Regularly marketed as the king of essential oils, frankincense has been sought after since ancient times, and for good reason.
In addition to many other historical accounts, the famous Bible passage notes that frankincense was one of the three gifts brought by the Three Wise Men and given to baby Jesus.1 In modern times, aromatherapists and all-natural healers continue to take advantage of frankincense benefits .
Capable of rejuvenating the skin when applied topically, while working to regenerate cells and boost immunity when taken internally, or providing relaxation when used in aromatherapy, the range of health benefits that frankincense offers are nothing short of spectacular.
Chances are, you’ve already somehow experienced the meditative and cleansing aroma of frankincense through body care products, a candle or incense, but learning more about its benefits will allow you to incorporate it more intentionally into your life.
The History of Frankincense
Frankincense essential oil is distilled from the resin of the Boswellia tree that grows in many regions within northern Africa and the Middle East. Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia are the most prominent suppliers today.
Frankincense is also referred to by its Arabic name, “olibanum,” derived from “al Luban,” which means “milk.” This name describes the milky sap that comes from the “wound” in the tree after an incision is made in the bark. The tree secretes the sap to heal and seals the “wound,” helping prevent infection. The sap is given time to harden on the tree into small golden nuggets of resin known as “tears” before being collected for extraction.2
Traditionally, frankincense was used for hundreds of years in incense, primarily in ancient rituals because of its promise to bring tremendous healing properties. Priests, rabbis, and medicine men around the world—especially in the Middle East—appreciated the essential oil for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and rejuvenating properties.3
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Early use of frankincense resin was reserved for religious services, where it was burned as incense with the intention of the scent floating up invisibly to heaven in order to attract God’s attention. Historically, burning the resin was also a tool to vanquish negative energies or hold evil spirits at bay. To this day, it is commonly used in churches and temples and believed to affect us at our deepest level, setting our spirit free.
Most of all, frankincense essential oil is incredibly aromatic, giving off a unique sweet scent, contributing to its popularity in both modern and ancient aromatherapy as well as in many ancient rituals. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used frankincense in their religious rituals, and the Chinese are also known to have used it for years.
Frankincense was so valuable during ancient times that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Some cultures even prized it more than gold, making it an integral part of Silk Road trade. Overall, it has been high in demand, from early history all the way to today.4
There are a variety of different frankincense essential oils that have been used throughout history and continue to be used today. Distilling the essential oils from a variety of different species of Boswellia trees results in a range of different essential oils, some of which are more potent and powerful in different areas of healing than others.
The different types of frankincense essential oils have diverse chemistries and unique biochemical makeups, which allow each one to offer a range of different health and wellness benefits, even though they are fundamentally the same substance.
Frankincense Carterii is the most frequently used of frankincense essential oils out there. It has a smooth, sweet, and citrus aroma that will help relax the mind and your body. Incredibly high in alpha-Pinene, as well as a number of other monoterpenes, this specific type of frankincense has fantastic immune-boosting benefits. It is also commonly used as a topical essential oil, offering restorative and regenerative properties for the skin. Not only does it help reverse damage caused by UV rays, but it also rejuvenates skin, eliminates scars, and evens out blemishes.5
Frankincense Frereana is another of the more popular frankincense essential oil types, sourced mostly from the more mountainous regions of Somalia. The trees responsible for producing this variety almost always grow at high altitudes, changing the chemical makeup of these essential oils just enough to make them different from other options.
Frankincense Frereana is much higher in the monoterpenes alpha-thujene, cymene and sabinene than other frankincense essential oils. This allows this particular essential oil to offer even better anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and analgesic properties, making it the best type for relieving symptoms of arthritis, swelling, allergies, or inflammation. The scent of this particular essential oil is immediately recognizable as it is more earthy and citrusy than the other frankincense essential oils.
Frankincense Serrata is the oldest of all the different frankincense varieties, leading many to believe it is the one referred to in the Bible as well as so widely used in Ayurvedic medicine in the past. Its primary chemical constituents include alpha thujene, alpha-Pinene, limonene, and other monoterpenes. These chemicals allow this variety of frankincense essential oil to act as a potent antiseptic, a top-notch anti-inflammatory, as well as a natural decongestant.
This is also the type of frankincense that is most frequently used during aromatherapy sessions and in religious and spiritual ceremonies. The type of resin this frankincense is produced from is a lot more plentiful than some of the other varieties, offering more oil per resin.
Above all, most forms of frankincense essential oils produce many of the same health and restorative benefits, though depending on each individual’s specific needs, one type of frankincense may be better suited than another. Interestingly enough, however, the chemical composition of all types have a positive impact on liver and kidney function.6
Additionally, the biochemical agents in these oils can effortlessly pass between the blood-brain barrier to help stimulate and activate the limbic system of the brain, as well as the hypothalamus and pineal and pituitary glands. All of the biochemicals are also bioavailable—readily absorbed by the body—and are best used in a topical solution when mixed with a carrier oil or when diffused or vaporized and inhaled. Frankincense essential oil should never be ingested.7
Uses for Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense essential oil has been used since ancient times as an anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic solution, disinfectant, deodorant, digestive aid, and diuretic.
Today frankincense essential oil is known to be commonly used for alleviating symptoms of arthritis, overcoming colds or respiratory conditions, conquering oral health problems, and resolving digestive issues.8 In fact, it is found in MONQ’s relieve blend to help with aches and discomfort naturally.
Below we highlight some of the key health benefits this essential oil offers.
Alleviates Stress and Anxiety
When inhaled through a vaporizer or diffuser on a regular basis, frankincense essential oil has been shown to reduce the heart rate.
Furthermore, the biochemical agents in frankincense essential oil have anti-anxiety properties. This results from the incensole acetate found in frankincense, which activates TRPV3 channels in the brain responsible for vasoregulation in the body. It is important to note here that the incensole acetate is only extracted from frankincense successfully via CO2 or alcohol extraction, not the steam distillation method.9
Improves Immune System Function
Many clinical studies, including those conducted at major universities in Egypt, in partnership with universities in the United States, have shown that frankincense has fantastic immune-enhancing abilities.
These studies reveal the efficacy of frankincense in fighting dangerous bacteria and viruses. Controlled studies conducted in laboratories in Egypt and in the US have shown that frankincense essential oil provides immunostimulant activity throughout the body.10
Most importantly, the use of immunostimulant benefits in frankincense essential oil can be experienced regardless of the delivery method. When applied topically, these benefits will work to create a layer of protection against bacterial and viral infections. When inhaled, the same benefits manifest internally while working to heal your body from the inside out.
Acts as Natural Astringent
Frankincense essential oil contains antimicrobial benefits, working to destroy harmful germs and bacteria upon contact, whether on the body or on surfaces throughout the home.
This oil can be used topically on the skin when diluted with a carrier oil, to disinfect surfaces in the home, or diffused and released into the air—all methods will allow for you to reap the benefits of the oil’s antimicrobial properties. Frankincense and myrrh—the gum or resin from the Commiphora myrrha tree—can be combined for an even more effective solution for killing germs.11
Provides Anti-Aging Properties
Frankincense essential oil is commonly used in skin care and beauty care products, and not just because of its pleasant scent. This essential oil has the ability to strengthen and improve skin health, even out complexion, and add elasticity to the skin, while providing the same antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits highlighted above.
Capable of eliminating wrinkles and laugh lines, dramatically reducing the appearance of scars all over the body, clearing up acne and other blemishes, while at the same time fading stretch marks and healing cracked or dry skin, this essential oil provides a range of anti-aging benefits.
Additionally, there are many other impressive benefits that frankincense essential oil offers, including, but not limited to improving memory and cognitive function, balancing hormone levels, improving sleep quality, and alleviating pain.
Safety and Precautions
First, it is important to recognize that there is a difference between frankincense essential oils and fragrance oils. Frankincense essential oils are safe to use for the healing benefits highlighted above, as long as the oil is 100 percent pure and high quality. Frankincense fragrance oils, however, are safe to use as incense, perfumes, or as deodorants, but they shouldn’t ever be used—or expected to produce results—as a healing agent. They should also never be applied directly to the skin or inhaled through a vaporizer or diffuser.12
For topical application, it is advisable to test the frankincense essential oil on a small patch of skin before applying it to larger areas of the body in the case of an allergic reaction. It is typically used topically when diluted with a carrier oil, cream, or lotion. This allows the individual to experience the full benefits of the essential oil without worrying about adverse skin reactions from using the undiluted oil.
As with some other essential oils, pregnant or nursing women are discouraged from using frankincense essential oil.
The majority of frankincense essential oils can be used safely vaporized or diffused, but some are not intended for inhalation, so it is important to read the instructions on the essential oil before use.
Used for thousands of years, and likely to still be used for thousands more, the benefits of frankincense essential oils are well-documented. To experience frankincense health benefits, try using it topically or in a vaporizer, room diffuser, or personal aromatherapy diffuser like Zen, Forest, Active, and Ocean MONQ.