Do Essential Oils Cause Migraines and Headaches?

Do Essential Oils Cause Migraines and Headaches?
Photo Courtesy pvera via Flickr
Someone found this blog recently because they searched for ‘”essential oils” cause migraines.’ Did they get an answer from this post? What they learned there, for sure, is that essential oils cause migraines for me.

The search got me thinking more about essential oils. Especially since I had recently read that essential oils can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds). So I decided to do some research.

We all know that you can find anything you want on the internet. You can prove or disprove the same theory depending on which information you choose to include. So I have to be careful and I have to document what I find. Here goes!

Here are some things that I found:

Do Essential Oils Cause Migraines and Headaches?
Photo Courtesy Eggybird via Flickr

  • A study by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc that determined that fragrant essential oils which are derived from plants may release VOCs into the air.
  • A study by Professor Anne C. Steinemann that found that essential oils emit at least one chemical classified as hazardous or toxic under federal law. She also referenced another study that found benzene and toluene emitted by essential oils.
  • I found another article that suggested that some essential oil manufacturers may, as a cost-saving measure, dilute their oils with carrier oils, synthetic fragrances, or fragrance stabilizers. I don’t know that this actually occurs, but it is certainly plausible.
  • I found a lot of nay-sayers that accused those that said there were problems with essential oils as having chemophobia. They talked about how the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) had guidelines for what went into fragrances and would never use anything harmful. The problem with those guidelines is that the IFRA is self-regulating and they refuse to list their ingredients.

Do Essential Oils Cause Migraines and Headaches?
Photo Courtesy Sarah G… via Flickr
So, knowing that VOCs are a known migraine trigger, for me and many others, it’s an easy leap to say that essential oils are likely to cause migraines and headaches in susceptible individuals. I know personally that I have to avoid them along with most other scents.

How do I reconcile this information with the fact that some people recommend essential oils to cure headaches? I have no answer. Perhaps for some people that is true. For me it isn’t. If my head is hurting, any type of smell only makes it worse.

Here are some suggestions for you if you plan to use essential oils:

  • Know your source for essential oils.
  • Use them sparingly – a little goes a long way.
  • If you know someone with extreme sensitivities, don’t use essential oils in their presence.
  • If you share living quarters with someone with extreme sensitivities, don’t use essential oils at all.
Thanks for stopping by! If you’re on this page, I suspect you’ve experienced headaches or migraines that seem to be associated with essential oils. Right?

Still have questions about essential oils and headaches? Leave a comment below!


I’ve written a new and updated post about essential oils. It includes information on safe use for first time EO users. Read it here.

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156 thoughts on “Do Essential Oils Cause Migraines and Headaches?”

  1. I mix peppermint and wintergreen in a small bowl. After that I smell the oils and apply it on the back of my neck and bottoms of my feet and it does wonders! If your skin is sensitive to these oils you can add a carrier oil to dilute it like olive oil.

  2. Hi Barbara,

    I tried it once at the start of a headache, and it seemed to help lessen the headache within an hour. I rubbed it on my temples, top of the head, and under my nose quite a pungent odor, it really works. When I read your post I am curious about your concern about essential oils and I respect your review about it.


    1. Thanks, Kathy. Wondering which oils you tried? I didn’t write this post to disparage essential oils. I actually use some myself. For those of us who are extremely sensitive to things that smell, we need to proceed with caution. Even when it comes to natural smells like those in essential oils.

      1. I agree Barbara. I am very susceptible to migraines and headaches. Most people that sell Essential Oils argue with me about them causing me problems. It does get old as I know many peo Or that is doesn’t effect and love them. I wish they worked for me.

        1. Hi Kimberly. I have those same arguments, although I also have friends that sell EOs that now believe me. Perhaps it’s hard for some to accept that the product they sell isn’t for everyone and can, in fact, be harmful for some.

          1. I ended up here because I just used some panaway on my arthritic elbow. The smell is horrible. I did not have a headache before applying, but it didn’t take long for my head to start hurting. The longer I left it on the worse my headache became. I just tried washing it off, but it still stinks. I just hope it doesn’t turn into a migraine that lasts for days

    2. When i first time used essential oil..i suffered from severe headache.i ignored at that time because i thought that oils cant cause any sort of pain. Everytime when i used that oil i felt the same. Today i used tea tree oil..diluted it with mustard oil but still i am feeling sleepy and slight pain…kindly inform me that what is the reason behind this fact.. Or guide me about the proper use /quantity of essential oils. What is the element in these essential oils which cause dizziness and pain. Thanks. Waiting for your kind reply.

      1. Hello Olive. I’m not sure that I can provide the answers you seek. I have found that many essential oils are a problem for me, no matter how they are diluted. Is it possible that you react to the mustard oil as well? You might try a more neutral oil to dilute it with. On the other hand, EOs are highly concentrated and can be a problem for some of us.

  3. Thanks for the reply Barbara. I used peppermint essential oil when my migraine attacks. I understand about your concern. Since your skin is sensitive of volatile organic compounds that cause you more migraines. It’s better you need to consult first before you use EO. Anyway, thanks for sharing your personal experience about EO and I found some side effects for sensitive skin like you.


    1. I have found peppermint essential oil is often beneficial for my migraines and headaches.

      My issue is not about skin sensitivity, it’s a reaction to VOCs and also many natural smells. I once developed a severe migraine by cooking pasta sauce all day in my house. I’m what you might call a bit abnormal in that respect. Although – I am not alone!

      1. I recently bought an oil diffuser maybe three days ago. I don’t get headaches often but it instantly gave me a headache. I have tried the lemongrass & eucalyptus scents & have felt bad for the last few days. I have been searching for reasons why it would cause headaches but have found nothing but great comments about it. I’m afraid I don’t know what to do regrading all the oils & diffuser I bought.

        1. I feel your pain, Taylor. Do you know someone who can use them? You could give or sell to a friend, as long as they promise not to use in your presence.

        2. I just bought the whole kit too. I love it. my husband does not know it but his migraines are coming from the diffuser. I stopped using frankincense and his headaches are going away. phew! now I am using lavender and peppermint and sometimes lemon. I love my frankincense though. I am pretty sure there might be others he is allergic to. he never had headaches before. that is why I am sure it was these oils.

          1. Oh, dear. I promise not to tell him, Karen. Go easy on the oils around him. I suspect you’re right about the source of his headaches.

          2. I was also told when I got such a bad headache that I had overdone it and my headache was from the toxins leaving my body too quickly. Hope his headaches get better

          3. I have a sensitivity to smells also but I love that the oils makes me healthier. I use them on the bottom of my feet on the reflex points or my spine before bed for what illness I have, that way they can do the job without making me have a headache or nausea. I am a doTerra Wellness Advocate but I needed to figure out a way to get the health benefits.

          4. Karen,

            It would be my guess that you yourself have never personally experienced a migraine. They are absolutely horrific and awful to suffer from. Imagine not being able to think, open your eyes, feel like you’re going to vomit (& sometime do depending on how severe of the migraine), hen having something that you smell that makes it worse by the minute…’s almost like being stuck in a personal hell! I know that the migraines I’ve had have lasted anywhere from a few hours to a full day all the way up to 3 sometimes 4 days. The first day is the worst then the additional days you feel like you’re suffering from one of the worst hangovers in the world plus your body feels as though you’ve been hit by a semi-truck and you lie there thinking that you didn’t even get to have a drink or go to the party to enjoy the fun part that made you feel this awful way in the first place.
            If you really love your husband then you won’t want to continue to torture him through your “trial and error” process of finding which ones work with his being and which ones don’t. I know it sucks but sometimes we ALL have to make small sacrifices for the people we love and don’t want to hurt.
            If you find that you’re having trouble giving them up then I would suggest reaching out to our Lord Jesus and praying to Him for help! We can do all things through Him who strengthens us! I wish you and your husband the best and be blessed.

        3. There is also a big difference in a “scent” , fragrance or even essential oils that have added synthetics. I have numerous allergies and sensitivities and can not walk in a candle store or down the laundry or cleaning product aisle at the store… Or be near someone who wears perfume without getting a headache! So I am very careful and picky about the essential oils that I use. It was my migraines that got me started using essential oil’s because of the amazing results! But they are put through a battery of test at a third-party lab to ensure that there are no synthetics, pesticides, fillers, or heavy metals. I’ve been using them for six years with amazing results. The quality, purity and even where your essential oils are harvested matter!

        4. I’m googling headaches after using lemongrass in my diffuser. I NEVER have allergies or headaches so i think it’s the lemongrass. I was putting clove in my diffuser for months and just switched to lemongrass. Makes sense – GRASS! Allergies – headaches…

        5. I have had the exact same experience. I’m allergic to many fragrances, but like a clean home scent. So, after hearing all the rave about natural essential oils I tried it. I put it in the diffuser and got a headache after letting it run for a while. Some scents to not bother me. I picked up a natural perfume from the health food store and it didn’t bother me at all. But lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary and many other essential oils bother me, lemon and orange oils do not.

          1. I’m with you, Kell. There are a few that I can tolerate, in small quantities. I know myself well enough to know that I would not want a diffuser in my home.

            Sorry you’re having the headaches, bu so glad that you know the reason and can avoid them in the future.

        6. Everybody is a little bit different, but I’m wondering if your problem is from the eucalyptus and lemongrass itself. I know that I always have migraines if I’m exposed to Eucalyptus, so perhaps the best thing to do would not be discounting essential oils completely, but rather trying something else. I’ve found that if I smell something and I immediately dislike it or it makes my face scrunch up, it’s best to look for something else. Lemongrass causes that reaction, hence why I avoid it. Always go with fragrances that call to you or you immediately love. If you’re uncertain, don’t risk it.

          1. It’s possible for some people. For others, like myself, it’s the high potency of essential oils that is the issue, no matter which one it is.

        7. I came here after researching. I noticed that lemongrass gives me a headache. I put it in olive oil for a scalp treatment and let it sit in overnight. I woke up with a headache. It happens every time. I just washed my hair with clarifying shampoo and the headache is gone. I know I can’t use lemongrass. It is a headache trigger for me.

      2. You are not alone…my migraines are started by EOs, gasoline, cigarette smoke and other strong odors. It is too bad that people who use EOS can’t understand this. Why do they have to walk around smelling like they bathed in it?

        1. Julie, I feel for you. I react to all of those things. Just yesterday, at the doctor’s office, I was called at the same time as another person who had, obviously, just smoked a cigarette. She reeked.
          As do those who use too much perfume or EOs. Honestly, I think they have burned out their smell organs so they have to use more to smell it themselves.
          Wouldn’t it be nice if people with strong odors had a visible cloud around them like Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?

  4. I too am very sensitive to smells and they tend to trigger my migraines. I have a neighbor who sells EO and has wanted me to try a headache EO when I get them. I am hesitant to do so as I know that on a normal day that some of the smells that are included in the mix are triggers for me. I have had migraines since age 6, I lose my vision on the right side, facial droop, nausea, vomiting, noise and light sensitivity, you name it I got it! I am so tired of having them that I am at the point of trying anything. I am glad I stumbled upon this blog in my research, good luck everyone.

    1. Karra, I understand your hesitancy. I’ve been hesitant and don’t have all the symptoms you have with your migraines. Other than smells, do you know your other migraine triggers?

      As for essential oils, I do use peppermint oil for headaches and migraines. BUT, I dilute it. I have a small bottle with a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil and just a few drops of peppermint in it. Still works but not as intense.

      If you decide to try EOs, go slow.

    2. Hello, I tried “thieves” essential oil for the first time yesterday because I’m having some sinus issues. A couple hours later I developed a horrible migraine headache. I haven’t had a migraine in a few years. I can only think the oil did it. Please be careful!

      1. Glad that I ran across this thread about oil sensitivity.. Las t Monday, my dentist recommended that I use Thieves Oil for a gum problem… And wow, that stuff gave me a headache right away & made me feel a bit sick … I didn’t use any more until the next afternoon – making sure that I used less, and that it was mixed well with olive oil… Another reaction, but not quite as intense.
        Sure hate that I’m sensitive to Thieves .

        1. I am finding if I use little bits at a time I tend to do best. Diffusing I can only do some oils for five to ten minutes at a time. Then I stop. Also doterra seems to give me worse problems than edens garden for some reason. Look at it like medicine.. a little goes a long way. Too much can be toxic and everyone’should tolerance is different.

      2. Use Carefully, I read many things about YL oils that a few consumers sent into different labs for testing and they all came back with the same results.. Synthetic! Like 86% + !!!
        I bought some Thieves Cleaner from a friend (a YL Consultant) to support her endeavors.. Well, I just mopped my floors and WOW! I have a massive migrane (the reason I Googled and found this thread).
        It’s unfortunate, It was EXPENSIVE!
        Guess I’m giving it away :. (

        1. Oh, no! That’s awful. I have friends that are starting to sell EOs and I’m trying to educate them so they can better help their customers. They are very potent.

  5. Hi. I used to get migraines 3-4 times per month. About 6 years ago I made major dietary changes and haven’t had a severe migraine in several years; only a milder form every couple of months. 2 weeks ago I attended an essential oils class/party and loved the idea of using them for various health issues for my family. Since using the oils in a diffuser I’ve noticed some increase in feeling stuffy and had a couple of milder headaches. Yesterday I used a couple of different products (these are pure and high quality by the way) on my family. Last night I woke with the worst migraine I’ve had in a long time. I can see that I will need to be more judicious in my exposure and use to see if this is the trigger. Thanks!

    1. So sorry to hear that Marla. Definitely want to be cautious with any smells, then. Try diluting essential oils in a carrier oil and only using small amounts. I am definitely not brave enough to diffuse them – even though the idea has some appeal.

  6. One of my student’s parents brought some kind of essential oil hooked up to a mist machine and put it over her child’s desk. Since then, my TA daughter and I have had migraines. My other daughter visited, and she too got a headache within 30 minutes of being in my classroom. The other ladies seem to do fine and say how wonderful it is. Maybe it is just a trigger for my family. The student’s mom sells EO, and she insists this is an air purifier to keep her son and the class well. I thought we were maybe crazy until I read your post. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Very interesting! I have been wondering about this since smells are a major problem for me. Thanks for the article!

  8. i just got a migraine and don’t know the cause of it. i have pretty much stopped them after changing my diet years ago. an hour ago, it started.. lights… partial vision, I still see lights now. I have a migraine and don’t know why. the only thing different today is that i put oils (eucalyptus and peppermint) directly in a bowl on a hotplate. ive been doing this for the last 2 weeks and it has pretty much brought the hubby back to health for respiratory but today, there was not water in the pot, just oil. It was really strong and i loved the scent and took it all in. Then a migraine hit. I am was confused. I didn’t eat anything wrong. why?

    And then I started googling and fund your blog post. crazy, isn’t it? i will add water after i send this message to you and never just heat EO by itself with no water in the pot. i must have burned the EO and released the VOCs in it. sucks. i hope this goes away soon.

    1. So sorry to hear this, Jennylou. It likely could have been the EOs heated by themselves. Definitely try it with the water in the future. Hope it helps!

      1. The migraine happened again. This time it was peppermint and diffusing it with no heat, but a cold air atomizer. I had a headache/ light migraine from eating food with msg at a potluck. I turn it on high to test the saying this helps migraine/headaches and only and a minute, all signs went away. Left it on and after 30 mins, migraine returns. I turn off diffuser, and the lights and headache and nausea go away with it. Too much EO in the air I guess.

        1. Sorry you’re having these migraines, Jennylou. I always hate the MSG ones b/c they seem to be the worst for me.

          When you use a diffuser, are you using the oil full strength or diluting it? I have to say you’re braver than I am. I won’t even consider diffusing oils!

          1. Hi Barbara, both these times i got a migraine from the oils were without water. Another time I got a migraine with water was when the water diffuser had been on for several hours. I am just not meant to have too much of it I guess.

  9. ive just starting in with Doterra essential oils and have been so excited seeing all of the great things they can be used for. BUT…. Im not sure whats going on but I am right in the middle of a horrible headache/migraine for 24 hours, which i dont get like this usually. I was hoping desperately that this wasnt from the oils. It seems like the answer though and now that ive found this site, my suspicions are probably correct. Thank you for the info posted here. It was helpful.

    1. Hi Kimberly,
      Sorry to hear about your headache/migraine. Indeed, it could be related to the essential oils. Sad isn’t it? I have the same problem. If you’re brave enough, once you’re way over this migraine you might try single oils in small doses. Perhaps it is just some of the oils that cause you problems.

      Whatever you do, I would avoid diffusing the oils!

      Hope you feel better soon!


      1. Barbara,

        What do you mean by, “whatever you do, avoid diffusing the oils”?

        Don’t use a diffuser? Apply eo how?

        I’ve recently started using the eucalyptus oil in an atomized diffuser with no heat n no water and no migraines unlike my previous post. No vocs this way I guess 🙂

        1. Hi Jennylou,
          What I meant was that if you use a diffuser and it turns out the oils are a problem for you, then you have the oils spread throughout your living environment – on everything in the room.
          I’m definitely NOT the expert on how to use essential oils. My purpose in this post was to let those who are sensitive know that they should be cautious in their use of EOs.

          I do use EOs a bit, but never in a diffuser. Typically I dilute them before any use.

  10. Thank you for your amazing info.
    I just started experimenting with EO’s and have developed a long lasting migraine. When migraine is gone I will try single oil as mentioned for testing.

      1. Hi. Thx for yr prompt reply. I think my system is just too sensitive to use any EO’s. Last night I reacted to a store bought balm that had oil in it. I think I will stay away from all EO’s. Thank you again for your invaluable info !

  11. Hi again,
    I contacted the lady who gave me the EO’s (youngliving) about the toxicity and this was her reply:

    Thank you for sending the links to the 2 articles. As 99% of essential
    oils in the market are not really pure, the VOCs mentioned are likely
    chemical VOCs, which are toxic. Pure, authentic EOs are naturally
    occurring volatile substances, which are cleansing and removes toxicity

    1. Well, what can I say? I know a number of people who sell essential oils, including young living. They all tend to defend their products without acknowledging that some people are not able to tolerate them. Most of them have no background in science or chemistry, so are unaware of what terms they are using. She admits that her oils are “volatile substances” but likely doesn’t realize that saying such also says they are VOCs. The classification of “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) can and does include chemicals that come from plants. It goes with the definition of “organic.”

  12. I bought 3 theivers last week from a friend. I am a long time migraine suffer so I’m cautious regarding odors. I smelled it and it smelled nice to me. So I applied it on my hands and breathed deeply like instructed. I ended up with a migraine that lasted 6 days.

    1. Rhonda,

      I’m so sorry you had to endure that. A 6-day migraine is a serious issue. This is why I cringe whenever I see someone suggest essential oils to get rid of a migraine. It all depends on the person’s triggers. I’m sure that essential oils can help some migraines, but like anything else it won’t work for everyone.

      Hope you’re feeling better!

  13. I can’t use them because of my migraine headaches 🙁
    Any mint smell, lavender, citrus, tea tree, cinnamon, all soap smells and cleaner just to name a few triggers 🙁 I wish I could use them. I’ve become homebound at the young age of 28 because of my smell triggers

    1. Based on a seven year journey with someone who had what was termed “environmental illness”. Your sensitivity could well be the tip of the iceberg. It would be important to see a good Holistic Doctor about rebuilding your immune system and get fully checked for parasites also.

    2. Jennifer,
      If you can, try to get tested for MTHFR mutation. It’s linked to many things and one is chemical sensitivity. There are types of B vitamins you can take that are the active form of the B, bc your body may not be able to break it down effectively with the mutation, which can lead to not being able to fight toxins, which could be why you have the smell triggers…your body can’t handle the VOCs in the smells. Just look into it. It may or may not help, but worth a shot

  14. I’m a frequent migraine sufferer (average 20 a month), and I’ve finally decided to go on a daily treatment. I haven’t had a migraine in almost 4 months, but I do still get headaches. On a whim, I picked up a bottle of lavender oil from the local natural grocery to help me sleep. One day I got a headache that no pill could touch, and a friend recommended trying lavender oil. I put it directly on the back of my neck, mostly through my hair. The headache was gone in 10 minutes. Now, all I have to do is sniff the cap to get the same effect. I’m only supposed to be on the daily for 6 mts to see if the migraines will become, at least, less frequent. I’m nervous that EO won’t work, but hadn’t considered smell, as my migraines are mainly triggered by bodily discomfort (ie-hair pulling in a pony tail, heartburn, upset stomach, etc.). Thanks for this article. I’ll know to be cautious with smell when the time comes.

    1. just tried what you said for the heck of it and almost instantly relief from my headache came. For me I think it might just be certain ones and mixing rose fragrance oil is when i could really notice the headache coming on.Thank you for your input.

  15. I tried Slim & Sassy from doTerra today. Diluted a few drops in water and drank it. Instant migraine. Ugh! I learned the hard way.

    1. Oh, Erin. Sorry to hear that. I have come to question whether EOs should ever be taken internally. Which causes trouble with all my EO-fanatic friends!

    2. the FDA allows MSG and maltodextrin in food and they cause migraines for me. i don’t doubt that there are oils out there that can cause the same. sorry to hear that.

      1. True, there are many things that CAN trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. And that includes natural foods. I have to avoid certain nuts because they are triggers for me.

    3. Diluted Slim n Sassy in water…drank it over 3 hours and had a sudden migraine, auroras followed by tingly numbness.

  16. I’d never been prone to headaches until I started using essential oils. I’ve been staying away from the EO’s for a while and I am hoping I can use one every now and then. I loved them until the headaches started.
    Thank you so much for your post. It’s refreshing to know that I’m not alone in this!

  17. It’s one thing to have a skin sensitivity to a aromatic oil, however when a person becomes more and more sensitive to more and more smell and feels ill and becomes homebound it can be because their immune system is failing them. It is essential to find out why this is happening. I spent 7 years of my life bringing back a young woman who was homebound and only able to eat 4 vegetables, which had to rotated for fear of her not being able to eat anything. As this accelerates the body shuts and becomes deadly toxic. There are small communities of people who live without heat, sit on aluminum foil, eat raw breathe filtered air, drink only highly filtered water and so on.
    Her particular case was having 7 parasites at one time. I caution that there ca be various reasons and not to assume hers as being the only reason. This experience caused me to become a Health Coach because the world is becoming more toxic and I want to help people be health and stay that way.

    1. Thanks, Wizmo. You bring up a good point. One cause of chemical sensitivity can be the immune system. That’s one thing to look at.

  18. Hi Barbra , thank you for your post. I recently bought an EO starter kit along with a bottle of theives EO. I absolutely love the scents & very excited with my new kit & start making blends. i made an immunity blend with theives, frankincense, lemon grass & sweet almond oil as the carrier. I’ve been putting it on the bottom of my feet for 4 days but I’m on day 3 of a terrible headache. It never occurred to me until this morning that it could be the EO , so I googled & found your post. Do you think the oils I used can be the cause for a headache? Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Tina, So sorry you’re having such terrible headaches. But trust your instincts on this one. I can’t be sure, but it’s quite possible that the EOs have caused your headache.

      If you want to confirm (and are brave), give yourself a break for a few days then try the EOs on your feet again. Let us know how it turns out.

  19. I have been getting severe headaches/migraines and feeling sick every day. My grandmother died from a stroke and so I thought that maybe I had something wrong with my brain and had a brain scan. My doctor kept trying to help me with these migraines but nothing seemed to work. At work, we have a girl that some people refer to as “Earth girl” because of the strong rose oil that she wears. I started to realize that this rose oil was triggering the headaches and the nausea. Finally, I asked her to wash some of it off because it was so strong that I thought I was going to be sick. She went to HR on me. HR contacted me and told me that she would continue to wear it because “she had worn it so long that it was a part of who she was”. They moved me to another part of the office. My staff still sits by her so any time I have to talk to them, I have to smell this. Any time she has been in the bathroom or elevator, my headache and nausea return. I am confused. Any thoughts on this. Thanks

    1. Hi Dawn, I am so sorry that you’re having to go through this. I can’t begin to tell you how many stories similar to yours I have heard. All because some people refuse to acknowledge that what they are doing could be harmful to others. I’ve had it happen to me, and even had family members who would not respect my wishes.

      I’ve always thought that if I could break out in hives or some other visible reaction that people might actually begin to ‘get’ it. Migraines, headaches, and even nausea are mostly invisible. (Although, I once had an observant coworker who could tell by looking at me just how bad my head pain was. AND, he could see that it got progressively worse throughout the week.)

      It is really a sad world we live in where hurting someone’s feelings or taking a way “a part of who someone is” is more important than the physical health of another person. As far as I’m concerned, one person’s right to wear any scented product ends where my air space begins.

      The reality of migraines is that they can put you out of commission. So that even if you show up for work, you are likely to be less productive. Furthermore, migraines are a neurological condition and can worsen over time, if you allow them to continue. So it is totally to any employers benefit to reduce or eliminate migraine triggers in their workplace. And perhaps that could be your ammunition when talking to HR? Things like: How much time have you missed because of your migraines? How much has it cost in health care for doctor visits and tests?

      You might even go so far as to ask how much they value you, as an employee. It seems that they are valuing “Earth Girl” more than you. Which isn’t fair to you.

      I wish I had a tried-and-true, bullet-proof answer for you. Perhaps your best bet is to arm yourself with information and then appeal to HR again.

      There have been a few lawsuits. And one in Detroit against the city of Detroit was won. But that’s a long road with no guarantee of success.

      My personal solution has been to work from home. But that isn’t always a possibility and it can be very isolating.

      I wish you the best with this issue. If you would like to chat more, feel free to contact me from my contact page.

  20. OMG… it is true? I’ve thought that only some kinds of the essential oil may cause some allergies, but now some of them even cause some migraines and headaches. I don’t want to spend my money to cause some headaches to myself…. I really have to beware of using it and research more about it. Thanks so much for sharing!

  21. I just recently experimented with a young living oil concoction a friend made for me because I was coughing my head off and had taken steroids and inhalers and all sort of meds with no relief. I took the cough syrup she made, was pretty icky, then I used this other rub on my chest. Also put some in boiling water in pot on stove. Kept thinking I needed to add more because I had boiled a lot of the water out of the pit and couldn’t smell it. Also took Thieves cough lozenges. Ended up win a horrific migraine. Wasn’t coughing or congested anymore but the headache was massive. Found out from my friend that I definitely overdid it with the amounts I used. Plus toxins leaving your body cause headaches. Steroids and other meds the doctor gave me for the illness caused headaches as well. I will just have to try to use less from now on and see which EO is the trigger for headaches. I took another thieves cough drop this morning and ended up with another headache, so not sure about that combination that is in the cough drops. I am all for more natural remedies but hate migraines.

    1. Oh, no, Lisa! Sorry you’re having headaches and migraines. You may want to steer clear of the EOs for a bit. My experience with other migraines triggers is that I become more sensitive for a bit after exposure. Best of luck to you.

  22. Hi Barbara,
    I am for the first time visiting your blog. I am essential oils fan only because I like a nice smell in my home. I don’t have migraines or headaches. I like to use lemon or Lavanda oil. Their smell is great. I think they are healthy.

    1. Thanks, Julia. I don’t know that I’ve said that EOs are unhealthy. They are potent and should be used sparingly, especially for those with sensitivities.

  23. So happy to have found this! I’ve had my migraines pretty well under control the last couple years through diet. I’ve used lavender doterra oil in a diffuser intermittently when I have trouble sleeping and noticed an increase in migraines, especially waking with them. I suspected the oil and then thought I must be crazy and paranoid. Glad I decided to do some research, such a relief that I may have found the culprit!

    1. Hi Molly. So sorry you’re having migraine issues. I’m glad you found this blog post, though. It’s always good to listen to our bodies, right?
      You’re not crazy or paranoid. Essential Oils are highly concentrated and potent products. I believe they should be used sparingly.

  24. Thank you so much for this article. I have been using EO for a 2 days now and just said to a friend, “I’ve had the worst headache for two days in a row.” And now it’s making sense to me. I can almost time it to diffusing EO. High quality, Doterra ones too. So sad. 🙁 All my birthday presents were diffusers and Doterra oils. Boo!

    1. Sorry you’re having a problem with EOs, Kate. I’m sure your oils are high quality. We just need to remember that they are highly concentrated and highly potent.

  25. Hi Barbara,
    I have been using essential oil for a few months and really like them. The peppermint gets rid of headaches instantly and diffusing lavender helps me relax and sleep. The EO’s should never be heated as it changes the chemical composition. I like diffusers as you can control the amount you diffuse in water. We’ve stayed pretty healthy all winter so far, I was thinking that the oils are working as advertised. I was travelling for work for 5 days and caught a nasty cold. I watched a blog by Dr. Axe and he said for cold and flu to take a drop of oregano. So I did, and it was like being kicked the the head by a horse. I don’t know if this headache will pass soon and I’m afraid to take anything else. The label says it’s safe for ingestion but what I think now is that these oils are becoming mainstream and people simply don’t know how to use them and different people can be sensitive to different oils. Thank you for maintaining your blog and I hope that everyone uses oils with care.

    1. Natalie, I do hope your head pain is gone by now. It’s always best to be very conservative when considering oils. And to do lots of homework.

  26. Thanks Barbara for this informative guide. I have not used essential oils yet but I heard a lot of good things about them. Most of the details you provided are new to me and I am glad to know this before buying any EOs.

    1. Thanks Nora. My purpose is not to stop people from buying EOs. Rather I want people to be aware of their power and potency.

  27. Hello Barbara. I have found in the past that I have gotten headaches from strong scents, but realized that the headaches were mental illness related and thought that scents would be fine, and they have been for a while (although very strong chemicals that I’ve used while making art and at my work at a jewellery supply store recently have given me terrible headahces) . I have horrible nightmares and really shallow sleeps, and someone recommended lavender essential oil in a diffuser and said she swears by it and it made her sleep way better and she doesn’t have such vivid dreams. I went out and tbh blew a LOT of money at this lovely EO shop called Saje and felt so good about treating myself and I used one that was just citrus oils when I was at my boyfriend’s house earlier today and it was amazing and I think it really worked. But I came home and tried to use the calming ones which is what I really need and I have a TERRIBLE pressure headaches like someone is pushing really hard at my temples. Might wait awhile and try the citrus one again, but I’m glad I asked about returns!! It’s so relieving to know I’m not the only one and I might just return the stuff I got and get my $120 back hahah!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Augusta. The mind and the nervous system are very delicate and complex. As you’re finding out. I think as EOs come into more use, people are learning more and more about them. For all the good things they may do, they are still very strong, concentrated products that need to be used with caution.

  28. I purchased a diffuser and a couple of oils. I started diffusing one yesterday afternoon, and then continued all day today. I ended up with the worst headache that I have had for a really long time. I finally realized it could be the oil in the diffuser, because nothing else was different, and shut it off. I googled this topic, found your post, and realized I could be very sensitive to the oils (a blend of sandalwood, lemon, and vanilla). My headache is gradually subsiding, as the diffuser has been off for a while now. Thanks for confirming my thoughts — I will have to experiment cautiously.

  29. I work in an office with three or four people who have recently started experimenting with essential oils on themselves as well as their children. I am sensitive to smells especially to perfumes and chemicals. I can’t agree with you more, that their right to wear these as well as strong perfumes should end at my air space. One person comes in loaded with perfume and uses a scentsy melting pot occasionally although she is now limiting the use of this to when I am out of the office. Yesterday, I had to leave work with a bad migraine because a coworker doused herself in these oils. Most companies have or should have rules spelled out in their policy handbooks regarding the use of strong scents in the workplace. I am currently looking into mine. Most co workers are thoughtful enough to stop using the offending smell once they are aware it causes problems for others, but some continue to do so thinking those with issues are just being finicky. Moving to another location is not effective because the offending wearers walk all over the office. I guess it’s time for me to review the policy handbook and bring to the attn of supervisors. Very frustrating to have to deal with, as I would like to be recognized for my work product and not for complaining about an issue such as this.

    1. Bobbi,
      Thanks for visiting. I’m sorry you are having such problems with fragrances in your work place. Good luck.

    2. Oh my heart breaks for you. I hope you can get management to take your complaint seriously. I’m a realtor and I was so afraid someone would get in my car with perfume on and me start vomiting 15 minutes from a migraine. Thankfully that has never happened. I hope all works out for you.

  30. I have three days waking up with very heavy migraine wich didn’t have for more than a year but I started to wonder what might be the trigger and realized I have exactly them three days diffusing a blend of tea tree, eucalyptus and lavender and boy oh boy! Won’t ever do it again. Thank you for this post, very informative.

    1. Janelle, So sorry you are having to endure those migraines. Believe me, I know how you feel. On the other hand – yay, you, for digging to find the answer! Best of luck to you.

      1. I am so glad to know I am not alone. I have had no problems with eons on skin, so I got a diffuser. OMG the migraines!!!

        When the diffuser goes off, they go away. I am generally very healthy and eat very high quality diet. This threw me for a loop. The hard part is my friend is a doterra fanatic and she insists on dousing herself with oils. She insists on bringing her diffuser to my house.

        I have had a terrible year with horrible stress. I am wondering if this could pass eventually for me. Right now I can not be around diffusers with any oil in them.

        On the skin I did not have a problem.

  31. Thank you for this post. So glad to know I am not alone, but also sad to hear so many others have similar issues with sensitivities. I have started experimenting with EOs and have found that I can get headaches or migraines from certain oils. I believe clove oil is the main culprit for me. Even in small amounts diluted on the skin it caused a migraine. I am also sensitive to MSG and some smells. So far I have found lemon, peppermint, lavender and a few others are fine, but am taking it slow and carefully. Thank you for sharing your experience in order to help others.

    1. *Update* After being exposed to Clove oil in small amounts over a few months I no longer get any migraines from it at all! I am wondering if the migraines were from more of a detox type reaction.

  32. I see here a lot of comments and hope for possability to have an answer also, thanks the authors for sharing the information. and my question is – if there are any contraindications for it?thanks!

    1. Heather, i know some oils are more prone to give headaches than others if used too strongly. Ylang ylang is one for instance. I find using them sparingly in diffusers with intermittent sprays can help too. Also size of room has a lot to do with it. Larger rooms tend to disperse the scent more than low ceilings and heavily walled rooms

  33. I wanted to update that i now can use diffusers more than in the past so learning how to use them with right diffusers in right room helps me a lot. In my last post in April, i could not do that.

  34. I, foolishly, got caught up in hope when I walked into a store and they told me the diffuser and peppermint helps headaches… bought it all up, because, hope. Turns out the smells/VOC’s/whatever cause a migraine pretty quickly. I am very sensitive to smells and lights so shouldn’t have known better…. but yes, can confirm, for me at least, that EO’s are triggers for me. I tried the milder roll in on next day… same result. Boo!

    1. So, sorry, Teresa. I understand the hope part. I tried some pretty crazy things when I was having lots of migraines.

      Sometimes it can also depend on the brand of EO. Purity is important. I actually have found some peppermint that I can use, in very small, diluted doses.

  35. I am so glad I found these comments. I am up at 3 in the morning with a splitting headache for the third day in a row. I now know that it is due to rubbing peppermint oil on my feet. I was told it would reduce snoring. My husband did the same thing. We have not been snoring as bad, but I cannot bear this headache. He has been fine.

    1. Suzanne, sorry you’re having this reaction to EOs. I can sympathize. Some of us are very sensitive to these oils. Hope you can find snoring relief w/o headaches.

      1. Thank you Barbara, by the end of the day I was running fever. There should be more warning on the bottles for first time users about possible reactions…or the fact that these oils can be toxic if you use too much. Of course, the bottles are so small, I couldn’t read it anyway! LOL!

        1. The sad news is that the EO industry doesn’t seem to want to admit that there might be a problem. I have good friends who are sell EOs and it’s a topic we just don’t discuss.

  36. hi. i dont know why while i am applying any kind of hair oil i get headache just right after applying it some one said that i maybe having allergies with hair oil

    1. Hi Ehsan, I would suggest checking the ingredients list. It could even be a listing for ‘fragrance’ could be the issue since they don’t tell you what is in the fragrance.

  37. My wife started using oils and they seemed to help her headaches for a couple of days. I can’t be in the same part of the house or my sinuses will swell up and give me a horrible headache and my skin will feel like a mild sunburn. I’ve never had allergic reactions to anything besides poison ivy in my life and I am an avid outdoorsman. Now my wife has had migraines every night for the past week. She’s using Doterra so we know it’s quality oils (or supposed to be).

    1. Hi Roger,
      So sorry to hear about the problems you and your wife are having with essential oils. I’m sure the oils you used are of good quality. The problem is that they are highly concentrated and highly potent. I find there are a few I can use in very small quantities. And there are others I have to stay away from.

  38. Started getting migraines , ?? EO use , and bad effects . I really thought EO could be a natural cure all ,finding more information about how we are effected by even a few drops //your web site sure was an eye opener,thanks .

  39. I have a recently hired co-worker who occasionally uses oils in something that creates a significant aroma in the workplace. Fortunately I have a door to my office, so I can close it if I catch the scent quickly. However, I do need to exit my office for meetings, etc. and a couple of the oils (not all) cause sinus congestion combined with a headache. One particular aroma causes severe sinus and chest congestion for me. I learned the hard way to leave the office when this particular (I’ll have to ask which one) oil is used – as the first time it occurred, I attempted to tough it out and regretted it for 2 days afterwards.
    I’ll have to gently approach my co-worker on this; don’t want to cause an issue, but don’t want my day impacted negatively either by the use of the oils that cause the issues.

  40. hi – so glad i came across this page – the last 2 nights i have used my diffuser with a blend that has 2 drops of patchouli in it – both times i have woken with the most ghastly nauseated stomach on the verge of vomiting and the worst headache imaginable – have unplugged the diffuser immediately and 30-40 minutes later everything is starting to settle – so no more diffuser on and falling asleep to it for me and definately no more patchouli in my blends in the bedroom – not game to try it even through the day at the moment – darn it because i am a soap maker into the bargain – what to do what to do

    1. Hi, Elizabeth. So sorry that you are having this problem. It stinks. But I am glad you found this post to help you determine the source of your headache. Headaches are certainly no fun. I know because I have had my share, plus I think I have had several other people’s shares as well.

      So you’re a soap maker? Here’s an idea: There are lots of people that have issues with EOs and fragrances. And they (and by “they” I mean “me” 😉 ) are always in search of nice soaps that do NOT have EOs and fragrances in them.

  41. I just joined a company to build a business around essential oils. They are certified pure therapeutic grade and safe to use topically, aromaticly and ingested (most of them….the hot oils and are different(. I have found that lemon gives me a massive headache for about 5 hours. And one of our blends that has lemon in it gives me a headache. So far none of the other ones do.

    1. Hi Andrea,
      Sorry to hear about your headache. You didn’t mention how you used it, that could play a role on your reaction. You might want to be careful with them until you know for sure.

  42. Hi

    Ive been trialling doterra oils for the last week and feel very migrainey! i just woke up middle of the night its now 349am and wanted to google if eo’s cause headaches and voila here is yuor post! ive always been the exception to the rule and i think i join the ranks here ! i was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year so have a poor autoimmune disease , at least i tried it i guess…. but not for me! disappointing as they are such an ethical company with quality eo’s. Im just too sensitive!

    1. Hi Samantha,
      I’m glad you found this post so you have an answer.

      On the other hand, I’m sorry that you had to go looking for it. If it helps, you are clearly not alone in being sensitive to EOs. but I believe any time a migraine is triggered it impacts your nervous system. In ways that may not be fully understood.

      Take care!

  43. I too was excited but reluctant about the oils. I don’t usually have a sensitivity to scents but my mom has gotten migraines for years from nearly anything scented, my daughter as well. I grew up in an essentially scent less home. So the first day my coworker brought her diffuser and oils to work because she was sick and wanted to prevent others from getting sick I thought I was crazy that almost right away my throat got scratchy, nose runny, and within minutes I had a headache. I eventually decided I must be getting sick already anyway, but when the diffuser stops my symptoms gradually dissipate. Then come back when it starts up again. I still decided it’s just me. Until it happened 3 days in a row! And when I go home I’m fine. I’m so frustrated and don’t know how to handle the situation. She has the best of intentions and everyone else loves it.

  44. Everybody is talking about essential oils, but I think I am allergic to my Tea Tree Oil toothpaste. I have had a headache every day for a week since I start using it. Tonight I brushed my teeth. Had a headache and took some pain pills. Headache went a way. About an hour later, I had to brush my teeth again because I decided to eat a snack before bed. Ten minutes later my headache came back. So I now realize it is my toothpaste. I am going to try it one more time in the morning and I am pretty sure it will confirm my suspicions. Could this be possible from a toothpaste?

    1. Hi Teresa. So sorry for your headaches. Sadly, the “Tea Tree” in your toothpaste is tea tree oil – an essential oil. These EOs are highly concentrated. Even a few drops added in toothpaste can be a problem for those of us who are sensitive.

  45. Hello. I recently started using YL peppermint oil because a friend recommended it for headaches. It seemed to help the first few times I got small headaches. Then, bam, I’ve had a migraine for seven days. Could it be it seemed to help for tension headaches but caused the migraine? Or does it seem unrelated since it actually seemed to help originally? I do get menstrual migraines but they never last this long. How long does the peppermint stay in the system?

    1. Hi April,
      I’m so sorry you’re experiencing headaches and migraines. I hope that the migraine is gone soon. Please remember that it if it is severe and lasts for more than a few days you should consider seeking medical help. Migraines can be serious so be sure to take care of yourself.

      I wish I had all the answers for you. I think we just learn more as time goes on and we get more data from people.

      My guess, based on personal experience, is that it could possibly be the peppermint oil. But there are other possibilities, such as hormonal changes. Especially since you have had menstrual migraines in the past. (BTW, I got those for a brief period of time. I somehow deduced that they were related to b.c. pills so I stopped taking them and Poof! No more menstrual migraines.)

      Whatever the cause, I would go easy on the peppermint oil. Are you using it full strength or diluting it? I found that, since EOs are so potent, it works better to dilute them.

      Good luck with this. Keep us posted if you figure out a solution.

  46. My teacher is diffusing peppermint oil in the classroom, causing me to have a migraine. I can not work in an environment causing me Migraines and Headaches. What should I do???

    1. Hi Lauryn, I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this problem. I know from personal experience that you can’t do well in school with a migraine. Your best bet is to talk with the teacher, but you’ll have to determine the right approach for that teacher. The teacher needs to understand that your migraine is a real problem. Best of luck to you!

  47. I think everyone is unique in what they like and dislike and what they can handle and cannot handle. It seems this blog is all about the hate and dislike of EO’s. To each their own. I for one have been helped immensely by them. Some I cannot stand, some make me sick and some are the best thing that ever happened to me.

  48. I’m here because I found that every time I use Air Wick Essential Oils (Specifically Lavender) plug-in in my bedroom, it triggers migraines in me every single day it’s in here. I take it out and the migraines cease. That’s more than correlation, that’s definite causation. I won’t be using it anymore to help me sleep. I’ve got to figure out an alternative. Thanks for the info. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one this is happening to, but still upset that I can’t use these oils without triggering terrible migraines.

  49. Hello, I have MCS due to chemical exposures in a toxic apartment. I moved and now live without common walls but still react to odors and toxins. I was using peppermint oil on my tongue for a long time but my tongue became inflamed. I switched to coconut oil for oil pulling.
    I can hardly go into public buildings due to perfumes, colognes- and the air fresheners, germicides etc, blasted by their air systems. I have to recover afterwards.
    I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to make this situation more tolerable.
    A. F. Battershell

    1. Sadly, avoidance is the only thing I have found that makes the situation more tolerable.

      I have seen improvement – as in milder reactions – since I have been avoiding more and more places with high levels of chemicals. On the other hand, though, I never wanted to be a hermit.

  50. Actually, using peppermint oil has caused severe headaches for me. Other EOs are fine such as rosemary or lavender. But peppermint oil appears to be my nemesis.

    “The only certainty is uncertainty” for all those who claim there JUST CAN’T be anything wrong EVER with essential oils.

    1. Hi Bill,

      I like that one – “The only certainty is uncertainty”
      Very true.
      EOs are natural, they can’t harm you.

  51. I bought a diffuser because I love the scent of orange oil. I bought a starter pack with 6 different oils and decided to be brave and added some eucalyptus and rosemary to the orange – BIG MISTAKE.

    Scents are a big thing for me. I love getting flowers, but smelling them causes my throat to feel like it’s closing up… just like today with the diffused eucalyptus and rosemary.

    I once had someone tell me “That’s your body’s way of saying you need to be exposed to it.” Right. My body shuts down because it needs more exposure to the substance shutting it down.

    I’m already regretting buying this diffuser. I’ll see if I can tolerate some of the other scents, otherwise maybe I’ll gift it to my mom for Christmas. (Anything to get her away from the awful Scentsy smells!)

    1. So sorry you are having this problem, Caroline. I think people may mean well when they tell you need more exposure to something that shuts you down. Or maybe they just want to believe it?

      I think EOs should come with a warning label, don’t you?

  52. I have been putting eucalyptus on the bottom of my feet at night just one drop per foot mixed with a carrier oil. I have been getting a headache everytime. i am thinking it is the eucalyptus. I am the type of person that very rarely gets a headache.

  53. I switched to using a natural soap that contained eucalyptus oil in late October. I used the soap through November: during the 30 days of the month I experienced 26 migraine or migraine related headaches. I went through 9 Imitrex doses in the first two weeks. Although I’ve been suffering from migraines for approx. 45 years (since I was 8), this was the worst stretch of my life. Absolutely miserable. I thought I knew all of my triggers. After 2 days of giving up the soap I am headache-free. Live and learn. As many migraine sufferers know, different triggers, at different times, in different combinations can set off these beastly headaches. I’ve gotten migraines when I’m occasionally ultra-sensitive from the following: a whiff of perfume or cologne, mouthwash with artificial sweetener (saccharin) through sublingual absorbsion, scented candles, potpourri, the smell of smoke from a fire, and others. Those who have never experienced a migraine think I’m joking. If they only knew how bad they really are.

    1. Wes, So sorry you have to deal with this. I know too well what you’re going through. I have had my own cooking trigger a migraine. Along with bright sunshine and wavy lines in computer screens that my husband couldn’t even see! And more, like you. Glad you figured it out though! The issue with the essential oils is that they are highly concentrated and so a little goes a loooong way.

  54. I have gotten migraine HA from many candles and and home “plug in” fragrances. I agree the trigger is VOCs in EOs. But, I love a nice smelling home. Are there and products that are safe for migraineurs ?

  55. Thank you for this blog post, Barbara. Both my husband I experienced migraines from essential oils. I am sensitive to fragrance and have not used any thing scented on my person or in my home for decades. I wanted to try lavender EO based on studies showing it’s benefit to the sleep cycle. Against my better judgement, I bought an inexpensive diffuser. It was in a room with the door shut. My husband didn’t even know I’d bought the EO and was testing it. Within 5 minutes, he was saying he had a terrific headache. I did sleep in the room with the EO that night and found myself with a migraine by morning. My husband’s migraine had gotten pretty bad by then. So I told him about the EO and stopped diffusing. The next day I tried putting a couple of drops on a cotton ball for passive diffusion, in case the diffuser was the culprit by emitting VOCs or just too much of the EO. However, within a few minutes a familiar migraine started. I tried both lemon oil and lavender from a very reputable EO company. I am sad to say that I cannot tolerate EOs in my home at all. Thank you for giving everyone who has experienced a migraine after EO use an opportunity to know that we are not alone.

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