Essential oils can help soothe away headache pain without drugs. [Photo: Bigstock]

Which essential oils can help your headache?

4 October, 2017

Having a headache is a pretty common experience these days.

Headaches can come on as a reaction to stress, heat, noise, diet, hormonal fluctuations and more. In fact almost anything can cause a headache in someone, somewhere. As a result – if you rule out going straight for the painkillers – the number of suggested ways to cure a headache are as individual as the people who get them.

While for most people a painkiller will work, there are good reasons not to reach for remedies like paracetamol every time your head hurts.

For the UK, an estimate of the amount of paracetamol sold each year is just under 6,300 tonnes. That’s 35 tonnes per million of population: 35 grams or 70 paracetamol tablets each, every year.

We may pop them like candy but pain killers – both over the counter and prescription – are anything but benign. In 2012 a study, for instance, found that prescription painkillers are responsible for more fatal overdoses in the US than heroin and cocaine combined.

If you are taking paracetamol on the go or at work, be warned; there is evidence that it dulls the brain. In one study people taking the recommended doses of the drug are less reactive to uncertain situations and that their brain’s ‘error-detection’ is impeded. The detected brain changes were small enough that people did not notice them, but large enough to cause problems in every day functioning.

As an alternative, why not try essential oils to quickly relieve headache pain. Essential oils can be inhaled either via a diffuser or by simply sprinkling some on a tissue or handkerchief and inhaling as needed. They can be applied, diluted, on pulse points, as a cool or warm compress, or added to a relaxing bath or massage oil.

Unlike conventional pain killers there are no known adverse effects and the act of using an essential oil  is a true act of self-care, as opposed to a way of suppressing a symptom that may be telling you it’s time to rest!

Here are five useful oils for treating your headache and associated symptoms quickly and effectively.


Lavender has a multitude of uses including relief from nervous conditions (including depression, headache, insomnia, PMS, shock, and hypertension), and to relieve muscular pain, rheumatism, and sprains. It may be particularity effective for 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. Headache pain can also be accompanied by neck pain and in one 2005 study acupressure combined with lavender oil proved effective for short term relief from neck pain.


Rosemary oil is traditionally used to treat muscle pain and improve circulation. Rosemary is also an important remedy for ‘clearing your head’ and so useful when stress and anxiety lead to headache pain. One 2008 study found that rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties which may explain its headache relieving benefits especially for headaches caused by muscle tension.


Peppermint has been used in alternative medicines for thousands of years. It is a cooling herb and can soothe headaches, ease muscle tension and reduce inflammation. A recent 2015 review of published studies on essential oils found that applying peppermint oil to the temples and forehead provided 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. Peppermint also combines well with both lavender and eucalyptus.


Chamomile tea is the go-to remedy to relax and unwind. Chamomile essential oil has a similarly relaxing effect. One study showed that chamomile oil could improve some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. As headaches are often caused by stress and anxiety, chamomile oil is a good choice for stress-induced headaches. There are anti-inflammatory properties in chamomile that may also reduce headache pain. If your headache is triggered by sinus pain try a warm compress with chamomile oil to help soothe inflamed sinuses.


Even people who aren’t ‘in to aromatherapy know that eucalyptus is a traditional remedy to clear sinuses. One study found that eucalyptus oil was effective for relieving pain and lowering blood pressure when it was inhaled. Those experiencing headaches due to blocked sinuses may find that inhaling eucalyptus reduces inflammation and thus their uncomfortable symptoms.