Headaches can be incredibly unpleasant and are also quite common. While it’s not alarming that many people get headaches from time to time, what is concerning is the rise of chronic headaches. The WHO estimates that 1 in every 20 adults has a headache every day or nearly every day.1 Every day! Additionally, the CDC reports that women are twice as likely to have severe headaches than men. The good news, however, is that most men and women see a decline in headaches as they age.2
Causes of headaches
Headache-sufferers get headaches for a number of reasons, many of which depend on an individual’s health, lifestyle, and environment. There are so many things that can contribute to headaches—some of the most common ones include:
- Poor vision
- Lack of sleep
- Hormonal imbalances
- Toxin exposure
- Food sensitivities
- Barometric pressure fluctuation
- Hunger or dehydration
- Screen time/eye strain
- Sensitivity to strong odors and aromas
- Sensitivity to bright lights
Different types of headaches and symptoms
An important thing to remember is that not everyone experiences headaches the same. One person’s symptoms may vary from the symptoms another individual experiences. Also, different types of headaches produce different symptoms. For instance, tension headaches may have different symptoms than a sinus headache, and a migraine headache may have different symptoms from all the others.
Often, there are several symptoms that can accompany a headache such as trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light, nausea, fatigue, and muscle tension. However, most of the time, the underlying symptom of a headache is an ache or pain in the head. The pain may be constant or throbbing, sharp or dull, or even have a burning sensation. It can also present itself in various spots on the head—from behind the eyes to on the temples, the top of the head, or even the back of the neck.
While there are numerous treatment options for headaches, the ideal way to handle them is to prevent them from happening in the first place. In order to do this, you need to determine the root cause of your headaches. For example, I frequently get headaches after I eat gluten, so avoiding gluten also helps me avoid some headaches. I call these headaches “gluten headaches” because they occur within 12-24 hours of my gluten consumption, and they have a distinct burning pain that I don’t experience with other headaches.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not that easy and not always possible to avoid a headache. When this happens, what most people really care about is finding relief. Common allopathic treatments include over-the-counter pain relievers and migraine medications; however, it’s important to note that frequent use of pain relievers can actually cause rebound headaches. Additionally, I know many migraine sufferers that find little to no relief from migraine medications.
The good news is that if you can’t prevent your headaches, there are some natural options you can consider. These includes herbs, vitamins, supplements, homeopathy, acupuncture, stress reduction practices, tea, essential oils, and many more. Of these, one of the simplest and most enjoyable options is to use essential oils.
Essential oils have been used for headaches for many years, and headaches are often why people find themselves first learning about essential oils in the first place.
The best essential oils for headaches
When it comes to battling headaches and their unpleasant symptoms, there are a handful of essential oils I typically use and recommend. Read on to learn about each of these oils and how they can help with headaches.
Lavender is one of the best essential oils for headaches for good reason—there are a number of ways in which it can be used when dealing with headaches or migraines. The calming aroma has long been used to help promote feelings of tranquility, which can be especially helpful if stress or anxiety is the main cause of your headaches.
However, lavender is also great for helping to encourage sleep, reduce pain, and even boost your mood.3 In other words, lavender can be beneficial not only for the pain itself, but can also help you relax and get some much needed sleep—which is often desperately needed when dealing with a headache or migraine!
Aside from lavender, peppermint essential oil is one of the most popular choices for headaches. The menthol can leave a very pleasant cooling sensation when used on the skin, and many find this to be soothing when dealing with a headache. However, its benefits don’t stop there.
Peppermint contains analgesic (pain-relieving) properties that many find helpful for headaches when applied to the head.4 Furthermore, the minty aroma is great for freshening up your airways and helping you feel refreshed and invigorated, which is especially beneficial if a headache has left you feeling sluggish.
Similar to peppermint, eucalyptus has a crisp, energizing aroma. It’s great for those headaches that are brought on by sinus congestion. In fact, one of the main compounds of eucalyptus is 1,8-cineole, which researchers in 2009 found to be an effective treatment for sinusitis.5 Additionally, the refreshing aroma has a way of clearing the cobwebs out of the mind and helping you feel more alert mentally.
To utilize the benefits of this incredible oil, simply inhale straight out of the bottle, or you can even use it topically (properly diluted, of course!) wherever needed.
Like many essential oils, basil is quite versatile. It contains potent antimicrobial properties, but it is also commonly used on overworked and sore muscles. What’s more, it has traditionally been used for migraines. In fact, a recent study conducted in 2020 suggests that topical applications of basil essential oil (up to 6% dilution), combined with low doses of acetaminophen, helped reduce intensity and frequency of migraine attacks on participants.6
Just remember that this essential oil has a very potent aroma that can be quite overpowering, so it would be best used in lower dilutions and in blends with other essential oils.
Chamomile herb is well-known as one of the oldest and most popular forms of herbal medicine. It is incredibly versatile and is still used all over the world. The essential oil is no less impressive. The enchanting aroma of chamomile is reminiscent of apples, and it blends beautifully with a number of essential oils. It also happens to be one of the best essential oils for headaches.
Chamomile not only contains anti-inflammatory properties, but it is also frequently used to promote feelings of relaxation and to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Although evidence supporting its use as an effective headache reliever is mostly anecdotal, chamomile essential oil does contain a number of compounds that would help explain why so many find it beneficial.7
Rosemary essential oil is another favorite for headaches. It has long been considered an effective analgesic, and its fresh herbaceous aroma has been used to aid in concentration and memory for decades. It’s similar to eucalyptus and peppermint in that it has a very refreshing aroma and two of its components—1, 8-cineole and camphor—help us see why it may be so beneficial for headaches.8
Rosemary pairs well with lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, and basil, so it can easily be added to custom formulations for headaches or migraines.
Essential oil blends for headaches
Although you can certainly use any of the above essential oils individually, sometimes it’s a good idea to combine two or three to take advantage of the synergy. Below, I’ve shared some simple headache blends that would be perfect for you to make ahead of time so that when a headache does come on, you’ll be ready.
Headache blend #1
This blend is ideal for a migraine or even just a regular headache. Simply combine the essential oils with two teaspoons (this makes a 5% dilution) of a carrier oil and rub on the temples, forehead, or back of the neck.
- 3 drops basil essential oil
- 4 drops rosemary essential oil
- 8 drops lavender essential oil
Headache blend #2
This blend is a great option to consider if your headache is caused by stress or tension. Combine the essential oils with two teaspoons of a carrier oil and rub on the back of the neck, shoulders, and base of the skull.
- 5 drops chamomile essential oil
- 5 drops lavender essential oil
- 5 drops peppermint essential oil
Headache Blend #3
This blend is great for those pesky sinus headaches. Just combine the essential oils with two teaspoons of a carrier oil and rub on the temples, forehead, jaw, and even your chest!
- 4 drops rosemary essential oil
- 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 6 drops lavender essential oil
Essential oils are a simple remedy for headaches
As you can see, essential oils can be incredibly useful when dealing with headaches, and there are so many reasons to give them a try. Not only can they help with pain, sinus congestion, and tension, but they also smell fantastic while they’re doing it! They’re also incredibly affordable, and most oils are generally considered safe. Plus, they have so many uses besides headaches. With just a handful of oils, you can be ready for just about any type of headache you’ll encounter.
About Nicole Stine
Nicole Stine is a certified herbalist who has numerous aromatherapy and natural health certifications. She is passionate about using herbs and essential oils safely and thoroughly enjoys researching and writing about natural health, as well as creating her own formulations.
1. “Headache disorders: How common are headaches?” World Health Organization. Who.int.
2. “QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Who Had a Severe Headache or Migraine in the Past 3 Months, by Sex and Age Group – National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2018.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Cdc.gov.
3. Koulivand, P. H., M. Ghadiri, et al. “Lavender and the Nervous System.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013): 1–10.
4. Ali, B., N. Al-Wabel. et al. “Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review.” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 5, no. 8 (2015): 601–11.
5. Kehrl, W., U. Sonnemann, & U. Dethlefsen. “Therapy for Acute Nonpurulent Rhinosinusitis With Cineole: Results of a Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” The Laryngoscope 114, no. 4 (2004): 738–42.
6. Ahmadifard, M., S. Yarahmadi, et al. “The Efficacy of Topical Basil Essential Oil on Relieving Migraine Headaches: A Randomized Triple-Blind Study.” Complementary Medicine Research 27, no. 5 (2020): 310–18.
7. Zargaran, A., A. Borhani-Haghighi, et al. “Potential effect and mechanism of Aaction of topical chamomile (Matricaria hammomila L.) oil on migraine headache: A medical hypothesis.” Medical Hypotheses 83, no. 5 (2014): 566–69.
8. “Rosemary.” Elsevier B.V. Sciencedirect.com.