Essential oils can contribute to migraine symptom relief. Here’s what to know about the different options and their potential benefits.
When you live with migraine, you may be used to everyone and their mother having a remedy they’re eager to share with you. I’ve heard tips about everything from pharmaceuticals, like Triptans and NSAIDs, to alternative treatments, like acupuncture and aromatherapy.
One of the seemingly strangest tips I ever got — slathering Vicks VapoRub on my feet at night — actually did seem to help.
It worked so well that I’ve started reaching for my jar of Vicks whenever I feel a migraine attack coming on. But as odd as this trick is, there seems to be some logic behind it.
VapoRub is a petroleum-based ointment, similar to Vaseline, that contains three active ingredients: camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol (which comes from peppermint oil). The most likely explanation, then, is that the relief I feel from the VapoRub is due to the scent.
Aromatherapy is one of the most oft-cited natural headache remedies out there. Essential oils have become somewhat of a cliched cure-all in recent years, with people proclaiming health benefits such as improved sleep, better immunity, and pain relief, especially when it comes to headache pain. But is there any truth to that?
Actually, yes. While essential oils can’t replace prescription (or even over-the-counter) migraine medication, some research suggests they may have therapeutic benefits for people navigating migraine attacks.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably keen to try anything for even a bit of relief in the midst of a migraine episode. Of course, it’s always best to talk with a doctor before trying any new treatment.
Once you’ve gotten the all-clear, though, here are some of the best essential oils to try depending on your migraine symptoms.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
Peppermint and lavender are two of the most popular essential oils out there, so it’s no surprise that they’re the top choice among people with migraine. The active ingredient in peppermint is menthol, which has long been used to relax muscles and alleviate pain. One 2019 study found that peppermint oil relieved headache pain as much as lidocaine.
Lavender oil has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties so it’s frequently used to treat minor wounds, bug bites, fungal infections, and allergies. It’s also been known to have anxiety-reducing properties and can be used to promote a calming mood and better sleep.
On top of that, research has found that lavender can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine episodes.
Although not as widely used, rosemary, sage, and basil may also be beneficial for alleviating migraine symptoms.
Rosemary and sage have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects and are believed to help treat common neurological disorders, including migraine. One 2020 study found that basil essential oil helped reduce the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks.
Stress is one of the most common migraine triggers, so reducing stress can often help reduce migraine frequency. Certain essential oils are known to have calming properties, including orange, lemon, and ylang-ylang. Bergamot, another citrusy essential oil, has also been found to reduce anxiety and stress.
As discussed earlier, peppermint and lavender also have stress-reducing effects.
Anyone who lives with migraine knows intimately well that migraine is not just “a bad headache.”
Migraine attacks can come with a slew of symptoms that range from inconvenient and uncomfortable, to debilitating. Symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and light sensitivity are common. For me, nausea has always been the most difficult symptom to tolerate. Luckily, there are essential oils that can help with that.
Ginger is the most well-known, but it’s far from the only one. A research study from 2021 found that ginger and peppermint both helped reduce nausea and vomiting among chemotherapy patients. The same study also observed that cardamom and chamomile were effective in reducing nausea.
Lemongrass can improve nausea and digestion issues. It can also help relieve menstrual-related symptoms, including headaches and cramps.
Now that you know the best essential oils for migraine relief, it’s important to understand how to use them. First, make sure you choose high quality essential oils from a reputable brand.
There are a few different options for using them. Here are three of my favorites:
The easiest and most common way to use essential oils is by inhaling them. You can either add a few drops to a diffuser or simply open the bottle and take a few deep inhales.
If you’re especially sensitive to smell, that might prove too much, so you can also place the open bottle on a nearby table and let that fill the room. Just make sure it’s out of reach of children and pets.
To use essential oils topically, you’ll need to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or jojoba. After that, you can massage it onto your temples, forehead, shoulders, or the back of your neck.
If you apply oils near your temples, be careful not to get them in your eyes.
While not the quickest solution, or most convenient option, a bath is a relaxing way to use essential oils. To do this, just add a few drops of the essential oil to a bath before soaking for 10–20 minutes. Take caution when getting out of a bath with oils, you may be more slippery than expected.
Finally, before trying any new treatment, you should make sure to discuss it with a doctor. Although essential oils are generally considered safe, a medical professional or certified aromatherapist can give you the right guidance.
Medically reviewed on November 01, 2023
Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at email@example.com.
About the author