To get the most out of essential oils, place a few drops in a diffuser as you rest in a quiet, soothing place for at least 20 minutes. As you relax, you can also employ strategies like deep breathing. Be sure to remember that while essential oils can be helpful, they’re optimal as part of a holistic approach to self-care and headache relief.
Read on to learn about the best types of essential oils for treating headaches and what science says about their healing powers:
- Lavender: This soothing scent has long been used for calming, so it’s no surprise that research shows it’s a powerful tool when combined with massage or gentle pressure for easing the stress that may contribute to tension in the back and neck muscles.2 One study found that lavender may also be effective in the management of migraines.3 Other research suggests that lavender can improve sleep quality in people,4 a possible benefit for those who suffer from sleep deprivation-related headaches.5
- Peppermint: If you suffer from tension headaches, peppermint oil may help. Peppermint has a cooling effect that inhibits muscle contractions in the head and neck while also stimulating blood flow to the area. This essential oil cooling comes from menthol, the same compound found in many over-the-counter topical pain-relieving products. A recent meta-analysis of multiple studies found that massaging this essential oil into the temples and forehead can help relieve tension headaches.6
- Rosemary: You might know this herb as a savory food seasoning, but the herb can be used for other purposes as well. Research indicates that rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties,7 and studies find that rosemary oil can help ease anxiety and depression—possible triggers for tension headaches—in lab studies.8
- Chamomile: Just like a nighttime mug of chamomile tea helps you relax and unwind, chamomile essential oil is thought to have the same effect: Scientists say it may reduce anxiety and depression,9 and it’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce head pain.10 To relax after a stressful day, add a few drops of chamomile oil to a warm bath or a diffuser. You can use it during a busy day as well; before an important meeting, you can even splash some on a tissue and hold the tissue under your nose as you breathe deeply.
- Eucalyptus: You’re probably familiar with this scent if you use the steam room at your gym. Cineole, a compound in eucalyptus, is often used to clear away nasal mucus, making it a great choice for those dealing with sinus headaches.11 You can recreate the sinus-clearing effects of a steam room at home by adding a few drops to a bowl of boiling water and breathing in the scented steam. (Just be sure to keep your face far enough away from the water to avoid steam burns.) But the benefits of eucalyptus oil go beyond sinus headaches: A 2013 study found it was effective at lowering blood pressure and relieving pain when inhaled as well.12