Essential Oils for Headaches

Help ease headache pain, slash stress and sleep better with these natural aromatherapy tips.

Essential oils do more than smell good. These oils come from plants and are generally used to scent perfumes. They are also used in aromatherapy and can be a great addition to your pain management toolkit. Their ability to aid in reducing stress, which is a major trigger of many common headaches, may help quell head pain when used alongside over-the-counter medication and your other favorite treatment methods.

While there isn’t a large volume of scientific research around the benefits of essential oils, studies suggest headache sufferers experience reduced head pain after using fragrant oils. 1 “Of all our senses, smell is the most powerful. Unlike sound and touch, smell has a direct connection to the areas of our brain wired for emotion. Essential oils provide potent sources of odors that connect almost directly to the most primitive part of our brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for emotional reactions like anxiety and stress," says New York City therapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D. 3

And, since tension headaches — to which stress is often a contributor — are the most common form of headaches, some aromatherapy may go a long way toward helping ease the pain.

The Best Essential Oils for Headache Relief

Peppermint: “Peppermint oil is great at relieving tension headaches, as it has a cooling effect that will inhibit muscle contractions in the head while also stimulating blood flow to the area," says Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., a certified doctor of natural medicine, chiropractor and a clinical nutritionist. In fact, peppermint's cooling properties come from menthol, the same compound that is included in many over-the-counter topical products used in the treatment of headaches. 4

Lavender: It's a powerful tool for relieving the stress and anxiety that may contribute to tension in the muscles of the back of the neck and head, which leads to headaches in many, Hokemeyer says. A 2012 study even found that it may be effective in the management of migraine headaches. 5 Plus, lavender oil's ability to aid in relaxation and sleep is helpful if you commonly deal with nighttime headaches, or headaches brought on by lack of sleep, Axe says. Try rubbing it on the back of your neck, temples, and wrists when stressed or when you get into bed.3 “You can also add five to ten drops of oil to a warm bath to ramp up the relaxation factor," he says.

Get the Most Out of Essential Oils

Whenever using essential oils, try eliminating all external distractions and resting in a quiet, relaxing place, Hokemeyer says. Give yourself at least 20 minutes for your body and mind to calm down. As you relax, you can also implement strategies like deep breathing. (Learn three deep-breathing techniques for stress relief.)

Remember that, while essential oils may help relieve tension and reduce headache pain for some, they are best used as part of a holistic approach to self-care and headache relief.

Show References

Hide References

1. "Essential Plant Oils and Headache Mechanisms." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23196150>.

2. Gedney, Jeffrey J. PsyD; Glover, Toni L. MA, RN; Fillingim, Roger B. PhD. Sensory and Affective Pain Discrimination After Inhalation of Essential Oils. Psychosomatic Medicine: July/August 2004 - Volume 66 - Issue 4 - pp 599-606 http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2004/07000/Sensory_and_Affective_Pain_Discrimination_After.21.aspx

3. Koulivand, Peir Hossein, Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri, and Ali Gorji. "Lavender and the Nervous System." Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 July 2016.

4. Benjamin Klinger, M.D., M.P.H., Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Bronx, New York; Sapna Chaudhary, D.O., Beth Israel Continuum Center for Health and Healing, New York, New York Am Fam Physician. 2007 Apr 1;75(7):1027-1030. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0401/p1027.html

5. 1: Sasannejad P, Saeedi M, Shoeibi A, Gorji A, Abbasi M, Foroughipour M. Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur Neurol. 2012;67(5):288-91. doi: 10.1159/000335249. Epub 2012 Apr 17. PubMed PMID: 22517298. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517298

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