I Swapped My Headache Meds For Peppermint Essential Oil—Here's What Happened

Can natural botanicals really ease throbbing head pain as well as OTC painkillers?

February 13, 2018
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woman with headache
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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been plagued by headaches. Not debilitating migraines that leave me nauseous, dizzy, and confined to bed—thankfully. But head-throbbing that left me sluggish, irritable, and uncomfortable enough that it was hard to concentrate on my work. Or motivate myself to do much of anything else.

These headaches come on once a week or so. Aside from the occasional night out that involved a little too much alcohol, I could never pinpoint a trigger to stop them from happening in the first place. So more often than not, I’d end up popping an OTC painkiller to get through the day.  

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Aleve was my drug of choice, and nine times out of 10, it would make the throbbing disappear within half an hour. But it always made me a little uneasy. I wouldn’t have a problem taking it if it was just once every couple of months. But after a while, I realized I was dosing myself with the stuff at least once a week. I started to worry that it might eventually lose its potency or lead to rebound headaches. Or worse, put me at risk for side effects like stomach ulcers. 

MORE: 7 Signs Your Headache Isn't Normal

I knew I needed an alternative solution, when one day, I came across an aromatherapy treatment called the Migrastil Migraine Headache Stick ($10.99, amazon.com). A simple combo of peppermint, spearmint, and lavender essential oils in a roll-on bottle, it was designed to be applied to the temples, forehead, or back of the neck at the first sign of headache for fast, drug-free relief.

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Migrastil headache essential oil roll on
Photograph courtesy of Amazon

 

Why would something like this help relieve my head pain? Peppermint oil contains the active component menthol, which is thought to help relax muscles and ease pain. And though research is scarce, one small German study found that applying peppermint essential oil to the temples was as effective at easing tension headaches as taking 1,000 mg of acetaminophen. As for the lavender? Aside from being a known stress-reliever, one Iranian study also suggests that inhaling the scent for 15 minutes could ease migraine pain.   

Despite what the science said, I didn’t really expect the headache stick to work. But at $10.99, it was cheap enough that I was willing to give it a try. So I added it to my cart and stored it in the medicine cabinet when it arrived. Then, I waited with weird anticipation for my next headache.

MORE: 8 Best Essential Oils For Headaches And How To Use Them

It came in the morning. As soon as I opened my eyes, I could feel the start of the throbbing that I knew would only get worse as the morning progressed, despite gulping a big cup of coffee and plenty of water. So right after I put in my contacts and brushed my teeth, I grabbed my Migrastil and rubbed the rollerball all over my temples. (Pro tip: Pull your hair back before doing this, unless you want it to turn into a greasy mess.)

The first thing I noticed, of course, was immediately getting hit with the aroma of mint and lavender. And a few seconds later, my temples started to feel icy cool from the menthol. But my head still hurt.

 

That changed after about 15 minutes, when I noticed the pain was starting to recede. It wasn’t the same kind of relief that I’d get from Aleve, where the pill would completely erase my headache. But the stick made the pain enough of a background thing where I was able to stop focusing on it, and eventually, forget about it altogether. 

MORE: 9 Foods That Could Be Causing Your Headaches

Since then, I’ve used the Migrastil stick a few more times, and most of them have been successful. The one exception was when I waited to apply it until severe pain had already set in—that time it didn’t really make it difference. So I guess part of the key is applying the stick at the first sign of a headache rather than waiting until the discomfort becomes unbearable.

Which is good enough for me. If I have a safe, all-natural remedy that works almost as well as a conventional drug without potentially putting my health at risk, that’s one less headache to worry about.

The article I Swapped My Headache Meds For Peppermint Essential Oil—Here’s What Happened originally appeared on Rodale’s Organic Life.