Headaches are the pests of the brain. It’s not just that they’re irritating or that they invade your space—it’s that they have a dozen different sneaky ways to get into your space (or in this case, into your head) and throw off your day!
Sinus congestion? Be prepared for a headache too. Neck muscle tension? Headache incoming! Feeling stressed or dehydrated? Been drinking lots of caffeine or sleeping poorly? Have a headache on the house (because you weren’t already dealing with enough)!
As a general rule, there are two types of headaches—primary headaches that have no underlying cause such as migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches, and secondary headaches that can be caused by any number of things (see the rant above).
Fortunately, mankind has had centuries to seek out practices, herbs, and other substances to help him kick headaches to the curb. And, lately, essential oils have made the list!
The research is still young. And, because headaches are a worldwide problem, the remedies and research come from all over!
Good old lavender, we knew we could count on you!
Lavender has been a part of traditional headache remedies in both the Middle East and Tunisia for many years! And, in terms of modern research, lavender is by far the best-researched essential oil for headache management.
A handful of placebo-controlled clinical trials with human subjects have shown inhaling lavender oil to reduce headache/migraine symptoms [see below]. The research is still too scattered, coming in from various universities and journals around the world, to be considered conclusive. But it’s a solid start!
Not to mention, since many people use general painkillers to fight headaches, the much more extensive profile research on lavender oil’s effect on many sources of pain also gives us optimism.
The use of “mint” to reduce headaches goes all the way back to traditional Egyptian and Greek medicine. And, to this day, it has an impressive word-of-mouth reputation for effectively reducing headache pain.
Its research profile is limited, with only two, older placebo-controlled studies on the subject of headaches, both from Germany [see below]. But we’re eager to see where the research goes next!
Basil, as a remedy for headaches, comes from Siddha and Ayurvedic (the oldest medicine tradition in the world) medicine.
The best modern research evidence so far comes from a 2020 triple-blind, Iranian study done with 144 migraine patients. In that study, basil oil was found to help against both the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks [see below].
Honorable Mention: Chamomile
Chamomile, and perhaps especially chamomile tea, is a popular headache remedy across the world! Its use is especially common in modern-day Palestine.
The one study done with chamomile and migraines was done with the topical of a chamomile-infused gel. However, in addition to reducing migraine pain, the intervention also helped reduce nausea, vomiting, and stress-laden sensitivity to light and sound!
Other plants traditionally used against headaches include frankincense, rosemary, patchouli, vetiver, lemongrass, and melissa. The research profiles for these oils haven’t been produced yet. But many who like the smell have been willing to give tradition a try.
Preventing a headache is always better than curing one (Remember those secondary headaches we talked about? ). And there are plenty of essential oils that can help with that!
Let’s go over some common headache causes and how your favorite oils and scanner can help you combat or stop a headache before it begins!
- Try eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, oregano, or rosemary. You may see even better results if you combine these oils with steam inhalation, proper hydration, and/or a warm compress.
Neck Muscle Tension
- Try massaging a topical dilution of wintergreen, frankincense, eucalyptus, peppermint, basil, or another anti-inflammatory oil into your skin. Alternating warm and cold compresses or engaging in gentle movement or meditation may also help.
- Stop and check in with yourself often. Do a quick review of your basic bodily needs. Do you need a drink of water, a snack, some rest, to stretch, take a break, stop to process some feelings, or perhaps make a mental change of pace? Do a quick iTOVi Scan to pick an oil to help you support your body as it is right now.
- dehydrated? Been drinking lots of caffeine or sleeping poorly?
- Water is incredibly important for daily wellness, including headache prevention and recovery. To learn about how to safely use essential oils in your water and optimize your hydration check out the iTOVi Hydration Guide.
Lack of Sleep
- Sleep is one of the foundations of wellness. Make it an absolute priority to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night. Avoid the common pitfalls of trying to “make up” your sleep on the weekend, using sedatives like sleeping pills or alcohol, taking in excessive blue light, or living without an evening routine. For in-depth tips check out the iTOVi Sleep Guide.
Special note: Did you know that over-use of essential oils can cause headaches? Make sure to diffuse them intermittently, in a place with good airflow, and monitor yourself for negative reactions.
So, if you’re looking to fight a headache with essential oils, lavender, peppermint, basil, and chamomile are your best bets. Although, if you are dealing with a secondary headache, it may help to figure out the cause and use your oils to address that.
Just remember to use high-quality essential oils and dilute them properly!
Sasannejad, P., Saeedi, M., Shoeibi, A., Gorji, A., Abbasi, M., & Foroughipour, M. (2012) Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur Neurol. 67(5), p288-91.
Zarifnejad, G., Eshghi, E., Mirhaghi, A., & Ghorbanzadeh, H. (2015) The effect of aromatherapy with Lavender essential oil in treatment of headache due to Nitroglycerine infusion in patients admitted to cardiac emergency department. 5 (3). p1248-1257.
Rafie, S., Forough, N., Fereshteh, G., Fatemeh, Y., & Alireza, H., (2016) Effect of lavender essential oil as a prophylactic therapy for migraine: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of Herbal Medicine. 6(1), p18-23.
Jafari-Koulaee, A., Khenarinezhad, F., Razavi, A. S., & Bagheri-Nesami, M. (2019) The Effect of Aromatherapy with Lavender Essence on Depression and Headache Disability in Migraine Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J. Med. Plants. 18 (70), p162-172.
Moradi, M., Jalili, F., Basiri-Moghadam, M., & Basiri-Moghadam, K. (2022). Comparing the Effect of Aromatherapy with Lavender and Rose Essential Oils on the Prevention of Headache Induced by Infusion of Nitroglycerin in Cardiac Care Unit. Journal of Isfahan Medical School, 40(670), p300-360.
Nasiri, M., Asayesh, H., Khosroabadi, Z.Y., Amiri, M.H., Bahadori, H., & Rajaee, M. (2022) Effects of Aromatherapy with Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia MILL) on Post-Dural Puncture Headache: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Altern Ther Health Med. 28(5). p12-19.
Göbel, H., Fresenius, J., Heinze, A., Dworschak, M., & Soyka, D. (1996) Effectiveness of Oleum menthae piperitae and paracetamol in therapy of headache of the tension type. Nervenarzt. 67(8). p672-81.
Göbel, H., Schmidt, G., Dworschak, M., Stolze, H., & Heuss, D. (1995). Essential plant oils and headache mechanisms. Phytomedicine. 2(2). P93-102.
Ahmadifard, M., Yarahmadi, S., Ardalan, A., Ebrahimzadeh, F., Bahrami, P., & Sheikhi, E. (2020) The Efficacy of Topical Basil Essential Oil on Relieving Migraine Headaches: A Randomized Triple-Blind Study. Complement Med Res. 27(5). P310-318.
Zargaran, A., Borhani-Haghighi, A., Salehi-Marzijarani, M., Faridi, P., Daneshamouz, S., Azadi, A.,…Mohagheghzadeh. A. (2018) Evaluation of the effect of topical chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) oleogel as pain relief in migraine without aura: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Neurol Sci. 39(8). p1345-1353.