4 Summertime Triggers and Their Migraine-Friendly Alternatives

4 Summertime Triggers and Their Migraine-Friendly Alternatives

Last updated: January 2022

Summertime can be a nice time of year but also comes with some potential migraine triggers.


Sunscreen is a major trigger for some migraineurs, and with the smells, the chemicals, the accidentally-spray-in-your-face method of delivery, it’s easy to see why. Thankfully, there’s an alternative out there for whatever might be bothering you.

The scent

If you think it’s the smell, you may want to opt for something very simple (like a zinc oxide lotion) or a brand that tends to be less “smelly” than the others, such as Clinique or Bull Frog. Be cautious though of “unscented” sunscreens. They don’t add extra fragrance, but the basic chemicals included in the products can still have an intense smell. Try before you buy!

Chemicals in the product

If the chemicals are triggering an attack, consider choosing a zinc oxide and titanium dioxide alternative or one of the newer “natural” sunscreens. Badger, Babyganics, Burt’s Bees, California Baby, Kiss My Face, Nature’s Gate, The Honest Company, and True Natural have some good options. Take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens for more.


If you can’t stand the newer spray sunscreens, stick to the lotions and creams. If convenience is a factor, consider one of the cream roll-on sticks. They’re easy to smooth on and they fit nicely in glove boxes, purses, and backpacks. Of course the best sunscreen continues to be a long-sleeved, lightweight shirt; wide-brimmed hat; and sunglasses.

Bug sprays

Like sunscreen, bug sprays, are often odor intense. The DEET in many of them can also trigger headaches. Choose a more migraine-friendly alternative by sticking to natural, fragrance-free varieties. Your local health food store should carry several different options. If you’re one of the lucky migraineurs who isn’t bothered by herbal scents (think peppermint, clove, citronella, and lavender), you can also make your own. Look online for recipes.


Chlorine is the go-to sanitizer for most public and member-only pools, but the smell can be too much for some migraineurs (especially the day after cleaning). Outdoor swimming is still an option, but you’ll have to be creative. Many local, national, and state parks feature swimming holes, lakes, rivers, and creeks that are perfect for swimming. Running water keeps them clean – no chlorine needed. Check online or at your local visitor’s center for ideas.

Hot dogs

Hot dogs are a summertime family food favorite, and they are likely to be on the menu at almost every outdoor gathering you attend this season. If nitrates and nitrites are triggers for you, consider bringing your own migraine-friendly dish to share. If hot dogs must be on the menu, check out Applegate Farm’s versions. They are free of chemical preservatives and added nitrites, which makes them significantly easier for some migraineurs to handle (myself included), but watch out! They spoil fast and must be refrigerated at all times prior to cooking. Uncured and organic turkey, chicken, pork, and/or beef versions are available.

Avoiding summer migraine triggers

With a little planning and research, you can avoid many of the most common summer migraine triggers. For help on avoiding ones not mentioned here, read Five Tips for Preventing Summer-Season Migraines and Fending Off Migraine-Triggering Heat.

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