixed with a carrier oil, of course) is also effective at relieving pain in migraines without aura (11).
How to use Roman Chamomile Essential Oil for Headaches:
- Mix with a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba (10% mix) and gently massage into the temples during the onset of a headache or migraine
- Simply waft the aroma into the nostrils while inhaling gently
5. Clary Sage Essential Oil
This powerful herb is a flowering plant that’s native to parts of the Mediterranean Basin. While it is also commonly used in tea, the essential oil that can be extracted from the plant show many strong benefits on the mind and body as well. Similar to many of the other essential oils mentioned above, clary sage is most often used in aromatherapy for stress reduction and inducing a sense of well-being. Similarly, some research has even revealed that clary sage possesses many antidepressant-like properties (12).
How to use Clary Sage Essential Oil for Headaches:
- Breathe the scent in from the essential oil bottle, gently inhaling while wafting the aroma toward your nostrils
- Shake the oil into a water spritzer and use it as a room freshener
- Empty several drops into your favorite water vapor diffusor
6. Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus is actually extracted from a tree that was originally native to Australia, but now grows all over the world such as northern California and parts of Europe. The oil itself comes from the tree’s oval-shaped leaves, and proves to have benefits ranging from easing a cough to disinfecting wounds. The strong, distinct scent is even used as a common chemical-free bug-repellant. Like peppermint oil, eucalyptus essential oil has also been studied to reduce pain sensitivity for headaches (12).
How to use Eucalyptus Essential Oil for Headaches:
- Release several drops from your essential oil bottle onto the ground of your shower and allow the scent to mix with the steam from the hot water, disseminating throughout your bathroom
- Place several drops into your favorite essential oil water vapor diffusor and allow the scent to fill your bedroom or office
- Mix with your favorite carrier oil and massage gently into temples