Which essential oils can soothe tension headaches?

4 min to read
Karen Williams
Which essential oils can soothe tension headaches?

4 Essential oils backed by science in a DIY tension headache inhaler.

While science isn't exactly sure what causes headaches, it's known that stress can play a roll.

Tension headaches can set in if emotional stress causes your muscles to tense up—especially the muscles of your neck and shoulders. Sometimes that tension radiates up into your scalp, and soon enough your head is pounding with a steady ache.

So for this inhaler recipe, I'm using essential oils rich in components that help in two ways:

  • Calm emotional stress

  • Release muscle tension

Two of the main components in this blend are α-pinene and d-limonene. I'll tell you more about them after the recipe!

Frankincense & Lemon Tension Headache Inhaler

Calm emotional stress, and release muscle tension.

  • 6 drops Frankincense Oil (Boswellia carterii)

  • 5 drops Lemon Oil (Citrus limon)

  • 2 drops Catnip Oil (Nepeta cataria)

  • 2 drops Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin)

  • Blank inhaler with a cotton or polyester wick

  • Slide the wick into the inhaler.

  • Drop the essential oils right onto the wick.

  • Snap the plastic bottom into place.

Making an inhaler is simple—even if you're new to it!

There are reusable inhalers with glass vials to hold the essential oils. You can also get disposable plastic inhalers with absorbent cotton inserts. Just drop your essential oils onto the cotton, snap the bottom of the inhaler into place, and that's it! You're ready to breathe.

Here's a video about this recipe!

About these essential oils for tension headaches

Frankincense essential oil (Boswellia carterii)

Frankincense contains a high percentage of α-pinene.

I mentioned this component above. It's a naturally occurring monoterpene molecule, and it's been shown to calm inflammation, so we know it can ease pain. α-Pinene also helps release tight muscles.

Frankincense is also famous for its ability to center the mind—meaning it brings you to a state of peace, undistracted by worries. This benefit has made it a staple of ceremonies, rituals, and meditations for thousands of years.

It's also why frankincense is one of my favorite essential oils for tension headaches. (We even wrote a whole blog post about using Frankincense for headaches! (Check it out and get a roll-on recipe!)

Lemon essential oil (Citrus limon)

Lemon's bright, fruity aroma naturally makes people smile!

Science points to the component d-limonene, which can genuinely help you feel happier by soothing psychological stress. The more you're mentally and emotionally calm, the more your muscles relax.

Lemon (and d-limonene) can reduce inflammation and spasms in muscles too, making it perfect for a tension headache inhaler.

Catnip essential oil (Nepeta cataria)

Whenever I mention catnip for soothing aches and pains, such as headaches, I often get looks of surprise. I understand! Catnip is more often associated with kitties.

But it's also a traditional herb for calming stress.

And it's full of nepetalactone, which studies show to have inflammation-soothing effects. I love using catnip oil for neck and shoulder massages, sometimes even working my fingertips up into my scalp.

Patchouli essential oil (Pogostemon cablin)

Patchouli oil contains a component called patchoulol that isn't found in any other essential oil!

Patchoulol is a natural sesquiterpenol molecule that can soothe pain. One way it potentially does this is by inhibiting the enzyme COX-1, which is involved in the body's inflammatory reaction.

If you're familiar with patchouli, you may also be aware of its reputation for peace and tranquility. You'll find that a lot of oils that ease physical inflammation can also calm emotions. It's a beautiful expression of the mind-body relationship. Patchouli is a great example!

I hope you never have a need for this recipe.

But if you do, I hope it helps you feel like yourself again!


Aydin, S., Beis, R., Ozturk, Y., Husnu, K., Baser, K.H. (1998) Nepetalactone: a new opioid analgesic from Nepeta caesarea Boiss. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology Jul; 50(7):813-7.

Guimarães AG, Quintans JSS, Quintans-Júnior LJ. (2013) Monoterpenes with analgesic activity – a systematic review. Phytotherapy Research 27,1-15.

Ito K, Ito M. (2011) Sedative effects of vapor inhalation of the essential oil of Microtoena patchouli and its related compounds. Journal of Natural Medicine 65, 2, 336-43.

Lima, N.G., de Souza, D.P., Pimenta, F.C., Alves, M.F., de Souza, F.S., (2012a) Anxiolytic-like activity and GC-MS analysis of (R)-(+)-limonene fragrance, a natural compound found in foods and plants. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 103, 450-454.

Raharjo, S.J. and Fatchiyah, F. (2013) Virtual screening of compounds from the patchouli oil of Pogostemom herba for COX-1 inhibition. Bioinformation 9, 6, 321-324.

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About the author

Karen Williams - Aromahead Institute

Karen Williams

R.N. Certified Aromatherapist, Educator

I love to create amazing blends that inspire and promote a healthier lifestyle. I got my start many years ago as a registered nurse working in the hospital system. I wanted to help people more holistically. Then, I discovered essential oils, and my approach to life changed forever. Now, I’ve made it my mission to share what I’ve learned about aromatherapy with my friends, family, and the world. Because - life is so much better with health, happiness, and community.

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