When a migraine strikes, it can be difficult to concentrate on anything besides relieving the pain. Medication is an obvious choice to mask the discomfort, but it doesn't always get to the root of the problem. Finding a dark, calm environment can help relieve migraine symptoms, as can sleep, but sometimes these efforts are obstructed by the pain itself. One natural remedy that can help relieve migraines, especially when supplementing the steps above, is essential oils.
We're all familiar with the calming qualities of essential oils, but their benefits go beyond simply being soothing scents. When we met Jasmine Rausch, the founder of Root Yoga Therapy and a certified yoga therapist who uses essential oils in her practice, for a one-on-one session hosted by Pilgrim Collection. She introduced us to the ways aromatherapy can help with a range ailments. Here, she walks us through how to use the natural remedy to prevent and relieve headaches. "What are the triggers that are causing the tension?" she asks as a starting point to determine the best strategy for relief.
Often, headaches are brought about by outside stressors that can deregulate natural hormone levels and put the body in a fight-or-flight mode, a state she notes many of us are in too frequently. "It's not just about targeting the migraine but also using oils that are going to be supportive for the adrenals," explains Rausch, noting that cortisol, an inflammatory hormone, spikes when we're stressed or fatigued. Many essential oils act as stress-relievers and also boast anti-inflammatory properties, helping to get the body back to its healthy balance.
Essential oils can also directly affect the muscles responsible for tension headaches and migraines, providing relief or even preventing pain in the first place.
Below Rausch identifies the top six essential oils for migraines. When choosing the right one for you, it's important to consider the specific properties of each and how they correspond with your ailments, but it's just as important to consider how the oil makes you feel at a basic level. "It always depends on the person's response to the oil," Rausch notes. If you find that you gravitate toward a particular essential oil, listen to your instincts.
We all know how calming the scent of lavender can be. It is often used as a sleep aid—sprayed on pillows or infused in body oils to apply before going to bed. Rausch explains that its sedative nature is especially helpful when dealing with migraines for those who "want to have that feeling of induced sleep." If migraines are keeping you from getting the rest you need, a lavender essential oil will not only instill calm, but it can also help you fall asleep. Lavender's fresh, soft, and floral aroma mixes well with basically everything, says Rausch, so it's wonderful to blend for a customized cure.
Roman chamomile can act both as a stimulant or as a calming sedative like lavender, though Rausch recommends it as the latter, noting it's "great for stress or insomnia." Like lavender, Roman chamomile is pain-relieving, addressing the discomfort of headaches while providing other benefits. She explains that it's also antispasmodic, staving off muscle spasms that can incite migraines. Rausch describes Roman chamomile as having a sweet quality, like apple, and recommends blending it with lavender, frankincense, and rosemary.
Rosemary is an especially restorative essential oil. Like the above oils, it's pain-relieving and shares similar antispasmodic properties to Roman chamomile. Rosemary boasts fresh, woody green qualities and blends well with marjoram, lavender, peppermint, and Roman chamomile.
This invigorating essential oil actually has the power to cleanse. It can act as either a stimulant or a sedative, and yet it is most often used for its energizing properties, so it is especially effective during the day. Peppermint is vasoconstricting—meaning that it actually narrows the blood vessels—which in some cases can help relieve headache tension by limiting blood flow to certain areas. Rausch notes that its minty, fresh aroma blends well with everything, especially marjoram, lavender, and rosemary.
Sweet marjoram works as a muscle relaxant, which can help with muscular pain and tension—both common triggers of migraines. The opposite of peppermint, sweet marjoram is circulation-promoting, helping to widen blood vessels and promote blood flow—which sometimes can be what's needed to relieve a headache. Often confused with oregano, sweet marjoram is defined by warm, spicy, and herbaceous notes.
"What's interesting about Frankincense is it's a purifier," says Rausch. "When we're experiencing something chronic that's painful and there's tension, there's something else at work there." We're holding on to what she calls negative energy. "So when we're using an oil, that helps cleanse and purify energy," she explains. "It helps get rid of that stagnant energy that's causing tension and manifesting in the inflammation and the migraine." Frankincense is one of Rausch's favorite essential oils.
"I use it for so many things. It's a powerful anti-inflammatory and powerful sedative as well."
Note: If you're pregnant or believe you may have a contraindication for using certain essential oils, it is advised that you consult with your physician first.