Headaches are among the most common nervous system disorders worldwide. In fact, almost 75% of adults age 18 to 65 have endured some type of headache in the past year and, among those, 30% were migraine sufferers. According to the World Health Organization, “the headache has been underestimated, under-recognized and under-treated throughout the world.” For a lot of people, headaches are a common, every-day issue, and – to make things worse – they may not even be certain as to what causes them. There are so many triggers, including stress, fatigue, hormones, allergies, alcohol or drugs, and poor nutrition. Just thinking about all the causes can give you a headache!
Medications and painkillers for headaches, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, come with nasty side effects like liver and kidney damage, especially when used frequently. Also, many prescribed medications for more serious and on-going headaches can actually cause more headaches.
The use of essential oils, however, can provide a safe, effective treatment for headaches and their triggers. Especially when diffused, there are no horrible side effects and the dosage control is in your hands. Used for thousands of years, essential oils also help with circulation, reduce stress and boost your immune system – all things that aid in headache control and elimination.
Not all headaches or headache pain are alike, however. Below is a list of the most prevalent headache disorders suffered by adults and the essential oils that work best to effectively eliminate them.
Essential Oils for Tension Headaches
Peppermint Essential Oil
With its cool, refreshing scent, peppermint stimulates blood flow and relaxes muscles, thereby reducing stress. It is also numbing, with makes it ideal for headache relief. Peppermint is especially effective at alleviating the tension headache. In fact, a study of 41 patients who were given peppermint oil to use for their tension headaches showed that it was well tolerated and effective therapy.
Dilute peppermint oil with a carrier oil and apply it to the forehead, temples or back of neck. You can also inhale it directly from the bottle or apply a few drops to a diffuser.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender’s soft, floral fragrance is a calming, sedating agent which makes it perfect for tension headaches due to lack of sleep.
To reduce muscle tension, relieve stress and aid sleep, diffuse 2-5 drops of lavender oil – all night long if needed. You can also apply topically with a carrier oil to the back of the neck, temples or even your wrists to relieve stress. Or, 5-10 drops of lavender oil can be added to warm water for a soothing therapy bath.
Roman Chamomile Essential Oil
The sweet, apple-like fragrance of chamomile, in oil form, has anti-inflammatory and anti-stress properties that assist in providing relief to those suffering from tension headaches. Roman Chamomile essential oil is also known for relieving pain by constricting blood vessels around the cranial nerves, which will relieve pressure in the head.
Dilute with a carrier oil, and apply to the forehead, temples and back of the neck. Its naturally sedative qualities also make it great for diffusing at night before sleep.
Rosemary Essential Oil
A natural stress reliever, rosemary essential oil is perfect for tension headaches. It has been used in folk medicine to treat headaches and poor circulation because of its stimulating, anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce the emotional triggers that can cause headaches and soothe an upset stomach which can be a symptom of a bad headache.
Dilute with a carrier oil and massage your forehead and temples to relieve pain. You can also add 5-10 drops to a warm bath.
Essential Oils for Sinus Headaches
Sinus headaches occur because of an actual sinus infection and/or when the membranes of the sinus cavities become inflamed and swollen. The headache comes from the intense pressure in the forehead were the cavities are located. Clearing up the cause of the sinus infection and pain will clear up the sinus headache.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
With its pine-fresh and somewhat medicinal scent, eucalyptus reduces sinus pressure and pain and relaxes muscles. It works as an expectorant, cleansing the body of toxins and harmful microorganisms. When eucalyptus oil was used on patients with respiratory conditions that can lead to cough, sore throat and headaches, the patients reported that eucalyptus oil improved breathing and reduced runny nose. Researchers reported that the oil exhibited antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties that can alleviate sinus pressure caused by an inflammatory response.
Dilute 2-4 drops of eucalyptus oil with a carrier, and apply it topically to the chest, back of neck, temples or forehead. This will help clear your airways and alleviate the sinus tension. You can also diffuse the oil and inhale to keep nasal passages moist and treat the congestion and pressure.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Also called Melaleuca oil, it is traditionally used for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Like eucalyptus oil, it also has a medicinal scent. Tea tree oil can help eliminate the germs causing the sinus infection while boosting the immune system.
Add the oil to a vaporizer and diffuse to help ease respiratory and sinus infections. It can also be added to a shower or hot bath, letting the steam combine with the oil’s properties to effectively open the sinuses and loosen congestion. It can also be combined with a carrier oil and applied topically on the chest, behind the ears or sparingly under the nose.
Essential Oils for Migraine Headaches
A migraine is a severe and painful headache, associated with throbbing pain, nausea and a heightened sensitivity to light. Almost 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from migraines, with the majority of those women. Also, 91% of migraine sufferers claim to miss work or aren’t able to function during an attack. Migraines can be triggered by stress, anxiety, hormones, food sensitivities or sleep deprivation.
Peppermint Essential Oil
When applied topically, peppermint oil provides a long-lasting cooling effect on the skin, ability to inhibit muscle contractions and stimulation for blood flow in the forehead.
To reduce pain, relieve tension and increase blood flow, dilute 2-3 drops of peppermint oil in a carrier oil such as coconut oil and apply directly to shoulders, back of neck and forehead.
Basil Essential Oil
Basil oil is a good choice for fending off migraines. It contains adaptogens, which are powerful warriors against the negative effects of stress. If migraines cause you to feel drained and in a mental fog, basil oil can provide an energy boost and clear your mind.
When you start to feel on-coming stress or tension that may lead to a migraine, add a few drops to a diffuser or add to a carrier oil and apply topically.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Just like peppermint oil, eucalyptus essential oil provides a cooling sensation when applied topically. It can help reduce pain and the mental fog associated with a migraine.
Dilute 2-3 drops in a carrier oil and apply directly to back of neck, forehead or temples.
Essential Oils for Headaches Associated with Hormones
All headaches have triggers. A major trigger for migraine headaches, however is hormonal changes in women. A major drop in estrogen, especially immediately before or during a woman’s period, can trigger a severe headache. Pregnancy and menopause are also times when a woman can develop migraines for the first time. Even the use of hormonal medications can worsen these headaches.
Lavender Essential Oil
As an oil with therapeutic and curative properties, lavender induces relaxation and relieves tension. There is also growing evidence that it serves as an effective treatment for neurological conditions. It also regulates serotonin levels, which can help minimize pain in the nervous system than can lead to migraine headaches. It also helps with PMS symptoms.
Add 2-3 drops of lavender oil to a carrier oil and apply topically to the back of neck or temples. You can also add it to a diffuser or a warm bath to reduce tension.
Also, an effective aid for PMS symptoms, rosemary oil provides mental clarity and concentration needed to help with headache “brain fog.” A study of the effectiveness of rosemary oil on the symptoms associated with opioid addiction withdrawal, showed that it alleviated muscle aches and pain, nausea, headache, fever and insomnia – many of the same symptoms that plague hormone headache sufferers.
Add rosemary oil to tea, water or broth when experiencing severe headaches. You can also mix 2 drops of rosemary oil with 2 drops of peppermint oil and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil to use as a topical headache cream.
Essential Oils for Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are some of the most painful headaches a person can endure. They involve intense pain in and around one eye or on one side of the head. Not to be confused with a migraine, this type of headache occurs in distinct patterns, or cluster periods, that generally last from 6 to 12 weeks. They affect only 1 in about 1,000 people, but they are so severe that those afflicted can’t sit still and will often pace uncontrollably during and attack.
Helichrysum Oil and Peppermint Oil
With the intensity of cluster headaches, it seems best that more than one essential oil be used to help relieve the symptoms. Helichrysum, a medicinal oil derived from a Mediterranean plant, combined with peppermint oil, can alleviate the stabbing pain, congestion and watery eyes associated with these headaches. You can use them alone, but combined, they make a much more effective treatment.
Essential Oil Blends and Roll-Ons for Headache Relief
Essential oil blends are extremely effective when it comes to tackling the many different triggers and symptoms associated with headaches. Roll-on blends are especially effective because they are conveniently packaged and ready to literally roll on the temples, shoulders, neck, wrists or anywhere that you feel will be the most beneficial. They are also easy to carry with you wherever and whenever you may need them for quick relief. Here are some great options available:
Migraine Support Roll-On
Rocky Mountain Oils offers this floral, minty aroma that helps with relaxation, stress and pain relief. It combines basil, marjoram, lavender, peppermint, helichrysum and Roman chamomile in a base of jojoba oil.
Rapid Relief Synergy Blend Roll-On
From Plant Therapy, it combines peppermint, clove bud, laurel leaf, black pepper, cinnamon cassia, ginger root, German chamomile, juniper berry and thyme.
PastTense Tension Blend Roll-On
A blend of essential oils from doTERRA that are known to help provide relaxation and balanced emotions. It contains wintergreen, lavender, peppermint, frankincense, cilantro, marjoram, Roman chamomile, basil, and rosemary.
Relieve Me Essential Oil Blend
With a fresh, menthol aroma, Relieve Me from Rocky Mountain Oils combines helichrysum, wintergreen, clove bud, cypress, peppermint and marjoram.
Pain Ease Essential Oil Blend
Also, from Rocky Mountain Oils, Pain Ease features a warm citrus scent combined with a cooling minty feel. It combines lemongrass, wintergreen and peppermint.
Tips for Using Essential Oils for Headaches
- Use 100% pure, all-natural oils.
- Always dilute oils – 3-5 drops per 1 teaspoon of carrier oil.
- Apply to temples, back of neck or directly on painful area.
- Use a warm compress for exceptionally bad headaches.
- Reapply every 20 minutes if needed.
- Diffuse essential oils for a calming effect.
- Test oils for allergic reaction, try new essential oils to find ones that work best.
- CAUTION: If pregnant or nursing, always check with your healthcare provider before using certain essential oils as they may not be safe for use. For example, peppermint essential oil is safe during pregnancy, but it is not advised for use during nursing as it may reduce milk supply. You can also refer to the list of unsafe essential oils for pregnant and nursing mothers on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website.
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