Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense (olibanum) has been used for thousands of years for hygienic, spiritual, therapeutic and medicinal purposes.1
Derived from gum resins of Boswellia trees, frankincense essential oils are prepared through a process of steam distillation. Known as the king of essential oils, frankincense is derived from the French word ‘franc enes’ meaning pure incense.1
Throughout history, frankincense appears several times in ancient biblical texts and is still commonly used in Roman Catholic, Jewish and Greek Orthodox ceremonies today.1
Beyond its spiritual significance, frankincense has demonstrated sedative and antiseptic properties. Herbalists have used frankincense essential oils to alleviate inflammation, respiratory conditions, skin diseases and gynecological conditions.1,2 Today there are several varieties of frankincense including Boswellia Carterii, Boswellia Serrata, and Boswellia Frereana, which contain different chemical compounds. The Boswellia Carterii variety, which produces a pale, yellow oil, is most commonly used in clinical studies.9
Frankincense Essential Oil Uses
Frankincense has been considered an important herb since ancient Egypt times. Throughout history, frankincense has been used in aromatherapy, perfumes, soaps, mouthwash, lotions, and detergent. Below, we list some of the new and unexpected ways you can use frankincense essential oil.
Some individuals believe that frankincense can promote relaxation, reflection and even spiritual enlightenment when inhaled.1 Adding 1-2 drops of frankincense essential oil into a carrier oil (like coconut or jojoba) makes a relaxing, natural massage oil.
For individuals looking to relax and unwind, frankincense essential oil can be added to a diffuser or nebulizer. Add 2-4 drops of essential oil to the water, letting the fragrance fill the space. Some recommend using for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time, as frankincense does emit a strong fragrance.
With both antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, frankincense essential oil may be used as an alternative to potent and potentially harmful household cleaners.3 With a long-lasting aroma, it may also reduce household odors. Mix 4-6 drops of frankincense essential oil with water in a spray bottle and spray on surfaces before wiping down.
Frankincense essential oil has been noted in dermatology to help heal minor blemishes and soothe dry skin.4 For a reparative moisturizer, add 4 drops of frankincense and 2 drops of rose essential oil to 2 Tbsp. of base moisturizing cream. Mix together, and apply evenly over the face.
Frankincense essential oil has also been noted for its wound healing properties and ability to stimulate the immune system.4 For minor scrapes and wounds, add 1-2 drops each of frankincense and melissa essential oil to a carrier oil, such as grapeseed or coconut. Blend together and gently apply to the affected areas. Make sure to properly clean the wound prior to application.
Natural Labor Pain Relief
Essential oils can help provide calming or soothing effects during times of stress. For active and transition stages of labor, the warm, soothing notes of frankincense essential oil can be added to a carrier oil and applied during a back massage to ease tension. A few drops can also be added to a warm, wet cloth and applied as a compress to the forehead or abdomen.8
Frankincense Essential Oil Benefits
Known for its warm, woody aroma, frankincense essential oil has been noted for its spiritual properties. But in recent years, science has discovered that there many more physiological and therapeutic benefits to this traditional oil.
While inhaling frankincense has been used as a way to cleanse the soul for hundreds of years, scientists now believe it may help cleanse the brain too. In 2008, a joint research team from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Jerusalem investigated the psychoactive effects of inhaling frankincense incense.5
It was noted that one active compound in frankincense essential oil, incensole acetate (IA), appears to open up an ion channel in the brain that helps regulate emotions and controls the perception of warmth on the skin.5 IA was also found to influence areas of the brain that are involved in anxiety and depression.
Overall, the frankincense demonstrated a calming effect that acts similar to antidepressants and was able to lower anxiety in mice exposed to the frankincense.5
Note: While this preliminary research is promising, further studies are needed before suggesting that frankincense can be used as an antidepressant.
Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for hundreds of years, frankincense essential oils have commonly been included in a special “Jinchuang ointment.”6
Prescribed for the treatment of diabetic foot infections, recent in vitro studies show that the traditional ointment has strong medicinal properties, including cell proliferation (an increase in the number of cells) and wound healing.6
Frankincense was one of 9 herbs and oils used to make the ointment, which also included myrrh essential oil.
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that offers a 5% overall 5-year survival rate. In efforts to find alternative treatments, researchers have turned to traditional ingredients in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).7
Frankincense essential oil has been noted for its antineoplastic properties, which inhibit the growth of cancer. To tests these properties, researchers examined the effects of frankincense essential oil in cultured human pancreatic cancer cells and in a mouse model.7
Results from both tests indicated that frankincense essential oil demonstrated anti-cancer activity by suppressing cell viability and promoting apoptosis (cell death).7
Interestingly, oils that went through longer periods of hydro distillation (an alternative to steam distillation) at higher temperatures, were more successful in both models at inducing cancer cell death.7
Note: Frankincense essential oil has only been studied on isolated pancreatic cancer cells, and has not been investigated in in vivo (living) human studies. Essential oils should not be used as a replacement for standard cancer treatments.
Improve Breast Tenderness
Shortly after pregnancy, or during menstrual cycles, women may experience breast tenderness. According to the International Journal of Childbirth Education, the warm, calming notes of frankincense essential oil may provide comfort during the childbearing year or menstrual cycles.8
While frankincense, juniper berry, evening primrose and geranium essential oil may be used for this ailment, frankincense essential oil is said to be particularly useful due to its anti-inflammatory properties.8
Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, frankincense has recently been investigated as an alternative, therapeutic tool against arthritic activity. In the United States, its estimated that one in every two adults will develop symptoms of knee osteoarthritis at some point in their life.9
In a 2003 double blind study, researchers investigated frankincense as a natural option of relief of osteoarthritis knee pain. Half of the 30 patients took the frankincense extract daily for eight weeks.10
Results suggest that all volunteers in the frankincense group reported improved knee movement, increased range of motion, improved walking distance, ability to climb stairs and an overall decrease in knee pain.10
While users should never ingest essential oils without the direct supervision of a health care professional, these studies may help support further research and topical application of frankincense essential oil for pain relief.
Side Effects of Frankincense Essential Oil
Like most essential oils, frankincense is generally regarded as safe and rarely causes side effects when inhaled. In rare cases, essential oils may cause a skin rash, allergic reaction, headache, or trigger asthma conditions.
When applying to skin, always dilute into a carrier oil first and avoid contact around the eyes.
Never ingest essential oils unless under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Some essential oils may be toxic or even fatal if consumed.
Where to Buy Frankincense Essential Oil
Previously, high quality essential oils could only be bought at specialty health stores, or through expensive multi-level marketing companies. Now, due to advancements in technology, extremely high grade essential oils can be purchased over the internet at very reasonable prices.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Van Vuuren, S. F., Kamatou, G. P. P., & Viljoen, A. M. (2010). Volatile composition and antimicrobial activity of twenty commercial frankincense essential oil samples. South African Journal of Botany, 76(4), 686-691. doi:1016/j.sajb.2010.06.001
- Al-Yasiry, A. R. M., & Kiczorowska, B. (2016). Frankincense–therapeutic properties. Postȩpy Higieny i Medycyny doświadczalnej (Online), 70, 380-391. doi:5604/17322693.1200553
- Camarda, L., Dayton, T., Di Stefano, V., Pitonzo, R., & Schillaci, D. (2007). Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial Activity of Some Oleogum Resin Essential Oils fromBoswellia SPP. (Burseraceae). Annali di Chimica, 97(9), 837-844. doi:1002/adic.200790068
- Stevensen, C. J. (1998). Aromatherapy in dermatology. Clinics in Dermatology, 16(6), 689-694. doi:1016/s0738-081x(98)00058-3
- Moussaieff, A., Rimmerman, N., Bregman, T., Straiker, A., Felder, C. C., Shoham, S., & Mechoulam, R. (2008). Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. The FASEB Journal, 22(8), 3024-3034. doi:1096/fj.07-101865
- Ho, T., Jiang, S., Lin, G., Li, T. S., Yiin, L., Yang, J., & Chen, H. (2016). The in Vitro and in Vivo Wound Healing Properties of the Chinese Herbal Medicine “Jinchuang Ointment”. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2016, 1-11. doi:1155/2016/1654056
- Ni, X., Suhail, M. M., Yang, Q., Cao, A., Fung, K., Postier, R. G., … Lin, H. (2012). Frankincense essential oil prepared from hydrodistillation of Boswellia sacra gum resins induces human pancreatic cancer cell death in cultures and in a xenograft murine model. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12(1). doi:1186/1472-6882-12-253
- Coleman Smith, V. (2012). Aromatherapy as a Comfort Measure During the Childbearing Year. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 27(3), 26-30. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/82250566/aromatherapy-as-comfort-measure-during-childbearing-year – View reference
- Arthritis Foundation (n.d.). What is Osteoarthritis Retrieved February 28, 2017 from http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/what-is-osteoarthritis.php
- Kimmatkar, N., Thawani, V., Hingorani, L., & Khiyani, R. (2003). Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee – A randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine, 10(1), 3-7. doi:1078/094471103321648593