If you suffer from frequent headaches but feel a bit squeamish about dosing yourself with potent headache medicine, you know what a conundrum it can be. Here are 8 natural headache remedies to help soothe your pain.
Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, are the most common type of headaches among adults. In fact, up to 80% of adults get them from time to time, and 3% even report getting them daily [source]. Eeek!
Headaches are my nemesis. In college, I used to get pounding headaches that would last for days. I cringe thinking of all the pills I popped and the time I spent holed up in my room with the shades drawn tight to keep the light out. Since then, I’ve learned that most of them were caused by sinus and allergy issues.
Now I treat a headache as my little warning sign—it’s telling me to stop and pay attention because I’m most likely dealing with allergies and congestion, or I’m stressed out and anxious—things I can remedy before the pain gets too intense.
8 Secret Weapons for Stopping a Headache
One of the biggest headache remedies of all time is simply to drink more water. People consistently say this, but it turns out it’s actually true. This type of headache is just your body letting you know that you’re dehydrated [source].
2. Peppermint Massage
Peppermint essential oil is great for a tension headache. I find that these headaches usually happen when I’m stressed or have been staring at the phone or computer for too long.
So take a break from the screens and give yourself a quick massage. Dilute 5 drops of peppermint oil with 1 tablespoon of almond oil, and rub the mixture onto your temples and the base of your neck.
According to a 2015 review of published studies on the action of essential oils, peppermint can help reduce pain and ease tension, both of which can soothe your headache [source]. Not only is the aroma relaxing, but peppermint is anti-inflammatory and will help dilate blood vessels to improve blood flow. This works for stress headaches, not migraines.
If I feel like sinus issues are causing the headache, then I’ll add eucalyptus oil to help with congestion. You can mix both with a bit of oil and give yourself a head massage.
3. Magnesium Bath
I was curious about magnesium after reading about my friend’s success with it for migraines. Turns out, this mineral helps relax nerves that transmit pain impulses to the brain and also soothes internal inflammation [source].
Magnesium is sometimes recommended to frequent migraine sufferers to help prevent recurring episodes [source]. It is thought that magnesium affects changes in blood vessels in the brain, helping to relieve the pain and inflammation associated with headaches [source].
You can either take magnesium in supplement form, like Natural Calm, or simply eat more magnesium-rich foods. If you choose the latter option, try incorporating more leafy greens such as spinach, chard, and kale into your diet. Or you can also eat more pumpkin seeds, yogurt, almonds, black beans, and avocados to get a magnesium boost.
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to get more magnesium is with an Epsom salts bath. You’ll absorb a significant amount of magnesium through your skin with a nightly bath of 2 cups Epsom salts and 1/2 cup baking soda, along with a few drops of soothing lavender essential oil.
4. Hot foot soak
Another hydrotherapy option is a hot foot bath. Putting your feet in hot water dilates the blood vessels in your feet and constricts the blood flow to the head [source]. To help further draw blood away from your head, wrap an ice pack in a dish towel and place it on your forehead, temples, or the back of your neck.
Soak your feet for 20 minutes, adding more water when needed to keep it hot. Putting in a tablespoon or two of mustard powder will help remove toxins through the feet. After the 20 minutes are up, run cold water over your feet, dry them off, and go lie down in a quiet place with your eyes closed for an additional 15 minutes.
5. Ginger Tea (or Coffee)
I’ll admit that one of the first things I try when I feel a headache coming on is a bit of caffeine. In fact, clinical trials have shown that caffeine can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches [source]. But don’t go overboard, because coffee and other caffeinated beverages will dehydrate you, leading you back to tip #1!
If a little caffeine doesn’t help, try a cup of ginger tea. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory that’s long been used to fight headaches and nausea [source].
Simply grate one 2-inch piece of ginger root and steep in 8 ounces of boiling water for 15 minutes. You can also add the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of honey to make ginger-lemon tea. Sip throughout the day until headache symptoms have subsided.
6. Fish Oil
Some studies show that taking fish oil supplements may help reduce migraines and head pain, thanks in part to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids [source].
The omega-3s in fish oil and other natural sources help reduce inflammation, prevent blood clotting, and lower blood pressure—and this, in turn, may help to reduce head pain caused by inflammation and pinched nerves [source].
7. Cayenne Pepper
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, is believed to bring headache relief by directly affecting the neurotransmitters responsible for sending pain signals to the brain [source]. Cayenne pepper is also said to equalize blood pressure in the body, which relieves pressure in your head.
Most studies suggest that the capsaicin needs to be applied topically to the nose in order to be effective [source]. To do this, you can buy capsaicin cream or make a simple mixture of cayenne with water.
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 ounces warm water
- Cotton swabs
Dilute ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper in 4 ounces of warm water. Use a cotton swab to stir the solution and to prevent the powder from immediately sinking to the bottom. Make sure to mix this well.
Once the cotton swab is immersed in the cayenne mixture, apply a very tiny amount to the inner rim of each nostril. It will sting at first! But if you’re patient enough to wait until the sting subsides, you should also notice the headache pain has subsided as well.
Then drink the rest of the water with some lemon or honey.
Our overworked, tired bodies often react to chronic stress by tensing up, and the muscles go into spasm, creating tension headaches [source]. Luckily, a little stretching can help to release the tension and relieve headache pain.
Doing basic yoga moves as soon as the pain starts up can help, but it’s best to set aside a few minutes every day to practice yoga before the headaches even start.
What natural ways have you found to stop a headache?
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified pediatrician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.46
Thanks for the post, I just started having migraines two years ago in my 50s. Maybe hormones but just the same, but it was with auras and those are scary as heck. I’ve had 4 total, one two days ago and it affects vision but not panicking is key. The meditation helped. Thanks for the tips.
Great tips! Gotta love Peppermint and Eucalyptus oils. I find myself getting headaches in the afternoon if I overindulge on caffeine in the morning. I always know it's time to fill up the water bottle and get to drinking. Cayenne pepper? That's so interesting. Good to know.
I attend a chiropractor on a regular base (once every 6 weeks). It works very well for tension headaches.
Cojo Graab says
I’m having headaches very often and I know that taking pills too often is bad for your body. I have never thought about the natural ways of fighting with it! Tahnk you for this post, I will definitely try it next time it happens:)
Grace | The Big Reveal says
Great suggestions! My go to remedy is usually a cup of coffee, but lately I have been having so much coffee, I think it might just be the cause of the headaches:(
Coffee is definitely my first go-to for a headache. Next up is water and acupressure in the space between thumb and the rest of the hand.
Glad I’m not the only one who tries coffee first! :) And I need to try the acupressure, glad you mentioned that!
Ack! I can’t believe I forgot one of the easiest home remedies and one I just used a few minutes ago to help abort a migraine: ice at the base of the neck. I have been told that you should use it for no more than five minutes at a time. If you catch the migraine early enough, this can abort it pretty quickly. To make this process easier, I fill a paper cup with water and put it in the freezer ahead of time. It’s much easier to hold onto the cup than the ice (I have arthritis). I peel back the cup as I use it and put it back in the freezer once I’m finished. Some people find using ice on the forehead to work better than the back of the neck. You’ll need to see which one works best for you. You may find that one works better one time and the other the next. Good luck!
You forgot four of my favorites — these are specific to migraines:
1) For those get auras, tea made with chrysanthemum flowers can help abort them. Let the tea steep for about 5 minutes before drinking it.
2) A daily dose of 400mg of Riboflavin and 360mg of Magnesium for six months will cut the number of migraines you get in half. It will not change the intensity of migraines but for those of us who suffer from frequent migraines, this can be a godsend. You must take this daily and it will take six months before you see an effect so hang in there if you decide to try this. I can tell you from personal experience that this does work and there are studies to back this up. There are 400mg tablets of Riboflavin available on the market if you don’t like taking lots of pills or your can take something like Migrelief that has it all rolled into two pills a day (this is what my neurologist suggested to me).
4) Mindful meditation can help decrease the number of migraines and intensity of them if practiced daily. I’ve also used it to help abort a migraine in early phases. I imagine this one works with other types of headaches than migraines! :-)
3) Migraine alert dog! And no, I’m not joking. These are real. The dog can be trained to alert to the biochemical change long before you start to have an aura or feel pain. Once you know one is coming, you can start the process of aborting it before it becomes a problem. And, of course, once you have the migraine, the dog can help out in other ways (leading you to bed, if your vision is impaired, turning off the lights, bringing you medication/essential oils/whatever else you use, bringing you water, etc.
Hope this helps give someone relief!
Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies says
I’m so glad you wrote this post! I bought a bottle of peppermint oil and it scared me a little bit. I wasn’t sure if I needed to dilute it or if I put it on my skin, it would burn a hole in it… um yeah, I’m a little bit clueless. I am learning so much from your blog lately! (Oh, and thanks for the shout out too!)
Ha! I’m the opposite – clueless enough to try putting anything directly on my skin (and usually my face). You seem to have pretty sensitive skin so if it bothers you then I’d stick with diluting it.
caroline [the diy nurse] says
I love this. I used to suffer from migraines majorly. Things have slowed down now that I’m not as stressed but this is great to have in my back pocket. Bath and body works used to sell a small tube that had a roller in it. I’d roll it on my neck where my tension was most and always loved how nice it worked. Now that I think about it, it was probably peppermint oil!
It’s so interesting how much stress affects us physically – I can always tell I’m stressed because I’ll get a stomach ache! But I’m glad you’re feeling better – and that the peppermint helped!
Thanks for these home remedies. As I don’t like taking medication, I usually just take a nap! And hopefully when I wake up, the headache will be gone…
So true! Napping is always a good natural remedy :)
I have to try these the next time when I get headaches. Thank you for the tips!