An essential oil is a concentrated liquid extracted from a plant. Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy based on the use of these oils. Aromatherapists believe that each essential oil offers a different set of health benefits.
Research supports the health benefits of certain essential oils, while other claims are based on tradition. This article explores five of the best essential oils for treating headaches, as supported by scientific evidence.
It is estimated that more than half of the adult population worldwide experiences occasional headaches, with the most common type being a tension headache.
While there are a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications available for headaches, these treatments can cause side effects.
When someone experiences headaches regularly, they may look for natural treatments, including essential oils.
Which essential oils help headaches?
There are a number of studies that show specific essential oils may be beneficial for headaches. These include:
1. Lavender oil
Lavender is often used to help people get to sleep and to reduce stress, anxiety, or depression.
Many believe that it can help relieve headaches and migraines that are triggered by stress.
A 2012 study suggests that the inhalation of lavender essential oil can be a safe and effective treatment to manage migraine headaches.
2. Rosemary oil
Rosemary oil is traditionally used to treat headaches and improve circulation.
There are few studies that specifically support rosemary oil as an effective headache treatment. However, a 2008 study suggests that rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties.
Another study from 2013 found that rosemary oil helped to reduce pain and insomnia in people going through opium withdrawal treatment.
These research examples suggest that rosemary oil may reduce the pain associated with a headache. However, more studies on humans are required before this can be confirmed.
3. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is stimulating and may relieve tension headaches when applied topically.
Peppermint has been used in alternative medicines for thousands of years. It is one of the most popular essential oils for treating headaches.
A recent 2015 review of published studies on essential oils states that applying peppermint oil to the temples and forehead provides relief from tension headaches.
The active ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. Research published in 2015 shows menthol may be effective in treating migraines when applied to the head as a gel.
4. Chamomile oil
People traditionally drink chamomile tea to relax and unwind. Chamomile oil is commonly believed to have a similar effect.
Research from 2012 showed that chamomile oil might improve some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
As headaches are often caused by stress and anxiety, it follows that chamomile oil may help treat headaches.
There are anti-inflammatory properties in chamomile that may also reduce a headache, but more research is needed into its health benefits.
5. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus is traditionally used to clear sinuses and reduce inflammation. People experiencing headaches due to blocked sinuses may find that inhaling eucalyptus reduces their symptoms.
One study found that eucalyptus oil was effective for relieving pain and lowering blood pressure when it was inhaled.
How to use essential oils for headaches
Essential oils can be diluted and massaged into the temples or forehead to help relieve headaches.
There are a number of different ways that you can use essential oils to treat a headache. These include:
- Applying oil to the temples or forehead: Essential oils need to be diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil before they can be applied to the skin. Once diluted, the oil can be massaged into the temples and across the forehead.
- Inhaling oil: Essential oils can be inhaled by adding a few drops to a tissue, holding the tissue under the nose and breathing deeply.
- Using a compress: Create a compress by soaking a towel in cold water with a few drops of essential oil. The compress can be applied to the forehead or neck.
- Adding oil to the bath: Adding a few drops of essential oil to a hot bath can be a relaxing way to treat a headache.
Risks and considerations
As with many alternative remedies, essential oils are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Association (FDA), so it is important to buy a reputable brand.
Essential oils are generally safe when used properly. It is important to dilute them with a carrier oil before applying them directly to the skin. They may cause skin irritation if used undiluted.
Some people are allergic to essential oils even when diluted so it may be helpful to put a small amount on a patch of skin first to test for an allergic reaction. If there is no reaction within 48 hours, then the oil is safe to use.
If a person has any existing health conditions, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor before using essential oils.