Lavender Oil And Headaches - Fast Remedy Or Waste Of Money?

Why This Is Important –

While there is clinical trial evidence that lavender oil can be successful in treating migraines, the case for using lavender oil and headaches is left much more to assumption.

However, break it down and these assumptions are based around some evidence. Lavender oil has all the basic qualities required to help your headache. In this article, we examine the evidence.

Lavender Oil Can Help Migraines, But Headaches???

Headaches and migraines are not the same. Technically they are of course – migraine headaches are just one of the 3 types of headache (together with tension headaches and sinus headaches), but to any sufferer, a migraine is worlds apart from a common ‘headache’.

So, after writing an article presenting the evidence in answer to the question ‘Does Lavender Oil Help Migraines’, it was perhaps no surprise that we had an email asking about Lavender oil and headaches.

A woman at her desk suffering with a headache asking if it's time to look at new treatments for headaches including aromatherapy.

Now with peppermint oil, a very famous and much well used headache and migraine cure, there is clear clinical data to support it’s use for both.

The high menthol content alone (44%), gives it great influence on both. Furthermore, because it is famous for it’s clearing menthol effect, research has been done around both headaches and migraines.

However, for lavender essential oil (taken from ‘Lavandula angustifolia’, the famous purple/ blue flower with the distinctive aroma), there is no such data specifically available for treating headaches.

However, lavender oil is famous for promoting relaxation and treating insomnia, anxiety and depression. So, if you accept that two key reasons for headaches are lack of sleep and stress, then lavender oil could certainly have a role.

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Lavender Oil And Headaches – Which Qualities To Look For…

So to conduct a fair analysis of the potential of using lavender oil to treat a headache, we need to consider what common traits come with tension headaches.

Harvard Health Publishing lists these as – 

  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • fatigue
  • hunger
  • caffeine withdrawal
  • abrupt cessation of medications that contain caffeine, such as some pain-relieving medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • weather changes
  • food and drinks, such as chocolate; processed foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG); or alcohol

Please note – We have discounted sinus headaches, since they are mostly caused by infection/ pressure of the sinuses and are much less common.

Now obviously factors such as hunger, caffeine withdrawal etc will never be influenced by anything other than you physically stopping.

The top 3 however – stress, lack of sleep and fatigue could all justifiably be helped through the use of lavender oil.

Lavender flowers next to bottles of lavender oil

So Where Is The Evidence?

Well, in one particular trial, it was shown to achieve all three. Tested on patients in an intensive care unit in hospital (Moeini et al), lavender oil was shown to promote a much easier and a much deeper level of sleep. 

To achieve this in such a stressful environment speaks volumes for lavender oils potential to deliver both stress relief and relaxation.

Furthermore, even in a state of clinical depression, (where levels of stress are likely to be extremely high) and suffering with clinical insomnia, lavender oil was found to offer some help.

Lee at al actually concluded…

“…the lavender fragrance had a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression.”

In another study, reported in Chronobiology International
lavender oil increased both the amount of deep sleep and the level of light sleep, leading the authors to conclude that –

“…lavender serves as a mild sedative and has practical applications as a novel, nonphotic method for promoting deep sleep…”

So the case for lavender oil in promoting better sleep and relaxation is very strong. This could be highly effective in preventing headaches.

Woman lying back in spa enjoying aromatherapy with a massage next to sprigs of lavender

However, when it comes to treating a headache, lavender oil can also have some uses.

As we know from a trial by Da Silva et al in 2015, the analgesic (painkilling) ability of lavender oil was compared as being similar to that of Tramadol (a high strength painkiller). 

So, even without reviewing any of the clinical trial data on the efficacy of lavender oil to treat migraines, we can propose that it has all the qualities to both prevent and treat headaches.

What Is The Best Method For Applying Aromatherapy For Headaches?

There are numerous methods that can be used for absorbing the benefits of Lavender essential oil. The most effective for headaches are via scent or as a soothing head rub.

Lavender Oil can be dispensed via the air through the use of burning candles or an automatic diffuser. Both work by dispensing fumes from the oil in to the room, to be gradually inhaled along with the very pleasant smell.

An aromatherapy diffuser on a black background

Alternatively, a topical lavender oil creme could be purchased for rubbing in to your forehead, providing the same benefits but applied direct to your skin. You can apply the lavender oil direct to your forehead, providing you use a carrier oil to mix it and apply very gently with a cloth, rubbing it on soothingly. This method does carry greater risks though.

Side Effects Of Lavender Essential Oil

Please see our article on ‘side effects of lavender oil‘ for more information. Always speak to your doctor before making changes to your treatment regime.

The Final Word –

So I hope that provides a fair review of lavender oil and headaches. What does it show us?

Well, clearly if you take the top 3 causes of tension headaches (stress, lack of sleep and fatigue), then lavender oil can be highly beneficial.

It’s also worth remembering that oils such as lavender oil were being used long before modern day medicines, so the concept of using an aroma to treat a headache really is nothing new.

The other key benefit to using lavender oil (which I did not touch on, because it is true of all essential oils if used properly), is the lack of side effects.

Giving up the regular use of painkillers that contain caffeine (such as Ibuprofen) comes with a whole series of ‘addiction’ side effects including headaches. So if you don’t have to use the drugs at all (or at least somewhat sparingly), then withdrawal from the caffeine element becomes much less likely.

With lavender oil and headaches however, this is not even a consideration.

Is lavender oil the MOST effective essential oil for headaches? Well, that is up for debate. Peppermint oil certainly makes probably an even stronger case.

But like with any pain reliever, what works for one person might not work for you. Peppermint oil may be perfect for your neighbour, but lavender oil may be the one that helps to prevent and ultimately treat your headache best.

At the end of the day, it is your choice – but lavender oil certainly can put forward a strong case for improving your sleep and treating the pain of headaches.

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References Used –

1. Harvard Health Publishing. (Aug 2016). Causes Of Headaches.
2. Mahin Moeini, Maryam Khadibi, Reza Bekhradi, Seyed Ahmad Mahmoudian, Fatemeh Nazari. (2010). Effect of Aromatherapy on the Quality of Sleep in Ischemic Heart Disease Patients Hospitalized in Intensive Care Units of Heart Hospitals of the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research.
3. Inn-Sook Lee, Gyung-Joo Lee. (Jan 2006). Effects of Lavender Aromatherapy on Insomnia and Depression in Women College Students. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi
4. Namni Goel, Hyungsoo Kim and Raymund P Lao. (2005). An Olfactory Stimulus Modifies Nighttime Sleep in Young Men and Women. Chronobiology International.
5. Gabriela L da Silva, Carolina Luft, Adroaldo Lunardelli, Robson H Amaral, Denizar A da Silva Melo, Márcio V F Donadio, Fernanda B Nunes, Marcos S de Azambuja, João C Santana, Cristina M B Moraes, Ricardo O Mello, Eduardo Cassel, Marcos Aurélio de Almeida Pereira, Jarbas R de Oliveira. (August 2010). Antioxidant, Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lavender Essential Oil. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências