Can Essential Oils Trigger Headaches or Migraines?

People often ask me whether essential oils can cause headaches or migraines. Since I use oils often for aromatherapy and massage, I’m very concerned about this. The short answer is yes: if used improperly, essential oils can trigger headaches and migraines in some people.

However, when used correctly, many essential oils can actually treat and alleviate headache symptoms.

In this post, I’ll discuss how essential oils might cause headaches, safety tips, usage guidelines, and my top oil picks for migraine relief.

Can Essential Oils Trigger Headaches or Migraines?

Potential Triggers

Certain compounds found naturally in essential oils have the potential to cause headaches or migraines in prone people. Oils derived from herbs known to affect neurological functioning should be used judiciously.

For example, oils like eucalyptus and camphor contain compounds that can provoke headaches as a side effect. I once used a eucalyptus-mint toothpaste that actually triggered migraines in myself.

The cooling menthol likely overstimulated nerves. Peppermint oil can also be problematic if applied directly near the nose or forehead without dilution.

Additionally, some individuals may get headaches from the overwhelming scent of certain essential oils. I tend to avoid very strong oils like clove, oregano, thyme for this reason.

Overuse of oils diffused in a small space may cause migraines due to scent sensitivity.

Mitigating Risks

There are a few guidelines I follow to prevent essential oils from triggering headaches:

  • Always dilute essential oils properly before use. I mix oils like peppermint with a carrier oil before applying to skin. A 2% dilution is a good rule of thumb for adults.
  • Pay attention to contraindications. I avoid oils that may interact with my medical conditions or medications. Children and pregnant women also can’t use certain oils.
  • Only purchase high quality oils from reputable companies. Poor quality or adulterated oils increase risk of adverse effects like headaches. Brands like Eden’s Garden and Plant Therapy have good reputations.
  • Use essential oils sparingly. I’m careful not to overexpose myself to the scent of oils which can lead to migraines.

Precautions with Oils

It’s important to remember essential oils are not regulated by the FDA. Their purity is not officially verified. Certain oils like rosemary and lavender are also unsafe for pregnant women as they can induce miscarriage.

All oils should be kept out of reach from kids since they can be toxic if ingested. Proper research on usage and handling precautions is a must!

Proper Storage

To retain efficacy, essential oils need to be stored properly as well. Light and heat can damage the delicate chemical composition of oils. Oils with high amounts of menthol and other volatile compounds are especially sensitive to heat exposure. Even short periods of heat above 100°F can alter the makeup.

proper storage of essential oils

Citrus and absolutes fragrances like jasmine are also readily destroyed by excess temperatures. I make sure to keep all my oils in a cool, dark place in my home. The fridge can even prolong shelf life for oils prone to damage. If you see a change in smell or color, the oil may be compromised.

Effective Applications

While some oils may provoke headaches, many can actually help relieve migraine symptoms when used appropriately. Here are some of my favorites:

Peppermint Oil – The cooling sensation of peppermint naturally alleviates pain. I apply diluted peppermint oil on my temples and forehead during a migraine attack. The Plant Therapy Peppermint Oil works well for me.

Lavender Oil – Lavender relaxes muscles and reduces stress. Breathing in lavender oil from a diffuser helps manage migraine pain during onset. I like using Edens Garden Lavender to clear headaches.

Chamomile Oil – The mild floral scent of chamomile eases tension headaches. I’ll add a few drops to a warm bath or diffuser. Rocky Mountain Chamomile Oil is great for relaxation.

Eucalyptus Oil – This clears my sinuses to treat sinus headache pain. Diluted eucalyptus rubbed on the chest or forehead areas gives quick relief. DoTerra Eucalyptus Oil is one of my go-to’s.

Rosemary Oil – I use rosemary to improve circulation and reduce muscle spasms during migraines. Massaging the temples with diluted rosemary oil is very soothing. I prefer Aura Cacia’s Rosemary Oil.

Who Should Use Essential Oils for Headaches and How

Essential oils can provide relief for different types of headaches, but they may not be suitable for everyone:

  • Peppermint, lavender, and chamomile oils are best for people who get tension headaches triggered by stress and anxiety. The soothing scents relax tight muscles.
  • Migraine sufferers can benefit from cooling peppermint and eucalyptus applied to pain points during an attack to alleviate symptoms.
  • For sinus headaches, eucalyptus and rosemary oils clear nasal congestion and improve circulation.
  • Those with cluster headaches should avoid provocative oils like eucalyptus and peppermint that may trigger attacks.

I don’t recommend using essential oils to treat headaches in young children or pregnant women without medical approval. People with asthma or seizure disorders should also use oils cautiously after consultation with a doctor.

When applying essential oils topically, always dilute with a carrier oil first and use light pressure to massage into the temples, forehead and back of neck. Only diffuse small amounts of oil in well-ventilated rooms. And be sure to do an arm skin test before wide-spread use to check for allergic reactions.

Can Essential Oils Trigger Headaches or Migraines?

Pros and Cons of Using Essential Oils for Headaches


  • Effective at relieving pain and tension quickly for many headache types
  • Safer with less side effects than traditional OTC and prescription meds
  • Provide symptom relief without drowsiness common with pills
  • Non-addictive and can be used as needed both acutely and prophylactically
  • Relaxing aromatherapy benefits in addition to medicinal effects


  • Can trigger headaches in sensitive people if used incorrectly
  • Hard to determine appropriate dilutions and dosages
  • Risk of allergic reaction or skin irritation with topical use
  • Ingesting oils is very dangerous and should be avoided
  • Not recommended for children, pregnant women, and some health conditions
  • Lack of regulation means purity and quality issues with some brands

While essential oils can treat headaches, they come with some risks if used improperly or by the wrong individuals. With caution, research, and medical guidance, essential oils can be an effective complementary therapy for dealing with migraine attacks and headache pain episodes when they strike. I suggest trying diluted peppermint or lavender oils next time you have a tension headache, but avoid using provocative oils like eucalyptus if you are prone to migraines. And as always, consult your doctor before beginning use of any new supplement like essential oils in your wellness routine.