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Can essential oils help with migraines?

Essential oils are frequently claimed to be the natural remedy to many ailments, from stress to insomnia and chronic pain to inflammation. But are essential oils effective natural remedies for migraines?

When you’re struck with a migraine, you’re likely to begin searching your cupboards for painkillers whilst combing the internet for the best migraine remedy. Migraines are debilitating, and the symptoms are often more far-reaching than simply a headache. 

Content/Quick links

  • What causes migraines?
  • What are the symptoms of a migraine?
  • Which essential oils can help with migraines?
  • How to use essential oils for migraines
  • Is it safe to use essential oils for migraines?
  • To sum up

What causes migraines?

No one knows exactly how migraines are caused. Scientists think they may be a result of abnormal brain activity which temporarily affects the nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. Perhaps there’s excessive blood flow to the blood vessels in the brain, increasing pressure and pain. Or perhaps the barometric pressure affects some people more than others. However, research is ongoing.

What we do know is that migraines typically have a trigger which is individual to you. This could be hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary, medicinal or environmental.
For example, many women find that migraines are more common at certain times during their menstrual cycle. Other people find their migraines are generally triggered by stress, lack of sleep, caffeine, dehydration, certain foods or bright lights.

It’s important to try and find the trigger for your migraines. Once you’ve identified the trigger, you can try to eliminate or limit its effect in order to reduce the number of migraines you experience.  

What are the symptoms of a migraine?

Migraine attacks are debilitating, often preventing you from carrying out normal activities such as caring for your children, working or driving a car.

The symptom that most people associate with a migraine attack is an intense headache. This typically occurs on one side of the head. Most people experience a migraine headache as a severe throbbing sensation which becomes worse with movement.

For some people, migraine headaches affect both sides of the head and occasionally the face or neck. However, there are also many other lesser-known symptoms which often occur during a migraine attack.

Many people suffer from nausea and sometimes vomiting during a migraine. It’s also common to experience increased sensitivity to light and sound when a migraine strikes, sometimes causing blurred vision. This is why people often want to rest in a dark, quiet room during a migraine attack.

Which essential oils can help with migraines?

Extracted from the leaves, flowers and other parts of a plant, essential oils offer a range of health benefits such as reducing stress, offering relief from pain and improving sleep.

Many people find that essential oils make effective natural remedies for headaches and migraines when they do occur.

Different essential oils offer different benefits, making them better suited to reducing migraine triggers, improving tension headaches, soothing pain or reducing nausea. It might take a bit of trial and error to find the best essential oils for headaches and migraines that work for you, but it’s worth the perseverance.

We’ve hand-picked some of our favourite essential oils for treating the symptoms associated with migraine attacks.  

Peppermint oil: Common but effective

One of the most commonly used essential oils as a natural remedy for migraines, peppermint oil is ideal for relieving the symptoms of migraine attacks and treating tension headaches.

Peppermint essential oil contains menthol which helps your muscles to relax whilst easing pain. This oil also has a cooling effect when the diluted oil is applied topically. This can help to reduce muscle contractions in your head and neck whilst stimulating blood flow.

One study found that applying diluted peppermint essential oil to the forehead and temples during a migraine attack significantly reduced pain levels after just 15 minutes, with no adverse effects. This proved for the first time that peppermint oil can help to alleviate tension headaches and migraines.

Try applying peppermint oil to your temples when you notice the first signs of a migraine attack. However, be sure to dilute this oil with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or coconut oil before application to avoid any irritation.  

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Lavender oil: Not just for relaxation

Lavender is one of the most commonly used essential oils and is well-known for its ability to promote relaxation and to enhance sleep. However, there’s also strong evidence which shows that lavender can be used as a headache remedy and to help treat migraines.

A 2013 study investigated the effects of aromatherapy for migraines, specifically looking at inhaling the aroma of lavender essential oil during the early stages of a migraine attack. Researchers found that the scent of lavender oil helped to reduce the severity of pain and other associated migraine symptoms within 15 minutes.

Stress is one of the most common triggers for migraine attacks. Lavender essential oil has been proven to promote relaxation. If your migraines are triggered by stress, try inhaling lavender oil to help you to relax. Some people find that inhaling the aroma of lavender oil at the onset of stress can help to prevent migraine attacks from occurring.

Another frequent trigger for migraine attacks is sleep deprivation. If you’re struggling to sleep, lavender essential oil may help. You can massage diluted lavender oil into your skin, add it to a diffuser or mix lavender oil combined with a carrier oil into a warm bath.  

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Rosemary oil: Reduce your stress and ease your pain

With powerful analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, there’s no wonder rosemary oil is widely used to relieve headaches and migraines. Not only that, but rosemary essential oil offers a vast range of benefits including reducing stress, improving circulation and relieving pain – all beneficial properties for migraine sufferers.

In 2013, researchers found that rosemary helped to ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal by reducing pain, relaxing muscles and relieving insomnia. These characteristics are all beneficial for easing symptoms associated with migraines and promoting recovery.

Try adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil, combined with a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil, to a warm bath and relax as you inhale the soothing aromas. You can also massage the mixture into your forehead and temples at the first signs of a migraine to relieve tension and pain.  

Eucalyptus oil: For sinus headaches and congestion

Congestion and sinus issues are a major cause of migraine attacks. Thankfully, eucalyptus essential oil has been proven to be extremely effective for migraines caused by sinus problems.

The aroma of eucalyptus essential oil works by opening up your nasal passages and clearing your sinuses. This helps to relieve some of the tension that may be contributing to your migraine headache.

A 1994 study found that when combined with peppermint oil, topically applied eucalyptus essential oil promoted relaxation whilst reducing stress to ease migraine attacks and tension headaches.

A further study in 2013 discovered that eucalyptus essential oil was particularly effective in relieving pain and lowering blood pressure.

If you’re feeling congested or experiencing problems with your sinuses, try mixing eucalyptus essential oil with a carrier oil and rubbing it into your chest to clear your nasal passages and relieve tension. You can also add this oil to a diffuser for inhalation.

For enhanced impact, you can also try mixing eucalyptus essential oil with peppermint oil for ultimate relief from migraine attacks. 

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Chamomile oil: More than just a soothing aroma

Chamomile essential oil is widely praised for its ability to promote both relaxation and sleep. But did you know that chamomile oil is also effective at preventing and treating some of the common symptoms associated with migraine attacks?

This soothing essential oil helps to relax both your body and your mind, making chamomile oil a natural remedy for tension headaches. This oil also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, making it useful when a migraine attack strikes.

Research has proven that chamomile essential oil can help to reduce both anxiety and depression, common causes of headaches.

With stress and sleep deprivation being two of the most frequent triggers for migraine attacks, the calming and relaxing aroma of chamomile oil is able to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks and sometimes even prevent the onset of an attack.

Try adding a few drops of chamomile essential oil, mixed with a carrier oil, to a warm bath. You’ll feel yourself become noticeably more relaxed as you inhale the soothing aroma of chamomile.  

How to use essential oils for migraines

There are many different ways that you can use essential oils as a treatment for migraines. How you choose to use your essential oils will depend on whether you’re using them to minimise your migraine triggers or to reduce your symptoms during a migraine attack.

Here are some of the most common ways to use aromatherapy for headaches and migraines.  

Diffusing essential oils for migraines

Whether you’re trying to counteract your migraine triggers or you’re dealing with a migraine attack, an electric diffuser is probably the easiest way to benefit from aromatherapy for migraines. Simply fill your diffuser with water, add a few drops of your chosen essential oil and switch it on.

Your essential oil diffuser will fill the room with the aroma of your chosen essential oil, leaving you to lay back and inhale its scent. Your smell receptors are connected to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotion as well as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and your body’s response to stress. This explains why aromatherapy alone may benefit migraine symptoms.

Using essential oils topically for migraines

Applying essential oils topically is one of the fastest ways to benefit from essential oils for your migraine.

Essential oils are very concentrated, so you should never apply undiluted or neat essential oils directly to your skin. To avoid skin irritation, you should first mix your chosen oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, jojoba oil or sweet almond oil.

Mix a few drops of your chosen oil with a carrier oil and then massage it onto your forehead and temples. Take care that you don’t get any of the mixture in your eyes or mouth.

You can also use the same mixture for an aromatherapy massage, either a scalp and neck massage for tension or a full-body massage for stress release and relaxation. This will help you to relax while you inhale the soothing aromas of your chosen essential oil.  

Aromatherapy bath for migraines

Many migraine sufferers find that an aromatherapy bath may help to ease their symptoms, particularly if their migraines are triggered by stress or congestion.

Mix your chosen essential oils with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, jojoba or coconut oil and then swirl the mixture into your warm bath. If you don’t have any carrier oil on hand, you can mix your essential oil with two tablespoons of full-fat milk. This will enable the essential oil to disperse effectively throughout the water.

Learn more about carrier oils here

Pillow mist for migraines

If your migraines are triggered by a lack of sleep, you may find that creating a pillow mist with an essential oil that enhances sleep could be beneficial.

You can create your own pillow mist using a clean, empty spray bottle. Simply fill your spray bottle with warm water and add a few drops of your chosen essential oils. Volant’s Sleep blend of essential oils is ideal for promoting restful sleep.

Spritz your essential oil spray around your room or lightly over your bedding. If you decide to spray your pillow, it’s recommended to spray the underside of the pillow to prevent any skin irritation.  

Is it safe to use essential oils for migraines?

Essential oils are natural remedies for migraines and headaches and typically have fewer side effects than traditional migraine medications. However, there are a few safety guidelines that you should be aware of.

The biggest risk associated with essential oils is skin irritation. This typically occurs if an essential oil is applied directly to the skin, without being diluted. You should mix all essential oils with a carrier oil before applying topically.

Like anything, essential oils may also cause an allergic reaction in some people. You should always perform a patch test before applying essential oils more liberally.

Some essential oils may also be contraindicated with some medical conditions or during pregnancy. If you have a pre-existing condition such as high blood pressure, asthma or heart problems, or if you are pregnant, you should check with your medical provider before beginning to use essential oils.  

To sum up

Whether you’re looking for a natural remedy for migraines and headaches or something to complement or reduce your current migraine medication, essential oils are a safe, healthy and effective option that provide a multipronged approach with few to no side effects, not to mention that they smell great and enhance your life in many other ways. Experiment with the ones we’ve listed or combine them with your favourite scents to improve your general wellbeing.

If your migraines are persistent and interfere with your daily life, it’s important that you contact your healthcare provider to assess your condition and ensure there’s nothing else going on.

For more information about essential oils for migraines, you can contact an aromatherapy expert at:

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