Using essential oils to relieve migraines is being aggressively promoted online, but there is little research to show that they work reliably. I could find only one limited study that involved lavender essential oil. It observed that most of the patients participating who inhaled the scent of lavender while suffering a migraine reported that their headache subsided entirely or partially.
According to the the American Migraine Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by the American Headache Society, using soothing scents like lavender, peppermint and tangerine can be comforting for people suffering migraines and are safe for children. Aromatherapy options the Foundation recommends are Badger Headache Soother and Lather Clear Head Balancing Balm. The Foundation warns that if you choose to use pure essential oils to relieve migraines, be aware that with the exception of lavender, they should never be applied to the skin undiluted because they can irritate and burn. Be sure to dilute them first in a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil.
I would be cautious using other essential oils promoted for migraine relief, including eucalyptus, rosemary, bergamot and sandalwood. If you think aromatherapy will help relieve your headaches, I suggest consulting a qualified aromatherapist. For information on certification courses approved by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy visit www.naha.org.
I should mention that some scents, including perfume, cleaning products or secondhand smoke, could set off a migraine. If your headaches can be triggered by scents, you might find that exposure to essential oils could worsen rather than ease them.
Many migraine treatments are available, but there is no cure and none of the available treatments work reliably for everyone who suffers from these headaches. The most effective drugs are triptans, which are not free of side effects. Alternatives include the herb butterbur (Petasites hydridus), shown to reduce migraine occurrence by an average of 48 percent compared to 26 percent in patients who received a placebo. Choose butterbur extracts guaranteed to be free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), which are toxic to the liver. Take butterbur with meals. Taking 400 mg of vitamin B-2 daily (you’ll need a prescription for that dose) can help reduce both the frequency and duration of migraines. Biofeedback training and Botox may also help.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Sasannejad et al, “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” European Neurology, May 2012, DOI: 10.1159/000335249