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People can use essential oils as home remedies for a variety of ailments. Some essential oils can ease migraine symptoms and stress; However, research is limited, and buyers should be cautious when trying essential oils for headaches.

A quick look at 5 of the best essential oils for headaches

Essential oils are concentrated liquids extracted from plants. Aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicine based on these oils. Aromatherapists believe that each essential oil offers a different set of health benefits.

People can apply essential oils topically. However, people must dilute the drops in a carrier oil and apply them to the skin. People must never ingest essential oils.

Research does support some of the health benefits of specific essential oils. This article explores five of the best essential oils for treating headaches according to supporting scientific evidence.

Although research suggests essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these oils. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils and research the quality of a particular brand’s products. It is also important to always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Essential oils are generally safe when a person follows the product’s instructions, and some research has found essential oils effective for headaches.

For instance, a 2021 review found that essential oils can help ease migraine symptoms. The authors wrote that essential oils might reduce neurogenic inflammation and pain sensitivity and relax vascular tension.

Scientists looking into the effects of basil essential oil on migraine found that it decreased the intensity and frequency of migraine over 3 months, and higher doses of basil oil may produce more improvements. The participants applied the essential oil topically every 8 hours and took acetaminophen every 12 hours.

2019 research found similar results with anise essential oil, although the authors noted that longer-term studies are needed.

Overall, there is a lack of up-to-date research on this topic.

There are several different ways that people can use essential oils to treat a headache, including:

  • Applying oil to the temples or forehead: A person needs to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, before applying them to the skin. Once diluted, the individual can massage the oil into their temples and across their forehead.
  • Inhaling oil: People can inhale essential oils by adding a few drops to a tissue, holding the tissue under the nose, and breathing deeply.
  • Using a compress: A person can create a compress by soaking a towel in cold water with a few drops of essential oil. They can then apply the compress to the forehead or neck.
  • Adding oil to the bath: An individual can add a few diluted drops of essential oil to a hot bath.

As with many alternative remedies, the FDA does not regulate essential oils. For this reason, it is important to buy from a reputable brand. Reputable brands will state how they manufacture oils and which ingredients are in the bottle and will not make any health claims.

Essential oils are generally safe when a person uses them properly. If an individual does not dilute an oil into a carrier oil before application, it could cause skin irritation. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute writes that citrus-based oils can cause skin burns if a person exposes the skin to the sun after use.

Lavender and tea tree oil may also have hormonal effects in some people. Studies have found these oils to produce effects similar to the sex hormone estrogen and reduce the effect of male sex hormones.

Some people are also allergic to essential oils, even in their diluted form, so it may be helpful to put a small amount on a patch of skin to test for any allergic reaction first. If there is no reaction within 48 hours, the oil is safe to use.

Reviewing a safety guide on best practices for using essential oils may be helpful. If an individual has any existing health conditions, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor before using these substances.

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Several studies show specific essential oils may be beneficial for headaches.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best for stress headaches: Lavender oil

  • Price: around $8
  • Volume: 0.51 fluid ounce (fl oz)

People often use lavender to improve sleep and reduce stress, anxiety, or depression. Many individuals also believe it can help relieve migraine episodes triggered by stress.

A 2022 review suggests that inhaling lavender essential oil can be a safe and effective treatment for managing acute migraine.

An older 2016 study found that participants self-reported a lower Migraine Disability Assessment Score (MIDAS) after 3 months of lavender essential oil therapy.

2020 research looked at the effects of lavender oil aroma on people going through bone marrow biopsy. It found that inhaling this essential oil helped reduce anxiety in these participants.

An example of a lavender essential oil available online is Nature’s Truth 100% Pure Lavender Essential Oil.

This oil is available in a 0.51 fl oz bottle and is suitable for aromatherapy, massages, baths, and topical use. Nature’s Truth writes that this oil only contains lavender oil.

The company warns people not to apply the oil directly to the skin. People must first blend it with carrier oil.

This product has a list price of around $8, making it a very affordable option.

Best for pain relief: Rosemary oil

  • Price: around $14
  • Volume: 2 fl oz

Practitioners have traditionally used rosemary essential oil to treat a variety of ailments. An older 2015 systematic review of essential oils suggests that rosemary may have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Another study suggests that rosemary oil may have pain-alleviating properties and may be more effective in easing pain when individuals combine it therapeutically with analgesic drugs.

However, in some people, rosemary oil can cause contact dermatitis.

The above research indicates that rosemary oil may help reduce the pain associated with a headache. However, more studies on humans are necessary before scientists can confirm this finding.

An example of a product available online is NOW Essential Oils 100% Pure Rosemary.

This oil is available in a 2 fl oz bottle and is suitable for use in a diffuser. The company recommends using a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, for all other uses.

The company states the product contains pure rosemary oil and does not test its products on animals.

This product has a list price of around $14.

Best for tension headaches: Peppermint oil

  • Price: around $20
  • Volume: 4 fl oz

People have been using peppermint medicinally for thousands of years. It is one of the most popular essential oils for treating headaches.

This 2015 review of published studies on essential oils states that applying peppermint oil to the temples and forehead helps ease tension headaches.

The active ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol — research shows this substance also may be effective in treating migraine when a person applies it in gel form to the head.

However, the research on peppermint oil is very limited. Additionally, it can cause allergic reactions and skin rashes when people apply it topically. It is also unclear whether pregnant or breastfeeding individuals can use it safely.

An example of a product available to purchase online is NOW Essential Oils 100% Pure Peppermint.

This oil is available in a 4 fl oz bottle and is suitable for aromatherapy use and topical use with a carrier oil such as almond or jojoba oil.

The company writes that it only contains pure peppermint oil and can have a cooling and revitalizing effect.

This product has a list price of around $20.

Best for congestion: Chamomile oil

  • Price: from around $29–87
  • Volume: 0.17, 0.33, and 1 fl oz

People traditionally drink chamomile tea to relax, unwind, and soothe symptoms of discomfort, pain, or congestion from allergies or a cold. Chamomile essential oil may have a similar effect in helping reduce a range of inflammations throughout the body.

Older research shows that chamomile oil might improve some symptoms of anxiety and depression. Since some headaches can be due to anxiety or stress, relieving stress with chamomile oil may help alleviate the headache.

The anti-inflammatory properties of chamomile themselves may also reduce a headache, though more research is necessary to investigate its health benefits.

However, high concentrations of chamomile oil can lead to toxicity. People should ensure they dilute the oil before using it topically.

An example of a product available to buy online is Edens Garden Roman Chamomile Oil. This oil is available in 0.17, 0.33, and 1 fl oz bottles. As with any essential oil product, it is important to use a carrier oil, such as almond oil, if a person wishes to use it topically.

The company writes that it sources its ingredients sustainably and responsibly, and it does not test on animals.

This chamomile oil has a list price ranging from around $29–87 depending on size, making it one of the more expensive oils available on the market.

Best for sinus headaches: Eucalyptus oil

  • Price: around $9–15
  • Volume: 0.33, 1 fl oz

People also traditionally use eucalyptus to clear sinuses and reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Additionally, there is evidence it may help treat muscle and joint pain and regulate the nervous system to reduce headaches. One older study found that inhaled eucalyptus oil relieves pain and lowers blood pressure.

An example of a product to purchase online is Cliganic USDA Organic Eucalyptus Oil.

This certified organic oil is available in a 0.33 or 1 fl oz bottle. The company recommends using this oil with a diffuser but also states it is suitable for topical use with a carrier oil.

According to the product labeling, it is Non-GMO Project verified and USDA Organic. The company also writes that its products are third-party tested.

This product has a list price of around $9–15, depending on size.

The following are some factors to consider before purchasing essential oils:

  • Quality: The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider essential oils as medication and, therefore, does not regulate them. Therefore, it is important to carefully check which certifications a company has, the ingredients in the oil, and how the manufacturer creates the oil before purchasing.
  • Pets and people: Some essential oils are toxic to pets, and there has not been enough research to determine whether oils are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding people. It is important to be aware of other people or animals in the home.
  • Sensitivity: Essential oils can cause contact dermatitis. It is important to dilute all oils with a carrier oil and discontinue use immediately if a reaction occurs. Always do a patch test before applying a new essential oil topically.

The table below compares each of the essential oils in this article.

IngredientsVolume (fl oz)FeaturesPrice
Lavender oilpure lavender oil0.51• non-GMO
• cruelty-free
• third-party tested
around $8
Rosemary oilpure rosemary oil2• cruelty-free
• tested in-house
around $14
Peppermint oilpure peppermint oil4• cruelty-free
• tested in-house
around $20
Chamomile oilpure chamomile oil• 0.17
• 0.33
• 1
• cruelty-free
• tested in-house
from around $29–87
Eucalyptus oilpure organic eucalyptus oil• 0.33
• 1
• Non-GMO Project verified
• USDA organic
• third-party tested
from around $9–15

If a person wants to try other remedies for headaches, they may wish to try the following at-home treatments:

  • drinking water
  • relaxation techniques
  • taking paracetamol or ibuprofen

For migraine, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends:

  • sleeping or lying in a dark room
  • try over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin
  • acupuncture

A person can also try massage or exercise.

Learn more about how to treat headaches without medication.

It is important to contact a healthcare professional if a person experiences recurrent headaches or headaches that impact their quality of life. A doctor can help determine the cause of their headaches, help people decide on treatment methods, and offer lifestyle changes that may help reduce the frequency or severity of headaches.

Anyone who uses essential oils and experiences contact dermatitis or any signs of an allergic reaction should discontinue use immediately and seek medical advice.

If a person believes they are having an allergic reaction — such as developing rash, hives, or finding it difficult to breathe or speak — they should seek immediate medical attention. Learn more about treating allergic reactions.

People should be conscious of the risk of an allergic reaction, even if they have used a certain essential oil before. Bottles of essential oils from different brands can have various concentrations of plant matter, and a person may react differently to these concentrations.

Below, we answer some of the top frequently asked questions about essential oils for headaches.

Where do I apply essential oil for headaches?

If a person is applying essential oils topically, they must use a carrier oil. Examples include olive oil, almond oil, and jojoba oil. A person should research reputable sources that state the appropriate dilution measurements.

After diluting the essential oil, people can apply it directly to the forehead or temples, being careful to avoid the eyes.

Other methods include placing drops on a cold water compress, using a diffuser, or mixing the oil in a bath.

Which essential oils help headaches?

Some essential oils that may help reduce headache pain include lavender, rosemary, peppermint, chamomile, and eucalyptus.

Can I use essential oils for headaches while pregnant?

Some essential oils can cause harm to the fetus while a person is pregnant.

People should avoid using essential oils while pregnant or breastfeeding. If they wish to try essential oils, they should speak with a board certified doctor.

People have used essential oils for generations for relaxation and the treatment of various ailments. Some scientific evidence suggests that specific essential oils might be particularly beneficial for reducing headache symptoms. These are lavender, rosemary, peppermint, chamomile, and eucalyptus oils.

However, more up-to-date research is needed to determine how effective and safe essential oils are for headaches.