We have all suffered from headaches of varying degrees from time to time and every one of them has a trigger of some sort. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss every possible cause but factors like coffee, alcohol, poor posture, depleted blood sugar levels, sinus congestion and stress are all common headache triggers. Of course, it is also possible that your headache is caused by a far more serious underlying health issue so if you feel concerned, it is important that you seek medical advice as soon as you can.
The most common response to a headache is to reach for the pain killers which often do the trick, at least in the short term, but they also come with a very real risk of side effects and don’t necessarily get to the root of your problem. For those who prefer a more holistic approach, you may have tried one of the great number of natural headache remedies on offer and hopefully found some success.
If you are reading his article, then you are likely looking for another natural alternative of dealing with your headaches and essential oils may well have the answer for you. Certain essential oils can be used to ease your headaches in a safe and natural manner and unlike painkilling medications they might also work by getting to the root cause of your problem rather than simply treating your symptoms temporarily.
Essential oils relieve stress, anxiety and fatigue; they also boost the body’s circulatory systems and can provide the immune system with a much needed boost. While there seems to be an essential oil for pretty much any illness, some essential oils have been indicated and used very successfully in the relief of headaches and migraines. The list below is not necessarily exhaustive but those known to be most effective at the time of writing.
1. Peppermint essential oil
This menthol based oil is well known for its exceptional cooling and soothing effects on the skin and its ability to clear the mind. When it is applied topically, it also stimulates blood flow to the forehead and inhibits muscle contractions.
Peppermint essential oil has been successfully tested for its ability to treat headaches caused by tension. A study published in 1996 analyzed its effects on 41 patients treated with the topical application of peppermint oil soon after the onset of a headache. The researchers found that peppermint oil was equally as effective as the commonly prescribed analgesic medication, acetaminophen and proved a suitable and safe alternative. (1)
Another study published in the previous year evaluated the effects of topically applied peppermint oil in combination with ethanol and eucalyptus. The results of this experiment were equally promising with researchers demonstrating that the essential oil combination treatment had a marked analgesic effect and reduced sensitivity to headaches. (2)
2. Lavender essential oil
This most famous of essential oils has a well-understood calming effect and is often used to combat the symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression and nerve related insomnia. It is also developing a growing reputation for its ability to deal with neurological conditions like migraines and headaches.
Two of lavender’s major constituents; linalyl acetate and linalool are easily and quickly absorbed into the system where they get to work on the nervous system. Because of this, lavender essential oil is the ideal natural remedy for headaches and migraines set off by stress and anxiety and science agrees.
A study published in 2012 evaluated the effects of lavender oil on 47 patients suffering frequent migraine headaches. When the patients suffered a migraine, they inhaled lavender essential oil and recorded their symptoms. A significant percentage of the headaches treated with lavender oil inhalation responded well to the treatment compared to the headaches treated with a placebo.
Specifically of the 129 attacks, 92 of them responded completely or partially. (3)
While the headaches in the experiment were treated by inhalation, you can also safely apply lavender oil topically to your temples or neck when you feel a headache coming on.
3. Rosemary essential oil
Peppermint and lavender might well be the 2 most effective essential oils for your headaches, but there are others that you might want to try. Rosemary essential oil has been used traditionally to treat headaches as well as circulatory complaints because of its natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Research published in 2013 lends some credence to these claims. The study which was published in Addiction Health specifically evaluated the effects of rosemary essential oil on withdrawal symptoms including nausea, insomnia and headaches. Researchers found that rosemary oil effectively reduced many of these symptoms. (4)
To treat your headaches, you can either apply rosemary oil alone or in combination with peppermint essential oil and a carrier oil.
4. Eucalyptus essential oil
Eucalyptus essential oil is another excellent headache remedy especially when your headache is caused by sinus congestion or pressure because of its excellent expectorant qualities. Apart from its ability to open the airways and ease respiration, it has anti-inflammatory and pain milling effects according to a study published in 2013.
This trial found that inhaling eucalyptus oil decreased pain as well as blood pressure in patients following knee surgery; abilities which could also help combat the pain of headaches. (5)
5. Helichrysum essential oil
Helichrysum essential oil is probably best known for its skin and wound healing applications but it also has excellent anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities making it an effective headache remedy. It also helps soothe the nerves and can be applied topically in combination with another oil or on its own to relieve tension based headaches.
6. Roman chamomile essential oil
Roman chamomile essential oil has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat neuralgic pain as well as being able to relieve general feelings of stress and anxiety. Roman chamomile makes an excellent headache and migraine remedy especially when your headache is stress related.
7. Other essential oils
The essential oils already mentioned are probably the best known oils to treat your headaches and migraines but there are a number of other oils that could be used to similar effect. They include:
With so many possible options, I would recommend trying out several oils and seeing what works for your particular headache. The oil that works best for you will probably depend on the underlying cause of your condition and there are several application methods that you can try.
Oils For Different types of Headaches
Not all headaches are the same, they have different causes and varying effects. Certain essential oils may be better in dealing with certain types of headache.
Essential Oils for Sinus Headaches
Sinus headaches are often confused with headaches caused by tension but it is important to identify the type of headache that you have because the treatment differs and this is no different when it comes to essential oil therapy. Sinus headaches are cause by the air filled areas behind the cheekbones, forehead and nose becoming inflamed either because of infection or an allergic reaction.
Symptoms include pain, facial swelling, fever and a runny nose.
The best essential oils to treat sinus headaches are eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme and rosemary essential oils.
To treat your sinus headache and unblock the congestion, by far the best method is to prepare a steam inhalation. Add 5 or 6 drops of your chosen oil or blend of oils to a sink filled with very hot water. Cover your neck, shoulders and head then lean over the water and inhale the vapors for at least 5 minutes or as long as you can tolerate it.
Essential Oils for Hormonal headaches in women
Hormonal changes are one of the biggest reasons for headaches in women. When there are estrogen fluctuations, hormonal headaches may be triggered. This is especially likely to occur just before or during menstruation when estrogen levels tend to fall.
Another major cause of female headaches are the hormonal changes that take place during menopause. Medications taken to balance the hormones can actually make the headaches even worse so it is good to have a natural alternative option.
For hormonal headaches, the essential oils that work best are rosemary essential oil and lavender essential oil. They are both very soothing and gentle essential oils that can relieve tension and alleviate pain. Clary sage essential oil is another excellent option.
Essential Oils for Headaches in Pregnancy
Because of the major hormonal changes that a woman goes through during pregnancy, headaches are extremely common. Many women are rightly concerned about the safety of essential oils during pregnancy especially during the latter stages.
Lavender essential oil is considered safe for inhalation and topical use during pregnancy and because of its very mild properties, is the one that is generally recommended.
Other oils like rosemary may be equally as effective but be sure to speak with your medical provider or an expert aromatherapist if you are pregnant and looking to use essential oils.
Essential Oils for Children’s Headaches
Tension headaches and migraines in children can be unsettling for the child and parent alike. We would prefer to treat the headache safely and naturally where possible and there are several essential oils that are perfect for the job.
Because lavender essential oil is so mild, it is very safe to use on even young children. Other alternative oils for treating your little one’s headache include frankincense, rosemary and the citrus oils.
Essential Oils for Tension Headaches
Because of our increasingly stressful lives, tension headaches are increasingly common. A tension headache is characterized by a moderate pain in and around the head which feels much like a bad being pulled too tightly around it. Managing your lifestyle can be an effective prevention treatment but sometimes, no matter what we do we will still develop a tension related headache.
The best essential oils for tension headaches are lavender, eucalyptus, helichrysum, Roman chamomile, spearmint and peppermint while many citrus oils may also offer great help.
How to use the oils to relieve your headache
1. Topical application
- Suitably dilute the essential oil or a combination of oil of your choice in a carrier oil such as coconut, sweet almond or jojoba.
- Gently apply the mixture to your temples, forehead and neck making sure that you avoid contact with the eyes.
If you have a diffuser machine, it can be a very effective way of relieving headaches as well as tension and stress.
- Just diffuse your chosen oil throughout the night or day to treat and prevent headaches or migraine.
A very effective method of treating your headaches immediately is to just inhale your oil directly.
- If you feel a headache developing, apply a drop or two of oil onto the palms of your hands and cup them over your mouth and nose.
- Breathe in and out for around 30 seconds and you should feel the benefits.
- If you are concerned about handling the oil directly, you can put your essential oil on a handkerchief or cotton ball instead.
If your headache is caused by sinus pressure, the most effective treatment is to add a few drops of oil to a bowl of hot water and make a steam bath.
- Drape a towel over your neck and shoulders and breathe in the vapors for a few minutes but be careful not to scald yourself.
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