For some women, period cramps may just cause temporary discomfort. But for others, it can be so painful that it interferes with work, school, and other activities.
Can essential oils help with period cramps? Read on to find out the possible benefits, risks, and more.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for menstrual cramps. Primary dysmenorrhea is the name for the common period cramps that you get again and again in the absence of other problems in the pelvis like endometriosis or infection. This pain typically starts one or two days before you get your period, and can last for 12 to 72 hours. You may also have symptoms like fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Throughout your menstrual cycle, a chemical called prostaglandin makes your uterus contract to help get rid of its lining. More severe period cramps are linked to higher levels of prostaglandins.
Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to painful periods due to problems with your reproductive organs. Some of these conditions include:
- Fibroids. These are benign growths on the inside or outside of your uterus.
- Adenomyosis. This is a condition in which cells similar to the lining of your uterus grows into the uterus muscle. It causes your uterus to be enlarged.
- Endometriosis. In this condition, tissue similar to the lining of your uterus (endometrium) is found outside your uterus.
- Cervical stenosis. This is when you have a narrow cervix, which is the opening to your uterus.
Around 45% of women have moderate to severe period cramps. A study of 17-year-old to 19-year-old students in the U.S. found that 13% have severe pain in more than half of their periods.
Essential Oils for Period Cramps
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. They’re made by steaming or pressing parts of plants.
Different essential oils are said to be beneficial for various conditions like:
Researchers have found that massage therapy may help reduce the severity of period cramps. But massage with essential oils saw a greater reduction of pain.
Lavender essential oil. Lavender essential oil is linked to a reduction of painful period cramps. A study of 80 women with primary dysmenorrhea found that those who had massage with lavender oil had significantly improved pain levels compared to those who had massage with a placebo oil.
Combined essential oil. Women who were given aromatherapy abdominal massages had significantly less period cramps after the treatment compared to those given abdominal massages with just almond oil. The essential oils used were two drops of lavender, one drop of clary sage, and one drop of rose in 5 cubic centimeters of almond oil.
Another trial used abdominal massage with a mix of essential oils including cinnamon, clove, rose, and lavender in almond oil. The level and duration of period pains, as well as the amount of bleeding, were significantly lower in the group who received essential oil massage compared to those who had abdominal massage with a placebo oil.
Rose essential oil. A study found that women with primary dysmenorrhea who were given aromatherapy with rose essential oil had less period pain than those who didn’t.
Risks of Essential Oils
Possible interactions with drugs. There have been few studies on essential oil and drug interactions. Experts say because of the complex nature of essential oils, it’s possible that this may happen. Talk to your doctor before using essential oils.
Application. Some essential oils are safe if inhaled, but may cause irritation if applied to your skin. Some examples include thyme, clove, cinnamon bark, and oregano.
Dosage. Lab and animal studies have found that high doses of some essential oils may cause tumors and other harmful changes. If not used properly, some essential oils may also damage your liver, skin, and other organs.
How to Use Essential Oils for Period Cramps
Test it out. Before trying a new essential oil, do a skin test first:
- Mix a very small amount of essential oil and carrier at twice the concentration you plan on using.
- Apply one or two drops onto the pad of a bandage and apply the bandage to the inside of your forearm.
- After 48 hours, remove the bandage and check for irritation.
- If your skin under or around the bandage becomes itchy, swollen, red, or develops blisters, you should avoid using that essential oil on your skin.
Use a carrier oil. When applying essential oils directly to your skin, dilute them with a carrier oil first. A carrier oil is a different oil that you add the essential oil to. This will prevent any skin irritation. Common carrier oils are cold-pressed oils that don’t have strong smells, like jojoba oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil.
The general rule is that essential oils should be diluted at no greater concentration than 3% to 5%. This means for each teaspoon (5 milliliters) of carrier oil, you use 3 drops of pure essential oil.
If you want to use the essential oil for massage, use a 1% solution. This means one drop of essential oil for every 1 teaspoon of carrier oil. If you’re using water as a carrier, shake your solution well before applying.
Quality essential oils. Essential oils are mostly unregulated. When buying essential oils, choose good quality oils. Some things to look out for include:
- 100% essential oils. Make sure the oils you buy don’t have added ingredients or synthetic oils.
- Sold in dark glass bottles. Light and plastic can damage essential oils. Quality essential oils are usually packaged in bottles that hold 4 ounces or less.
- Information about the source. Buy from manufacturers that specify the plant part used, as well as the plant’s botanical (Latin) name.