Essential oils for headaches & migraines

"Although there are some studies out there that show that people who smell essential oils have less severe headaches than those who don't, they aren't done well enough to be scientifically conclusive yet," explains Pamela Dalton, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia whose work focuses on the relationship between odor and emotional processes. "The problem with these studies is that there isn't an effective control group, as everyone who participates knows they are smelling oils because the aromas are so strong."

In the present study, there was a significant difference among groups in headache intensity after treatment (P < 0.001). In 40% of the patients in the peppermint oil and lidocaine groups, the intensity of headache decreased. In the placebo group, fewer patients responded highly to the treatment, whereas 41.5% of patients in the lidocaine group and 42.1% of patients in the peppermint oil group responded to the treatment considerably.

What she can say for sure? Headaches are often caused by stress—so essential oils may help curb the throbbing pain simply because they relax you. "Doing anything that relaxes you when you have a headache, from getting a massage to smelling an essential oil whose scent you truly enjoy, can be an effective therapy," Dalton explains.

Concerning the findings of the present study, nasal application of peppermint oil caused considerable reduction in the intensity and frequency of headache and relieved majority of patients' pain similar to lidocaine. On the basis of findings of this study, it can be concluded that nasal menthol, such as lidocaine, can be used to relieve migraine headaches.

Of course, there are tons of scents out there, so it's ultimately up to you to find one you truly enjoy. But certified aromatherapist Amy Galper, founder of the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies and co-author of Plant-Powered Beauty, has some advice to help you get started. Here, she recommends three popular "beginner blends" that smell amazing—and will help you dip your toe into the (highly aromatic) essential oil waters.

I have been interested in essential oils for a few years, but never dedicated myself to studying and furthering my knowledge. My instructor, Amy was not only brilliant and highly intelligent, but she was also enthusiastic and excited about educating my class about every intricate detail each bottle of oil holds. The course not only shows you how to use your oils (designing lotions, salves, inhalers, etc) but it also focuses on where essential oils come from: plants and science. A full spectrum course that highlights how the plant is grown, harvested, distilled, and ends up in the hands of us - aspiring aromatherapists! I could not recommend this course more!

''I’ve spent over 15 years as a pharmaceutical sales representative and have completed a lot of in-depth product training. The quality and depth of the learning modules was much better than I expected and gave me confidence to talk about the science behind essential oils. Can’t wait to start my next level of training. MICHELE FULLER''

How to use essential oils for headache relief.

Once you've picked out the oils you want to use, the next step is actually using them right. And contrary to what you may think, that does not involve simply buying a bottle of the stuff and dabbing it onto your wrists like a perfume. Rather, Galper says there are three best-in-practice ways to reap the health benefits of essential oils:

1. Smell them using a diffuser.

Her advice: Put a few drops of each oil in an essential oil diffuser, and enjoy—but be sure to use the diffuser machine in a room with proper ventilation. "Otherwise, the smell could be too strong and it could irritate your lungs or your throat or your nose, similar to a very strong perfume," she says. Note: Do not run a diffuser 24/7 in your home. Use this method for one to three hours at a time, on an intermittent setting.

2. Put them on your skin—but not straight on your skin.

"It's important to dilute the oils down into what's known as a 'carrier,' which can be an unscented lotion or cream, or any other oils you have around your house, like olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, or argan oil," Galper explains. Mix six drops of the essential oil per tablespoon of your carrier of choice, and you should be good. (Be careful working with oils like lemon and grapefruit, which can react with UV light on the skin.)

3. Simply smell them!

This one's easiest of all: Just open a bottle of essential oil, take 5 to 10 deep breaths, and let the relaxing scent work its magic.

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