A Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils for Headaches

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A bad headache or migraine in the middle of the day can throw a wrench in all your plans.  Most people head to the medicine cabinet for help, but some essential oils can provide relief when you need it most. 

Essential oils are specially distilled extracts from the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, bark, or other parts of a plant. These concentrated oils have been used for centuries to enhance quality of life and manage ailments like headaches and migraines. 

Each oil has its own benefits, scent, taste, and texture. Our guide will explain how they’re made, how to use them, and a few essential oils for headaches.

Essential Oil Extraction Methods

Essential Oil Extraction Processes

The way oils are separated from their plant source largely dictates how they’re used. The type of extraction also depends on what part of the plant holds the oils. Some are used in food products, others in diffusers or topical applications. Some methods are better than others for certain types of oils. Here’s a quick rundown of the processes:


Citrus oils are always extracted by expression, also called cold pressing. It’s the best method for extracting oils from plants that carry nutrients on their surface, like citrus. A large roller smashes, squashes, and manipulates the fruit’s flesh until the oils are released to drip into a holding container below. Many people prefer this way because it doesn’t require heat or chemicals.

Steam Distillation

The plant material is placed in a stainless steel still and steam is pumped through in this method of extraction. The steam pulls the oils from the plant and traps them in a vapor that’s sucked into a cooling chamber. The vapor turns to liquid as it cools. The result is aromatic water, known as hydrosol. The oils float atop the water and are skimmed off. 

Solvent Extraction

The only way to extract oils from some flowers, such as jasmine, is by solvent extraction. Hexane, methanol, and ethanol are typical chemicals used to pull oils from plants and flowers. The use of a chemical makes it the last choice, used with plants that don’t work with other methods. The oil you get after a solvent extraction is called an absolute. It is not pure essential oil.

Expression is the best method for citrus and meaty fruits, but steam distillation is the most economical and, therefore, the most common way producers extract essential oils. 

How to Use Essential Oils for Headaches and Migraines

essential oil diffuser for headaches

You can use essential oils to alleviate pain from headaches and migraines in a few simple ways. The way you choose to use them is entirely personal. Try an air diffuser, a delicious tea, or even a few dabs on your wrist or pulse points to find which way delivers the best results for you. 

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Just inhaling these powerful scents helps alleviate many of the uncomfortable issues we face every day, such as headaches, joint pain, anxiety, and motivation. Use an oil diffuser to spray a mist of oils throughout the room, or place a few drops of oil on a cotton swab and take an occasional sniff to boost the benefits.

Make Something Yummy

Essential oils can be extracted to use as a food-grade product, such as in supplements, and added to teas and food. Peppermint, rosemary, and chamomile essential oils are delicious in any food and work wonders on a headache. The FDA defines oils that are safe to eat as GRAS, generally recognized as safe. They cannot be distilled with chemical solvents and must be 100% natural.

Wear It

Essential oils are fat-soluble and, if diluted with a carrier oil, can be used as topical agents like creams and sprays. Carrier oils, such as apricot kernel, coconut, or sweet almond oil, dilute the strength of oils and protect sensitive skin from irritation. Carrier oils are a personal preference in smell, texture, or to avoid any allergies you might have. 

Try a variety of application methods to find the one that works best for you. You may find you prefer a fine mist diffused in your bedroom at night, but a few drops of peppermint behind your ear during the day can keep headaches at bay. 

Three Essential Oils That Relieve Headache Pain

Many essential oils have far-reaching benefits that can alleviate many aches and pains. There are several, however, that are particularly helpful for headaches and migraine pain. Here are three of the most powerful:

1. Peppermint

Peppermint essential oils for headaches

Peppermint contains menthol, which helps relax and calm muscles. Apply diluted peppermint oil to your temples or drink a cup of peppermint tea when a throbbing headache begins.

2. Chamomile

Chamomile Essential Oils for headaches

Chamomile is known for its sedative properties. It carries a risk of miscarriage, however, so pregnant women should avoid it.

3. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus Essential Oils

Oil from a eucalyptus plant is beneficial for sinus headaches because the scent clears the nasal passages. Mix it with a carrier oil and apply to the chest, or breath it in with a tub of steaming water.

Adding essential oils to your daily routine can be a lifesaver when you regularly deal with headaches. Make sure you’re aware of the benefits and side effects of any oil you choose before you get started.

Frequently Asked Questions About Essential Oils for Headaches

There are hundreds of essential oils, but only a few can successfully relieve a headache. There is a lot to know about expression methods, carrier oils, and application methods. A great place to start is with this FAQ.

Are There Risks Associated With Essential Oils?

There may be risks associated with any product that isn’t made to high standards of quality. Make sure any essential oil you use is certified as pure and natural. There may also be a risk if you’re allergic to the oil or the carrier. Some oils, like lavender, chamomile, and rosemary, can be dangerous for pregnant women. 

Are Fragrance Oils and Essential Oils the Same?

Fragrance oils do not contain the naturally beneficial properties of essential oils. They’re synthetic oils that impart fragrance only.

How Long Do Essential Oils Stay Fresh

Keep essential oils in a cool, dry place to ensure they stay fresh for as long as possible. Eighteen to 24 months is the average amount of time an essential oil stays fresh.

Essential oils are wonderful partners in your health routine. Using them daily is a safe and easy way to feel better and get back to what’s important in life.

Contact a Naturopathic Doctor for Advice on Essential Oils and Holistic Remedies

Essential oils have proven therapeutic properties to combat headache pain. Dr. Karen Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor serving primarily women in the greater D.C. area who uses a holistic approach with natural-focused remedies for treating symptoms and underlying conditions. 
Our team combines various areas of expertise to provide natural remedies or treatments such as essential oils for headaches. Contact Dr. Threlkel to schedule a consultation for more information about a health topic that concerns you.

About The Author:

Picture of Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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