Using Essential Oils for Headaches and Migraines

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by Erica Jones

Essential oils for Headaches and Migraines

You feel like all light is your enemy, like you may just throw up your entire breakfast, like you can’t even get through the day due to the splitting headache that refuses to wane. Eventually you just have to lie down and pray that when you wake up it’s gone. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

Sound familiar? It probably does if you’re one of those unlucky people who gets frequent headaches…or worse – if you’re one of those super unlucky people who gets migraines.

Whether you suffer from occasional slight headaches or regular full-blown migraines, headaches are at best a nuisance and at worst, debilitating. And sadly, they’re all too common. In fact, migraines are considered the 3rd most prevalent chronic condition in the world!

Since headaches are so common, it’s probably super obvious that the chosen remedy for them is generally the easiest and most accessible over-the-counter medications. But we now live with more options and availability for natural remedies, and often these are far more beneficial than pharmaceuticals and carry far fewer health risks. In fact, there are a number of essential oils for headaches that are incredibly effective and carry additional health benefits beyond just pain relief.

Read on as we dive into the best essential oils for headaches and detail their use; but before we can go there, we need to get down to the nitty gritty of headaches.

Types of Headaches and Their Causes

There are a number of different kinds of headaches, all with different symptoms, and all linked back to different causes (as if the very fact of headaches wasn’t bad enough). Only by looking at the cause of your headache can you choose the appropriate remedy, so let’s take a look at these various categories.

Migraine Headache

This is perhaps the headache that most of us are familiar with — whether we experience them ourselves or have a friend or loved one who does. Migraines are undoubtedly the most debilitating headaches there are, as they cause severe throbbing pain (typically on one side of the head) and can last anywhere from hours to days. Migraines are also known to cause sensitivity to light and noise, along with nausea and vomiting.

The causes of migraines are a little less cut-and-dry. Some people are genetically more inclined to experience them, and women are three times more likely to get migraines than men. They’re often linked with hormone fluctuations, nervous system disorders, and even things like dehydration or lack of sleep.

Tension Headache

Just as you would guess from the name, a tension headache is caused by stress or anxiety. If you’re going through some kind of stress in life, it’s not uncommon to experience tension headaches that can occur all over the head, and usually cause dull (not throbbing) pain.

Cluster Headache

A cluster headache occurs when you experience sharp, throbbing pain behind one eye. It may throb like a migraine or be constant like a tension headache, and is incredibly painful and disruptive, as cluster headaches usually occur in groups (hence their name).

Sinus Headache

Here’s another one where the description is in the name: a sinus headache occurs when the sinuses are clogged or inflamed, often due to sinus infections. This causes a headache that feels very much like pressure built up inside your face, often at the cheekbones, forehead, or even the bridge of the nose.

Hormone Headache

Hormone headaches are what women experience during intense hormone fluctuations — i.e., during periods, pregnancy, or menopause. Some women may also experience hormone headaches when on birth control as well. In these types of headaches, the pain will manifest itself differently for different people.

Caffeine Headache

You can’t get by without coffee…then one day you don’t have time to get in your morning joe, and bam. All of a sudden you’re dealing with a raging headache.

Caffeine withdrawal (or conversely, too much caffeine) can bring about these headaches as your body tries to adjust to the change in caffeine levels.

The Drawbacks of Conventional Medications

When someone has a headache, they generally go right for the medicine cabinet and pull out one of their OTC pain medications that they keep on hand. It’s a quick, effective way to try to cut the pain off right at the outset. But there’s even more to the story here than you may realize as you reach for your bottle of pain relievers.

Two of the primary choices for headaches are ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. These two are generally very effective at knocking out pain; however, they are notoriously hard on the kidneys, which then have to process these pain killers.

Over time, if you take one of these medications frequently enough and in enough quantities, it can actually promote kidney failure later in life. These medications are also known to promote gastrointestinal problems when usage is not kept in check.

Acetaminophen is another common choice in dealing with a headache; however, this medication can be incredibly dangerous as it has the potential to damage or even kill the liver. Acetaminophen often becomes the culprit in what’s known as “staggered overdose,” which is where someone takes more than is prescribed for a long period of time, eventually doing irreparable damage to the liver along with the kidneys and brain.

Even aspirin, which is commonly used for heart health, can be harmful. This medication can cause gastrointestinal issues such as ulcers. In more rare circumstances, it’s even been known to cause Reye’s syndrome, which consists of swelling in the brain and liver and can be deadly.

The number of risks associated with conventional medications is reason enough to avoid them when possible! And considering the severity of these risks, it’s no wonder people are looking for alternatives — and using essential oils for headaches is a prime option.

Going Natural: Why Use Essential Oils for Headaches

Aside from the obvious perk of avoiding the risks of conventional medications, turning to essential oils for headaches has some added benefits.

First (and perhaps most importantly), using essential oils for headache symptoms doesn’t just impact the pain of the headache, but the actual trigger as well. Essential oils cut off the source of the problem at the very root. This is what you need for lasting relief.

And, when you use essential oils for headaches you can avoid the chemical side effects that can occur with conventional pain relievers. OTC pain meds can cause side effects like upset stomach…and who wants to get rid of a headache just to deal with tummy problems? Essential oils impact the pain without creating extra symptoms.

And finally, using essential oils for headaches provides additional immune-boosting power and numerous other health benefits — so as you’re dealing with your headache, rather than potentially causing yourself unknown risk, you’re instead bolstering your body and fortifying yourself against future health hazards.

The Top Essential Oils for Headaches and How to Use them

Now we get to the fun stuff!

You’ve got the insight now to know that conventional meds may not be ideal for your body, but the world of essential oils is still a mystery. Well, this is where we break it down for you. Not only will you learn what essential oil is good for headaches, but you’ll also learn how to use them and any additional benefits they provide. Take a look!

Peppermint Essential Oil

Considered one of the best essential oils for tension headaches, peppermint’s effectiveness lies in its ability to improve blood circulation and relax muscles.

Since headaches often occur as the muscles in your head tighten and constrict blood flow, using peppermint essential oil for headaches is great for impacting those symptoms and the pain that goes with them. But this oil isn’t just great for tension headaches — it can even benefit migraine sufferers, because when it’s mixed with eucalyptus and ethanol, it’s been reported to decrease sensitivity as well. Peppermint is hands down one of the best essential oils for headaches.

To use: Using peppermint essential oil for headaches is as simple as applying it directly to the skin — but since it can be very strong, it’s best to mix it with a carrier oil like coconut oil. Add a few drops of peppermint oil to coconut oil, mix it well, and massage into your temples and the base of your neck and shoulders.

Lavender  Essential Oil

At this point, I think lavender oil has been in almost all of our posts about essential oils, but with good reason — it’s just one of those all-around versatile oils!

Lavender is best known for its soothing effects, and that’s where its power lies.

Its ability to calm and relax relieves tension, both physical and mental. But lavender oil is also a boost for your central nervous system, helping to prevent migraine attacks and other headaches.

To use: Lavender oil can be applied topically like peppermint oil. Simply mix with a carrier oil and massage a few drops into the base of your neck, temples, and your wrists. Lavender oil also supports headache relief through inhalation, so you can either use a diffuser or inhale in your palms. Mix with Peppermint Essential Oil for enhanced benefits.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus oil is possibly the best essential oil for sinus headache. Because it’s an expectorant, it loosens phlegm buildup, purges the body of toxins, and can help decrease the pressure that causes sinus headaches. It even can reduce blood pressure and its anti-inflammatory effects cut down the pain associated with headaches.

As if that wasn’t enough, this oil can also boost your emotional state, which can be a huge pain and stress relief in the case of tension headaches.

To use: For sinus or tension headaches, eucalyptus oil can be diluted with a carrier oil and applied to your temples, back of your neck, forehead or chest. For sinus headaches specifically, you can also put this oil in your diffuser to clear your respiratory and sinus symptoms.

Rosemary Oil

This oil is highly anti-inflammatory, so it’s incredibly effective when dealing with headache pain — and it can increase your level of alertness. This is particularly important, since headaches can really affect how your mind functions! Additionally, in cases of migraines or severe headaches where nausea or vomiting is an issue, rosemary oil soothes upset stomachs.

To use: Rosemary oil can be ingested, so you can add a drop to tea, soup, or some other food to experience its headache-relieving effects. Or use it topically to directly target the pain — massage a few drops into your temples, forehead, or the back of your neck.

Helichrysum Oil

This oil has long been used for migraines and other severe headaches, as it’s a strong anti-inflammatory oil. Though it’s not as well known as many other essential oils, it’s still incredibly powerful for fighting headaches and can be used in a variety of ways. This is one of the best cluster headache essential oils.

To use: Add to a carrier oil (coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil) and apply directly to forehead, temples, or the back of your neck. You may also add a couple drops to a cold compress and apply at the site of your headache. You can also diffuse or inhale in the palms to get the benefits of this powerful oil.

Roman Chamomile Oil

I think all of us have used chamomile at some point or another to help us relax or fall asleep!

This oil is not just a relaxant — it’s also an anti-inflammatory that can ease headaches. If you have a headache that’s making it difficult for you to unwind or sleep, this is the oil for you.

To use: Add a few drops to tea to promote relaxation and pain relief, or add to a bath to increase the de-stressing effects.

Clary Sage Oil

If hormones are causing your headaches, you may need some clary sage oil in your life.

While this essential oil for headaches is particularly useful for menstrual cramps, it can reduce the anxiety that comes with monthly hormones, and thus can reduce headaches that go along with these hormone fluctuations.

To use: Add to a carrier oil and apply directly to the site of the headache. Or, especially if your headache is accompanied by anxiety or stress, add to a steamy bath to help you relax while inhaling this oil’s beneficial properties.

A Side Note

All of these essential oil remedies are incredibly effective and target far more than just pain. However, we thought it would be important here to include a little caveat about headaches.

While most people experience headaches at some point or another for various reasons, headaches can be a sign of some other serious health problem. It’s critical to keep an eye out for warning signs of other health issues causing your headaches, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches occurring after aerobic activity
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Headaches that occur after a head injury

These are just some of the symptoms of a potentially life-threatening or much more serious condition. In this case, your first line of defense may need to be medical intervention. See your doctor immediately if any of these symptoms occur.

Headache Essential Oil recipes

Don’t forget that there are plenty of ways these oils can be combined to create a headache essential oil recipe. A blend of essential oils for headaches is beneficial for dealing with the pain from all sides, targeting each point of the problem for a holistic approach.

To create your own blend of essential oils for headaches, first consider the source of the headache. Is it caused by tension or anxiety? Does it coincide with that time of the month? Do you have sinus issues in addition to your headache? Answering these questions will tell you the source of the headache and which types of essential oils will be the most helpful.

Next, consider which oils are best for which circumstances. If you’re experiencing a severe migraine that’s brought about by hormones, pair helichrysum oil (for powerful pain relief) with some clary sage (helpful for hormones). Add them to a carrier oil, and voila! You have a customized headache essential oil recipe that’s developed specifically for your needs.

If you need a general place to start, check out the recipes below:

Essential Oils Headache Roll-On Recipe

7 drops of Peppermint

5 drops of Lavender

5 drops of Frankincense

Add the oils to a 5 mL roller bottle. Top off with carrier oil of your choice. Roll onto temples, base of neck and shoulders and gently massage affected areas. Reapply every 30 minutes for pain relief.

Essential Oils Migraine Blend

1 drop of Juniper Berry Essential Oil

1 drop of Helichrysum Essential Oil

Carrier oil of your choice

Massage into the temples and base of the neck with carrier oil.

Essential Oils Headache Diffuser Recipe

5 drops of Copaiba Essential Oil

5 drops of Marjoram Essential Oil

5 drops of Frankincense Essential Oil

3 drops of Lavender Essential Oil

Add all oils to a diffuser and inhale deeply to promote relaxation and headache relief.

The options are endless for creating your own blends and methods for addressing your headaches. Try different blends of essential oils for headaches, but also try different application methods to see which are the most useful in dealing with your problems. Some people may have more success with direct application, while others may find that inhalation (i.e., with a diffuser or even in the palms of the hand) provides them with faster relief. Everyone is different, so you may have to try various methods before you discover which is right for you.

Taking Control of Your Headaches

With so many essential oils for headache issues, there’s limitless possibilities for pain and symptom support. But the greatest part about using essential oils for headaches is that they go far beyond just the pain, targeting the source of the pain itself for long-lasting benefits.

Not to mention, oils are so versatile – the same oil you use for headache support (like peppermint) can be used to boost energy, support respiratory health and even get rid of digestive discomfort. So start experimenting, and you’ll be ready to ditch your conventional meds in favor of sustainable, body-friendly essential oils.

Do you use essential oils for headaches? Which are your favorites, and how do you use them? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

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