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Peppermint Oil and Migraine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024 | Last updated: February 2024

Peppermint is a common herb that grows throughout North America and Europe. It is often used to flavor foods and products, such as chewing gum, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Peppermint has been used for medical reasons for thousands of years. Some research shows that peppermint may help treat migraine.1-3

What is peppermint oil?

Peppermint oil is the essential oil made from the flowering parts and leaves of peppermint. Essential oils are very strong oils that contain the substance that gives a plant its smell. Peppermint oil is available in:1

  • Capsules
  • Teas
  • Creams
  • Pure oils

Taking peppermint orally (by mouth) may help treat irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems, colds, or sinus infections. Using peppermint on the skin may treat joint pain, muscle pain, or itchy skin.1,2

Peppermint oil has a tingling and cooling effect on the skin. This can cause a slight numbing. It is believed that this may make peppermint oil helpful for people with migraine. For some people, applying peppermint oil to the forehead or temples can help reduce headache pain.1-3

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Peppermint oil and migraine research

There have not been many high-quality clinical studies of peppermint oil for migraine. But there have been some small studies that show it may help. One study researched applying peppermint oil to the forehead and temples every 2 hours during a migraine. This study found that the peppermint helped reduce pain and nausea.2,3

Another study examined applying small drops of peppermint oil in the nose. This study found that the peppermint oil reduced the pain and length of the migraine. The peppermint oil was as effective as lidocaine, a local anesthetic.2-4

These are relatively small and limited studies but do support that peppermint oil may be helpful for migraine and is generally well tolerated with few side effects. More research is needed.2,3

What are the possible side effects?

Peppermint oil is generally considered safe in small doses. Rarely, peppermint oil can cause allergic reactions. Possible side effects from using peppermint on the skin include:1

  • Skin rash
  • Skin irritation

These are not all the possible side effects of peppermint oil. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to expect when using peppermint oil. You also should call your healthcare provider if you have any changes in your health that concern you when using peppermint oil.

Other things to know

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk to their healthcare provider about using peppermint oil. Peppermint oil should not be applied to the chest or face of children or infants. Inhaling the oil may cause serious side effects to children.1

Supplements are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way other drugs are. This means that no outside agency confirms the ingredients or suggested dose.5,6

For example, a fish oil supplement may have more or less fish oil than listed on the label. A supplement may also contain ingredients that are not labeled correctly or at all. This can be dangerous. It can lead to taking too much or taking unwanted ingredients.5,6

The FDA created good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to help this situation. GMPs are guidelines for companies to follow when making supplements. The FDA rarely inspects facilities making supplements in the United States. Companies outside the United States do not have these inspections. But many more supplements are sold than are tested. Your doctor can help you decide if a supplement is safe.5,6

Before beginning treatment for migraine, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.