Peppermint oil has been used for centuries to treat health conditions, including headaches. Proponents claim that in addition to peppermint's pleasant flavor and scent, its bracing qualities are therapeutic. A few modern research studies have examined the effectiveness of peppermint oil for headaches.
Peppermint Oil Massage
Peppermint oil can be gently dabbed or massaged on the skin or scalp near the area of headache pain. One of the only scientific experiments done to determine the effectiveness of peppermint oil headache relief was published in the June 1994 headache journal "Cephalgia." When a peppermint oil and alcohol preparation was applied to the forehead and temples of 32 volunteers and compared to other preparations, there was a reported improvement of headache symptoms with this combination compared to other solutions. However, rigorous research studies have not been conducted to date to confirm these findings.
Peppermint Oil Scent
An experiment testing the effects of the aroma of peppermint oil was published in the January 2008 issue of "International Journal of Neuroscience." The researchers found that the aroma of peppermint led to improved memory and alertness, feelings that people often associate with headache relief. However, headache relief was not specifically evaluated in this study.
Peppermint oil can be inhaled in a concentrated or milder form. Exact doses and concentrations have not been well established, and it is reasonable to decide for yourself how strong you prefer the fragrance. However, it is best to discuss safety with your doctor, especially if you have a lung condition.
Peppermint Oil as an Ingredient
Peppermint oil is a flavoring in tea, gum, candy and desserts, and a common ingredient in bath and body products. While there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these uses of peppermint oil for headaches, the pleasant taste, aroma or relaxing experience may help relieve stress in some people.
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Peppermint Oil
- United States Department of Agriculture: Uses of Mint
- Cephalgia: Effect of Peppermint and Eucalyptus Oil Preparations on Neurophysiological and Experimental Algesimetric Headache Parameters
- International Journal of Neuroscience: Modulation of Cognitive Performance and Mood by Aromas of Peppermint and Ylang-Ylang
- USDA: Specialty Plant Products Essential Oils Widely Used in Flavors and Fragrance
- Phytotherapy Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Olfactometric Evaluation of Different Concentrations of Ethanol Peppermint Oil Solutions
Dr. Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and author of "Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine," a career guide for physicians. Dr. Moawad teaches human physiology and Global Health at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio