How I Use Aromatherapy for Migraines

Aromatherapy can be an excellent complementary therapy for Migraine. Although it cannot abort a Migraine, it can offer some symptomatic relief and comfort. In my personal use, I find aromatherapy helpful for fighting nausea and helping me relax or get to sleep while I'm waiting for my medications to kick and for the Migraine to end. Some oils help me feel less of the panic the Migraines sometimes induce. Interestingly enough, many scents and odors are Migraine triggers for me, so I was reluctant to try aromatherapy at first. I'm so glad I tried it. I've found that very few essential oils are triggers for me. And, I found that I can make my own perfumes with essential oils and wear them without triggering a Migraine. Another plus I love.

A bit of background

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils extracted from plants for both physiological and psychological treatment. It's an ancient therapy that began in early civilizations as people started discovering the healing properties of plants. The term "aromatherapy" was first used by French chemist Rene-Maruice Gattefosse in 1928. While working in his family's perfumer business, Gattefosse discovered that lavender caused a severe burn on his hand to heal more quickly - and without scarring. Dr. Jean Valnet, another French scientist, used essential oils for the successful treatment of medical and psychiatric disorders. Madame Marguerite Maury introduced the first aromatherapy clinics in France, Switzerland, and Britain.

Essential oils

Essential oils are different from what we usually think of as oils. Most evaporate quickly and have a very light texture. They're found in various parts of plants including flowers, seeds, bark, roots, leaves, wood, balsam, and resin. Very few essential oils are safe to be applied directly to the skin. Most should be mixed in carrier oils that "carry" the essence to the skin.

Carrier oils

Carrier oils are gentle, pure oils. Some of the most commonly used carrier oils are sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil, and fractionated coconut oil. My favorite is fractionated coconut oil. It has no scent of it's own, is very light, and easily washes out of linens and clothing. Essential oils can also be added to lotions and butters such as cocoa butter, aloe butter, and shea butter.


As I said before, aromatherapy can't abort a Migraine, but I use several different oils for Migraine, depending on which symptoms I'm experiencing at the time - nausea, depression, panic, anxiety, congestion, trouble sleeping.

Aromatherapy has two basic forms - application to the skin and inhalation. Although it's called aromatherapy, it's not just the aroma that's therapeutic. Essential oils also directly interact with body chemistry, affecting some systems and organs.

I use essential oils in several ways for my Migraines:

  • Smelling salts: I start with small cobalt or amber bottles with orifice reducers and make different bottles of smelling salts...
    • Fill it with dead sea salt.
    • Add fractionated coconut oil to fill the bottle about 75%.
    • Add essential oils for specific purposes:
      • peppermint* oil for nausea.
      • lemongrass or red mandarin oil for feelings of depression
      • sandalwood and clary sage oils for anxiety / panic
      • eucalyptus oil for sinus congestion (This often helps relieve the facial pain that sometimes accompanies my Migraines too.)
    • Insert the orifice reducer in the top of the bottle. These reduce the bottle openings and help prevent spillage.
    • Cap the bottles tightly and keep out of direct sunlight. Amber or cobalt bottles will protect the oils from most light and keep them fresher and effective longer.
  • Roll-Ons:There are some roll-on products available for Migraine, but I prefer to make my own. Start with empty roll-on bottles. The frosted ones are better to protect the oils from light.
    • Fill the bottle about 75 to 80% with carrier oil.
    • Choose essential oils and add 10 drops. I like a combination of peppermint*, lavender, and clary sage.
    • Insert the roller ball.
    • Cap tightly between uses. Keep out of direct sunlight.
    • I usually apply this to my temples and wrists.
  • Bottled blends: These blends can be applied to the skin or a few drops can be sprinkled on pillows. For these too, I start with cobalt or amber bottles with orifice reducers.
    • Fill the bottle about 75 to 80% with carrier oil. I always use fractionated coconut oil for these because it washes out of pillow cases.
    • Choose essential oils and add 10 drops. I keep a few of these mixed up so I can use whichever one fits the situation. The one I use most is a relaxation / sleep blend that I sprinkle on my pillow to help me relax and get to sleep when I have a Migraine. In this one, I use chamomile, lavender, and clary sage.
    • Insert the orifice reducer in the top of the bottle.
    • Again, cap the bottles tightly and keep out of direct sunlight. Amber or cobalt bottles will protect the oils from most light and keep them fresher and effective longer.
  • Aroma lamps and diffusers: Aroma lamps have little wells or bowls where you place drops of essential oils or water with drops of oils. Some have candles to heat the oils; some are electric. As the water and oils heat, the scent diffuses into your room. These are best used close to you or in a small room.

Recommended oils

Everyone responds differently to the various essential oils, so it can take some experimentation to find which ones you prefer. Sometimes, you'll find more than one oil that will serve the same purpose for you. When I find this, I choose by which aroma I like best or combine them if their aromas are compatible.

Here's a chart of some recommended oils for different purposes:

Carrier OilsEssential Oils for
Migraine / Headache
  • apricot kernel
  • fractionated coconut
  • grapeseed
  • sweet almond
  • bay
  • jasmine
  • eucalyptus
  • lavender
  • melissa
  • peppermint*
  • rosemary
Essential Oils for
Essential Oils for
Anxiety / Panic
  • bergamot
  • chamomile
  • grapefruit
  • lemon verbena
  • lemongrass
  • mandarin
  • melissa
  • orange blossom
  • petigrain
  • bergamot
  • cedarwood
  • chamomile
  • clary sage
  • clove
  • frankincense
  • lavender
  • neroli
  • patchouli
  • sandalwood
  • ylang ylang
Essential Oils for
Relaxation / Sleep
10 to Get Started
  • bergamot
  • chamomile
  • clary sage
  • frankincense
  • jasmine
  • juniper
  • lavender
  • mandarin
  • marjoram
  • sandalwood
  1. fractionated coconut (carrier)
  2. chamomile
  3. clary sage
  4. eucalyptus
  5. jasmine
  6. frankincense
  7. lavender
  8. lemongrass
  9. mandarin
  10. peppermint*

Wrapping it up

Even though aromatherapy doesn't stop Migraines, I love the symptomatic relief and comfort it offers. I also like to keep a bottle of peppermint* smelling salts with me. Perfume and other odors can be Migraine triggers for me. I've found that if I get the peppermint* smelling salts to my nose quickly enough and am not around the triggering odor very long, I can sometimes avoid a Migraine.

As with any type of treatment, use caution and common sense. Discuss aromatherapy as a complementary therapy with your doctor. He or she may not know much about it. There are some excellent books on aromatherapy. Four of them are listed below in my references.

Better results are achieved with higher quality essential oils. Be cautious of essential oils bottled in clear bottles and those that sit on store shelves that are hit by direct sunlight. If finding good oils in your area is a problem, there are reputable aromatherapy suppliers online. One of my favorite online sellers is Nature's Gift. I have no affiliation with them and don't profit from referring people to them. I just like their products and have been pleased with the quality and service.

Do you use aromatherapy? If so, please post a comment and share your experiences and favorites with us!

* A note of caution: Most aromatherapy experts recommend that peppermint oil never be applied directly to the skin and that it not be used by pregnant women or young children.


Clark, Marge. "essential oils and aromatics." Silverleaf Press. 2008. • Lawless, Julia, "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils." Element Books. 1995. • Davis, Patricia. "Aromatherapy An A-Z" Random House. 2000. • Schnaublet, Kurt, PhD. "The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy." Healing Arts Press. 2011.

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