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4 Summertime Triggers and Their Migraine-Friendly Alternatives

4 Summertime Triggers and Their Migraine-Friendly Alternatives

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.

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!

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 2014 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.

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • JanetH
    8 months ago

    The smell of some sun screens doesn’t bother my migraines so much, but it sure does my allergies. Which if I get feeling cruddy enough from, probably will eventually lead to a migraine.

  • kathrynfw
    9 months ago

    For those who cannot have citrus-I chop rhubarb up into small pieces and put it in a blender with water and then strain it and I add sweetener. It makes a nice mock lemonade. Also, I chop rhubarb up and put it into blueberry pie. It adds the tartness that is needed with lemon and it also requires Stretches the blueberry supply and you can hardly taste it. It just enhances the blueberry

  • JennOfAllTrades
    11 months ago

    Hot dogs and all cured meats have been an instantaneous trigger for me-it’s the nitrates in them (This also means no ham, bacon, sausage, lunch meats/deli slices, pepperoni, pastrami, etc…It is why I am vegan today and will continue to be forever. There are vegan versions of all these things, but memory of their meat counterparts and what they did to me, I really have no desire to consume them…).

    I have known this since 1981 as a definite trigger (when I was diagnosed with severe hemiplegic migraines), and though I was getting them before, I didn’t know what they were at the time (I was only 5 or 6 when I had my very first attack). Sulfites also trigger attacks for me too, so no red wine or red wine vinegar either.

    Strong scents can trigger migraines for me too, however these come on at a much slower rate than direct ingestion of preservatives like nitrites & sulfites. I had a coworker cleaning a space at work in the morning with straight bleach (completely undiluted…) and in the middle of the night after going to bed, I had an attack and had to call in sick the next day.

    Sunblocks and bug sprays haven’t triggered an attack for me to my knowledge, but I always buy the more natural versions that typically are unscented (and vegan).

    Staying hydrated is a must-I found that I am more likely to have an attack if I am dehydrated.

    Weather seems to be a major trigger for me-specifically a sudden drop in barometric pressure. Though I have no control over the weather (short of moving into the BioDome), I have full control over everything else -I meditate regularly to keep stress levels down, I eat at regular times and don’t include things like sulfites & nitrites or excessive sugar (some is ok-too much will trigger an attack, especially if nothing healthy had been consumed along with the sugar), get regular sleep, and avoiding strong smells as much as possible helps to reduce the likelihood of an attack.

    As I get older, I haven’t had as many attacks and the severity has been reduced, but I still get them. The last one I had was on an airplane, 30 minutes before landing. At onset, I took 2 Ibuprofen, 2 acetominaphen, and 2 Excedrin for Migraine-It worked better than anything else I have tried in the past-I’m usually out for 24 hours or more, but got it down to less than 2 hours-I wasn’t going to let an attack stop me from having fun on the first day of my vacation.

  • TomNash
    2 years ago

    Recently returned from beach with family. Had a spell days 3 and 4, and perhaps it was brought on by sunscreen? I’ve used it before but do not remember a spell thereafter. But something to watch and think about. Also, had hotdogs for two days in a row recently, and have had two several-day spells the last two weeks. Will hold off on dogs and will see if any connection in future….

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