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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.


 

Aromatherapy for Migraines:
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 Oils Essential Oils for
Migraine / Headache
  • apricot kernel
  • fractionated coconut
  • grapeseed
  • sweet almond
  • bay
  • jasmine
  • eucalyptus
  • lavender
  • melissa
  • peppermint*
  • rosemary
Essential Oils for
Depression
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.

____________
References:

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.

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

Comments

  • Smith17
    1 year ago

    Can’t sleep and i feel unpleasant pains in head. But I don’t want to take strong meds. PLEASE RECOMMEND SOMETHING TO ME, WHAT SHOULD I DO.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    1 year ago

    I am so sorry you are not feeling so well. Here is an article that provides some tips and advice for some “comfort measures” that can be taken during an attack. https://migraine.com/blog/comfort-measure-basics/. Hope you find some of this helpful that & you begin to experience the relief you need. Sending gentle hugs your way. -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • Angie
    6 years ago

    Teri, thanks so much for this article! I’m new to migraine.com and I’m so happy I found it. I just went to my local herb shop to have some aromatherapy oils blended based on your recommendations. When I got them home I found out that the scent only lasted a few seconds! I think I’ll look into blending my own.

  • simplygourdjus
    6 years ago

    great article! I’ve been thinking about exploring scented oils but, like many, have been afraid. I do enjoy peppermint very much. I drink peppermint tea when nausea hits. I also want to get Peppermint Oil as it also repels many insects (spiders & flies). Thanks for posting!

  • shroomgirl
    7 years ago

    I, too, am very sensitive to smells when I am getting or have a migraine but I have used peppermint oil for many years. I add 4 drops to a hot bath, use a hot cloth on my forehead and then use a roll on of peppermint and lavender on my forehead.

  • Julie
    7 years ago

    I’m so glad you posted this. I just started a while back experimenting with essential oils and I was one of those people that would run a mile in the opposite direction if I smelled perfume or cologne or anything scented. But I found with Essential Oils in it’s pure therapeutic form is not that irritating and the combinations you come up with on your own or instructions you follow from a book you get online, or websites have combinations you can try. I found the following oils also helpful for Headaches: Anise, Cajeput, Galbanum, Thyme. Anxiety: Benzoin, Marjoram, Melissa. Stress/Depression: Rose, Patcholi. Sleep: Yarrow and Jatamansi. And pain: Wintergreen and Black Pepper. I came across a good suggestion on one site to add pure wheat germ oil,10 drops per 30ml bottle to help preserve your oil mixture and use it up within 3 months. Of course the more oils you buy the more expensive-especially the high quality ones like Rose, Jatamansi, Jasmine. Jatamansi I use 1-2 drops maximum in my sleep/relaxation blend but the $30.00 to buy 1/2 oz is pretty crazy but it will last a while. I have them all stored in padded zippered compartmentalized storage cases in my bedside drawer so they are in a dark and cool environment. I get a lot of my supplies on Amazon.com and some oils I got from Wellington Fragrance.com. I also got a room diffuser that you add water to and a few drops of essential oil. I use that mostly at night and combine undiluted Lavender, Clary Sage and Tangerine. But you are in control of the amount of oil used so you start out with just a few drops at a time and you can increase each essence as you experiment to see what you can and cannot tolerate. I find it relaxing and soothing and like Teri says it will not abort a migraine but it will create that warming relaxing effect and for insomnia it helps relax you. I find it works best when you rub it on the soles of your feet, inside your wrists, elbows, chest (Chakra) forehead, temples, back of ears and base of skull. Sometimes I will rub Wintergreen and Black Pepper oil mix on my scalp on certain area’s that are really sore to the touch and feel it penetrate and soothe. They do warn that you don’t use certain oils if you have heart disease, kidney disease and other conditions. If this is something your wanting to experiment in you need to research it completely before you dive in. If you know someone that is mixing oils see if they can mix you a small bottle to “test drive” it to see if it’s something you’d like. I am happy I tried it and got involved. I thought that I would not be able to do it as sensitive to smell as I am. But so far, knock on wood, no reactions-bad ones that is.
    My Insomnia Recipe:
    4 drops Clary Sage
    2 drops Lavender
    3 drops Valerian
    3 drops Vetiver
    2 drops Jatamansi
    10 drops Pure Wheat Germ Oil
    then I fill the rest of my 30ml dark brown or cobalt blue dropper bottles with pure Almond Oil. I roll the bottle gently to mix between the palm of my hands.
    Migraine Oil:
    4 drops Ginger
    4 drops Lavender
    2 drops Lemongrass
    4 drops Rosewood
    5 drops Frankincense
    3 drops Peppermint
    3 drops Wintergreen
    3 drops Black Pepper
    2 drops Mandrian
    2 drops Clary Sage
    4 drops Melissa
    4 drops Vetiver
    10 drops Pure Wheat Germ Oil
    Fill the rest of a 30ml amber or blue bottle with Pure Almond Oil. Apply to back of neck, temples and forehead every hour or as needed to soothe. But it will not abort.

    I’m working on some other formula’s but these 2 I use the most and find the most relaxing.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Julie!

  • Susan K.
    7 years ago

    Thank you so much for such a useful article. We grow 2 varieties of lavender on our property, and I sometimes find it helpful to gently sniff one of the sachets we have on hand. Also,I’ve found that applying a small amount of Tiger Balm under my nose will help! And drinking Lemon Balm tea, made with the dried leaves, sometimes helps.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    You’re welcome, Susan. Fresh lavender is an absolute delight! I’m glad you’ve found some of these to be helpful.

  • Candy Meacham
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Teri. Great article. I’ve used aroma therapy off and on. Your article will spur me to try again and do some experimenting. I love the smells of many essential oils. I put a few drops of Ylang Ylang oil in the water in the squirt bottle I use for my incredibly curly hair.
    Art of Migraine.com

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Candy! The oil in the water bottle is a super idea. I used some of the roll-on bottles to blend a perfume that I can wear. Makes me so happy to be able to wear fragrance again.

  • lisacooper
    7 years ago

    If a scent is a trigger, might it take some time for the migraine to start, like when there’s a food sensitivity?

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Lisa,
    This probably varies from person to person, but in my experience, scents and odors are immediate triggers.
    Teri

  • TaylormadenWV
    7 years ago

    Teri, like you there are some scents that can trigger an intense reaction (such as heady florals: gardenia, jasmine, tuberose), but I also found that most essential oils or aromatherapy products offer some relief. I use peppermint oil and peppermint herbal tisanes for nausea (if caught early this works quite well). I’ve also found that Japanese incense products (use only natural herbs, resins, woods and flowers with no artificial fillers, ingredients or coloring) work just as well as diffusers. One scent that works very well in helping keep my migraine episodes from devolving into a full-blown severe episode is ‘oud (also known as agarwood or aloeswood).

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Vivian,
    Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I have some incense that I can use too. For me, they key seems to be that things need to be totally pure with no chemicals added.
    Teri

  • wendy donovan fritz
    7 years ago

    I find it so interesting that you use aromatherapy for migraine because when I am having one I have such a complete aversion to almost any perceptible smell. In fact, I was in the ER for one episode and the nurse’s “mildly vanilla scented” gloves caused me to vomit all over her.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Hi, Wendy,
    I’m the same way with scented gloves, air fresheners, scented lotions, and so on. Maybe you share my problem, which is the chemicals used in some scented products. Most perfumes result in an instant Migraine for me, but I can use essential oils in a carrier oil to make perfumes that don’t cause me any trouble. I’ve noticed the same thing with candles too. If there are artificial ingredients, they trigger. When made without the chemicals, they’re OK>
    Teri

  • sheri2u2
    7 years ago

    Teri, what an excellent article. I’m just starting out making my own products with essential oils. I’m so new at this I really appreciate the information you provided.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Sheri, and you’re very welcome. Hope you’re enjoying making your own products. 🙂
    Teri

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