Why your decor is giving you a migraine – literally – and design tips to stop the pain

Migraine experts say these design switches can help you stop getting painful headaches

green living room with pink chairs
(Image credit: Future PLC)

When Dulux recently released its 'migraine colour palette', we were intrigued. Could our living room colour schemes or bedroom walls really help reduce our risk of the throbbing head, visual disturbances and other symptoms associated with migraines? 

'It’s been clear through the years that colours that reconnect us with nature, such as delicate chalky blues, soft stone greys and misty greens, instantly make us feel calm and less hemmed in by our four walls,' says Marianne Shillingford, creative director and colour expert at Dulux.

'Research of migraine sufferers by the National Migraine Centre and Dulux also found that colours with these same natural characteristics were identified as "migraine friendly". 

Marianne Shillingford Creative Director
Marianne Shillingford

Marianne is a decorating expert who is passionate about the power of colour to change lives. As well as her current role as Creative Director at Dulux, she is the founder of the Colour in Design Award, which encourages a new generation of color-forward design talent.

Skipping Stones

(Image credit: Dunn-Edwards)

The Dulux findings are backed up by other research into the influence of colour and light on migraines.

'There have been some studies that have looked at the impact of colour on those who experience migraine, such as this one that focused on responses in migraine patients to different coloured lights,' explains Kate Sanger, head of policy and communications at The Migraine Trust

'It found that white, blue, amber and red lights exacerbate migraine headache in a significantly larger percentage of patients and to a greater extent compared to green light. Indeed, green light therapy for migraine is an emerging area of research. These insights tend to focus on coloured light, rather than simply environmental tones, however.'

If you think that colour can't make that much difference, it's worth noting that The Migraine Trust has 'Calm Mode' on its website, which will reduce the saturation and intensity of colours if you find them too bright.

What happens when our decor gives us a migraine

tranquil home office desk in front of window with chair

(Image credit: Graham & Green)

It does appear that certain colours, patterns and even the amount and type of light in a room can trigger migraines in those who are sensitive.

'Anecdotally, we hear from our communities that bright or harshly contrasting colours and patterns can be jarring for some, and may be tied to migraine symptoms,' explains Debbie Shipley, head of support services at The Migraine Trust. 'Whether exposure to such colours and patterns triggers a migraine attack, or whether increased light sensitivity in the lead-up to an attack is at play, is not always clear.'

Migraines can trigger a range of different symptoms. 'Migraine is a complex neurological condition, and people may experience head pain, problems with sight such as seeing flashing lights, being very sensitive to light, sounds and smells, and feeling sick and being sick,' Debbie continues.

'Ultimately, response to colour and pattern in people with migraine is very much an individual experience but decorating with more muted or neutral tones is a safe bet. Additionally, opting for matte finishes, rather than high-gloss variations, can reduce the amount of glare from both artificial and natural light, which can be a migraine trigger.'

Anti-migraine colour palette

bedroom with pale pink walls and blue marbled bedding George Home

(Image credit: George Home)

Put down the painkillers and pick up a paint brush – these are the colours that can help prevent migraines occurring, according to the National Migraine Centre.

Soft grey: 'This gentle hue promotes relaxation and aids in reducing stress, perfect for winding down after a long day,' explains Dulux color expert, Marianne Shillingford. Create a grey bedroom in shades of dove, pebble, oyster, or deep storm cloud, to soothe your head and aid sleep.

Peaceful green: It's known that nature-related colours are 'migraine friendly', and green is the ultimate natural hue. A green living room or green kitchen will help to bring the outside into your living space, creating a calm environment that is less likely to trigger a migraine attack. Or as Marianne says: 'Breathe easy with this serene colour that creates a sense of tranquility, helping to ease tension and promote a peaceful atmosphere.'

Gentle blue: 'Bring a refreshing touch to your space with this cool shade,' says Marianne. 'It's proven to minimise light sensitivity and provide a soothing, migraine-friendly environment.' Its association with the tranquillity of water makes blue a great option for bathrooms.

Serene pink: 'Embrace tranquillity and add a touch of serenity to your life with calming shades of pink, which also help to reduce light sensitivity,' Marianne says. For migraine sufferers decorating with pink, choosing this rosy and uplifting hue could be a great option for a home office.

Which colour is most likely to help stop a headache happening for you?


What colours cause migraines?

Studies show that bright and saturated colours, such as red, amber, strong blue and pure white are more likely to trigger migraines than gentler, natural colours, such as soft blues, greys, pinks and greens.

What patterns cause migraines?

Migraine sufferers report that zigzags, stripes and strongly contrasting colours and patterns can trigger symptoms.

Do artificial lights trigger migraines?

Glaring light, whether it's artificial or natural, can cause migraines. For this reason, Debbie Shipley from The Migraine Trust recommends choosing matte finishes rather than gloss when decorating, to reduce the amount of light bounced around the room.

'Sitting under intense, bright light or being exposed to a flicker effect can also cause headaches, fatigue and migraines,' says lighting expert Michael Meiser, president of Lumilum.

If you're a migraine suffer, factor this advice into your next design project and see if it helps.

Andrea Childs

Andrea began her journalism career at Ideal Home and is currently Editor of our sister title, Country Homes & Interiors, which celebrates modern country style. Andrea is passionate about colour and how it can transform both our homes and our sense of wellbeing, and has completed The Power of Colour course with the prestigious KLC School of Design. Andrea's career spans interiors magazines, women's lifestyle titles and newspapers. After her first job at Ideal Home, she moved on to women's magazines, Options and Frank. From there it was on to the launch of Red magazine, where she stayed for 10 years and became Assistant Editor. She then shifted into freelancing, and spent 14 years writing for everyone from The Telegraph to The Sunday Times, Livingetc, Stylist and Woman & Home. She was then offered the job as Editor of Country Homes & Interiors, and now combines that role with writing for idealhome.co.uk.