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Can Essential Oils Help Migraine?

Posted on November 15, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

A migraine attack is more than just an everyday headache or a tension headache. Migraine headaches usually involve significant, severe pain that throbs on one side of the head, as well as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. People with migraine have many treatment options, and some individuals turn to essential oils for help with managing their symptoms. Although essential oils will not cure migraine, certain oils may help decrease migraine severity, improve sleep, and lower anxiety.

Talk to your doctor before trying essential oils as a complementary treatment for migraine relief. They can likely advise you on the potential benefits and risks so you can make an informed decision about using essential oils.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. The compounds are found naturally in the leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, and stems of certain plants. Plants use their essential oils for many functions, including attracting or repelling insects and animals, controlling infections, and healing damage.

Essential oils are made by pressing or steaming plant parts to extract their fragrance-producing compounds. Different methods may be used to extract essential oils, each of which can result in a very different end product. They are referred to as “oils” because they contain the plant’s oil-soluble chemicals.

Essential oils have long been considered home remedies or natural remedies for many conditions. They are not a formal migraine treatment, although some people find relief when they use the oils.

Research on Essential Oils for Migraine

Research suggests that certain essential oils may help relieve migraine pain and lessen the severity of the headaches. Certain oils may also alleviate anxiety and help promote better sleep. However, there’s not yet enough research to determine how, exactly, essential oils affect human health.

Essential Oils and Migraine Pain

Some studies have suggested that essential oils may offer pain-relieving benefits to those living with migraine.

One small study found that inhaled lavender essential oils may help people dealing with migraine to feel better. In this study, 92 out of 129 migraine attacks (71.3 percent) were found to improve with inhaled lavender, compared to 47 percent of migraine attacks responding to placebo (an inactive treatment). This evidence is promising, but more research is needed to understand how lavender essential oils may benefit migraine pain.

Another small study found that basil essential oil applied topically may help improve migraine headache pain and reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Further research is needed to determine optimal doses for head pain and to ensure complete safety.

There are a few other essential oils that may help with migraine pain, including:

  • Peppermint oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Anise oil
  • Garlic oil
  • Rose oil
  • Angelicae Dahuricae Radix oil
  • Chuanxiong Rhizoma oil
  • Eucalyptus oil (may be more effective on other types of headaches, like sinus headaches)
  • Rosemary oil

Essential Oils and Sleep

There is a long-established connection between the severity and frequency of migraine symptoms and sleep problems like insomnia. Some research indicates that certain essential oils may help people sleep better. Lavender oil and valerian oil are the most commonly studied.

Lavender has been found to help improve sleep when it is inhaled. Inhalation can be done using lavender oil and a diffuser (a device that releases scented vapor) or by simply placing a lavender patch on your chest before going to sleep.

Valerian oil seems to work in similar ways. Valerian oil has also been tested alongside acupressure in research, and studies did not specify whether researchers believe it was the oil or the acupressure that aided sleep.

Other types of oils may also help improve sleep in some people, including:

  • Bergamot oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Neroli oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Ylang-ylang oil

Essential Oils and Anxiety

Migraine has been found to increase the likelihood of mental health issues including anxiety. Some types of essential oils may help alleviate symptoms of this anxiety, including:

  • Bergamot oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Clary sage oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Lemon oil
  • Orange oil
  • Rose oil
  • Rose-scented geranium oil
  • Sandalwood oil

More research is needed to establish the safety and effectiveness of essential oils for anxiety and to determine how they work to calm the nervous system.

How To Use Essential Oils for Migraine

Aromatherapy is commonly used to reap the potential benefits of essential oils for migraine. Whether a particular oil will be best for you depends on its potential benefits and the types of fragrances you prefer.

You may need to experiment for a while with essential oils before you can determine what works best for you — particularly if you are sensitive to certain scents and oils.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a form of complementary and alternative medicine that uses essential oils to affect a person’s mood or health. Aromatherapy may be done with an aroma stick — a portable stick with a wick soaked in essential oil. Aromatherapy accessories — such as bracelets, necklaces, and keychains — made with absorbent materials allow you to apply your preferred essential oils and smell them throughout the day.

Johns Hopkins Medicine advises against using essential oil diffusers, as they may have negative side effects in certain people, including young children and people with some chronic health conditions. However, many people have used diffusers without experiencing any difficulties. Consider first trying a diffuser when you are not struggling with a migraine to make sure it’s a healthy, safe, and tolerable option for you.

If you experience anxiety alongside migraine, try inhaling the oils before entering situations that make you anxious or when you notice yourself experiencing anxiety symptoms. If you want to see if oils will help you avoid migraine attacks or lessen their impact, inhale the scents when you experience a trigger or right after you feel the first signs that a migraine is coming. When you use a diffuser, you can keep diffusing oils while you rest, too.

If you are trying to develop healthy nighttime sleep patterns or a sleep schedule, try using essential oils when going to bed or just after waking to help you relax and adapt to your schedule. You can use the oils as triggers to tell your brain when to wake up and when to go to sleep.

Topical Application

Occasionally, people will apply essential oils to the skin to treat migraine. The majority of essential oils need to be diluted in a carrier oil, like jojoba oil or coconut oil, before being applied to the skin.

The oil should make up no more than 3 percent to 5 percent of the topical solution. Depending on how much of the solution you are making, this amount is usually only a few drops of essential oil per batch.

Once the essential oil is mixed into the carrier oil, the solution can be gently rubbed into the skin. For migraines, try massaging the oil onto your temples and forehead.

Potential Risks of Using Essential Oils for Migraines

There are some known risks associated with essential oils. You should also never ingest them.

Lack of Regulation

There is no cure for migraine, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve a medication before it can be considered an effective treatment for a health condition. Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA or any United States government agency, so be careful when purchasing oils. Some essential oils may be harvested incorrectly, and some manufacturers may not disclose all their ingredients. Some companies may claim that their products are “therapeutic grade,” but this claim is just a marketing term. It does not refer to the safety or efficacy of the oils.

The lack of regulation makes it difficult to ensure that you are using high-quality oils that will give you the maximum effect. It also raises the risk that you will be exposed to something harmful mixed in with the oil. Before you purchase an oil, make sure you’re buying directly from a reputable seller.

Adverse Reactions

Some people may have side effects or allergic reactions to certain essential oils that are inhaled or applied topically. Reactions are more likely in people who have atopic dermatitis (eczema) or who have had reactions to topical products in the past. Although it is possible to have a negative reaction to any essential oil, Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that the following types of oils are more likely to cause adverse reactions:

  • Bergamot oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Cinnamon bark oil
  • Jasmine oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Ylang-ylang oil

Using Essential Oils Safely

If you are looking to try essential oils for migraine, consult your health care provider first. The doctor will be able to offer medical advice and alert you of any potential adverse effects. If you have gotten the all clear from your doctor, there are initial steps you should take to prevent side effects.

Dilute With Carrier Oils

Pure (undiluted) essential oils are highly concentrated. Diluting them in a carrier oil such as jojoba or coconut oil may help prevent skin irritation or other adverse reactions.

Test a Patch First

As with any new product, test a new oil mixture by applying a small amount to an area of skin. If you experience irritation, redness, or another sign of an allergic reaction, do not use the product and contact your doctor.

Find Your Team

MyMigraineTeam is the social network for people living with migraine. More than 73,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with migraine.

Have you tried essential oils for your migraine symptoms? Share your experience and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyMigraineTeam.

References
  1. Migraine — Mayo Clinic
  2. Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work? — Johns Hopkins Medicine
  3. What Are Essential Oils? — University of Minnesota
  4. Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial — European Neurology
  5. The Efficacy of Topical Basil Essential Oil on Relieving Migraine Headaches: A Randomized Triple-Blind Study — Complementary Medicine Research
  6. Review of Aromatherapy Essential Oils and Their Mechanism of Action Against Migraines — Journal of Ethnopharmacology
  7. Effect of Peppermint and Eucalyptus Oil Preparations on Neurophysiological and Experimental Algesimetric Headache Parameters — Cephalalgia
  8. Review on Migraine: Pathophysiology and Treatment — American Journal of Biomedical Research
  9. Sleep, Insomnia, and Migraine — American Migraine Foundation
  10. A Systematic Review of the Effect of Inhaled Essential Oils on Sleep — The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
  11. The Effectiveness of Valerian Acupressure on the Sleep of ICU Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial — International Journal of Nursing Studies
  12. Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial — The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
  13. Trial of Essential Oils to Improve Sleep for Patients in Cardiac Rehabilitation — The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
  14. Anxiety and Depression Symptoms and Migraine: A Symptom-Based Approach Research — The Journal of Headache and Pain
  15. Essential Oils and Anxiolytic Aromatherapy — SAGE Journals
  16. How Do I Choose and Use Essential Oils? — University of Minnesota

A MyMigraineTeam Member said:

Hope everyone is doing fine and staying safe 🌼

posted 15 days ago

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Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeams. Learn more about her here.

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