Frankincense Oil: Benefits, Usage, Properties, and Side Effects
Frankincense oil benefits have been recorded from the ancient times. It has the most famous historical origin, mentioned in the Bible, as a precious gift. Its aromatic resin is one of the most popular and commonly used ingredients in perfumery. It is sought after for its aromatic qualities and for health properties.
Frankincense essential oil has been used for medicinal & sacred purposes. The oil is commonly known as frankincense, Olibanum, Boswellia carterii, or Boswellia sacra.
Let’s understand this interesting oil in detail.
What is Frankincense Oil?
Frankincense oil is extracted from the resins of the Boswellia carterii, Boswellia serrata, and Boswellia ferreana trees via steam distillation. It is also known as olibanum.
Incisions are made on these tree barks and then, the dried resin is collected. The collected resin goes through the process of steam distillation, which results in the production of frankincense essential oil.
The obtained oil has a sweet, woody scent and is often used in skincare products and perfumery.
In aromatherapy, frankincense possesses a great place. When its aromatic compounds are inhaled or its diluted version is massaged, your skin quickly absorbs them and start working on your nervous system.
Frankincense can stimulate your limbic system, a part of your brain that is responsible for your emotional sensations.
Besides this, the compounds of this oil are used to cure many disorders like heart rate, stress level, blood pressure, breathing problems, and other biological dysfunctions.
About the Tree:
The species that is most commonly used for extracting frankincense oil is Boswellia, which is one of the members of the deciduous trees, which grow to a height of 2 – 8 meters (6 ft. 7 in – 26 ft. 3 in), with one or more trunks.
The bark of the tree can be easily detached and have a paper-like texture. It has compound leaves and grow opposite to each another along with the branches.
The flowers are small and yellowish-white. They form a cluster of 5 petals, 10 stamens, and a cup with 5 teeth. The fruit is in the form of capsule with a dimension of about 1cm in length.
These trees are usually found growing on the slopes. Their arrangement of leaves appears as if its a cushion, adhering to the rocks and helps the plants to stay stable.
Boswellia sacra (commonly known as frankincense or olibanum-tree) belongs to the family Burseraceae family. The plant is of the genus Boswellia from which a resinous sap or substance is extracted and harvested, which is none other than Frankincense.
Frankincense originates from the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Yemen), and Northeastern Africa (Somalia).
Boswellia sacra trees are easily seen in Oman in arid woodland and on the steep, precariously eroding slopes Dhofar mountains (2). But they are most commonly found in Northern Somalia.
In Somalia, frankincense is harvested in the Sanaag and Bari regions. (3, 4) In Dhofar, frankincense species grow North of Salalah, and were traded in the ancient coastal city of Sumhuram, which is now called Khor Rori.
It is perhaps, the oldest fragrances and is a preferred choice for aroma diffusers in homes and business establishments.
Frankincense are popular both for its pleasant fragrance and soothing sensation.
Scientific Name of Frankincense Oil
The botanical name of frankincense is Boswellia sacra.
History of Frankincense Oil
From more than 6000 years, frankincense was traded in North Africa & Arabian Peninsula. Evidence of trade of frankincense has been recorded from the Land of Punt. There are even pictures on the temple walls of Egyptian queen Hatsheput. This signifies the importance of frankincense trade in those days.
Herodotus, a well-known Greek historian knew that frankincense was harvested from the trees in South Arabia. He also reported that its gum was dangerous to harvest due to the fact that many venomous snakes lived in those trees.
Interestingly, he also described the method that the Arabs used to overcome this problem. They burnt the gum of the styrax tree and this smoke drove the snakes away.
The biggest evidence of the use of frankincense were also seen in Bible.
There was a period when the resin was prohibitively expensive. However, the prices are reasonable now and find widespread use in an extensive range of products, including as a form of treatment for sore throat inflammation, and digestive issues.
Even today, the resin and its extract are used for everyday use, from drink flavors to toothpaste.
In China, Frankincense has been used a medicine since 500 BC. It is this ancient link that has helped the essential oil to become popular as it is a proven product.
It has also been a part of rituals and the aroma was so popular that the Egyptians procured full boatloads of the resin. Prior to Frankincense becoming a popular essential oil it was also used as an eyeliner after being burnt/charred.
In Jewish history, Frankincense was used as a ritual in temples. It is this age-old association that has made frankincense the first choice among a large number of people.
Color, Consistency, and Smell of Frankincense Oil
- The color of frankincense oil is light yellow.
- The consistency of frankincense oil is viscous.
- The smell of frankincense oil is sweet, fresh, woody, and balsamic.
Properties of Frankincense Essential Oil
The therapeutic properties of frankincense oil are:
- Antiseptic – Prevents microorganisms that cause diseases
- Disinfectant – Destroys the growth of bacteria
- Astringent – Contracts the body tissues and skin cells to contract
- Carminative – Relieves flatulence
- Cicatrizant – Promotes healing by forming scar tissues
- Cytophylactic – Lightens scars when applied topically
- Digestive – Aids in healthy digestion
- Disinfectant – Kills the bacteria
- Diuretic – Eliminates excess water from the body via urine
- Emmenagogue – Increases or stimulates menstrual flow
- Expectorant – Promotes sputum secretion and treats cough
- Sedative – Induces sleep
- Tonic – Rejuvenates the overall functions in the body
- Uterine – Maintains a healthy uterus
- Vulnerary – Heals wounds faster
Chemical Compounds in Frankincense Oil
The chemical formula of frankincense is C20H32O4 and is soluble in alcohol.
The main chemical compounds in frankincense essential oil include acid resin (56% approximately), gum (about 30-36%), 3-acetyl-beta-boswellic acid (in the form of Boswellia sacra), alpha-boswellic acid, 4-O-methyl-glucuronic acid, incensole acetate, phellandrene, a-pinene, actanol, incensole acetate, Linalool, octyl acetate, bornyl acetate, (+)-cis- and (+)-trans-olibanic acids. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
Health Benefits of Frankincense Oil
- Strong anti-inflammatory agent
- Heals wounds faster
- Acts as an aid for cancer
- Improves uterus health
- Treatment for osteoarthritis
- Boosts immunity
- Promotes digestion
- Lightens the scars
- Delays the aging signs
- Promotes urination and purifies blood
- Treats respiratory tract issues
- Well-known antidepressant
- Stimulates menstrual flow
This oil has a good affinity of blending with other medicinal creams and is claimed to be the most effective for healing wounds and protecting the skin from infections. Though frankincense oil benefits are abundant, the most noteworthy ones proven by various studies in recent times include:
1. Strong anti-inflammatory agent
Besides boasting incredible aromatic qualities, frankincense essential oil has powerful anti-inflammatory qualities too.
A study published in the year 2015 reported that Frankincense essential oil when combined with with myrrh oil exhibits strong anti-inflammatory properties. (10)
The study concluded that Frankincense & Myrrh offered an intervention for HPV and inflammatory cytokines. In other words, it is an effective combination to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
2. Heals wounds faster
Any product with medicinal value that is also edible is bound to be a better choice. It simply means that the product is natural and will be easily acceptable by your body in different forms.
The resin of Frankincense from which the essential oil is extracted is edible and has been used as a cure for ages. From ulcers to sores, wounds, and hemorrhoids, the list of healing actions of frankincense is impressive.
Thanks to its Vulnerary, Cicatrizant, and Cytophylactic properties.
The therapeutic qualities of frankincense essential oil have been outlined clearly in a 2012 study. (11)
Traditionally, it has been used in the Chinese and Indian medicinal system to heal different diseases, even including wounds. By sanitizing the wound and cleansing it from germs, the wound is put on the path to recovery quickly.
3. Acts as an aid for cancer
Many high level studies have been conducted on human cell lines to detect the role of frankincense oil for its immune-stimulating and cancer-fighting properties. A few studies have reported that frankincense could aid in the protection against breast and pancreatic cancer.
A well-defined outcome of a research was published in the journal ,”Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2016.”
According to this study, many cancer patients were given an inhaler containing this oil and they were used the device under the observation of specialists. Out of all, 64% of the patients saw a improvement by at-least one point on the sleep scale. (12, 13)
4. Improves uterus health
Essential oils have always been a part of the research in the treatment of infections that are gynecologic in nature. Not only are essential oils regarded as a potent method to help treat and improve sexual health, they are known to be good for improving the overall health the uterus too.
Thanks to the uterine properties of frankincense. It maintains a healthy uterus by regulating the production of estrogen, which in turn, also helps in reducing the chances of uterine cancer. (14)
The regulation and proper maintenance of menstrual cycles are the secrets to good health and this is one of the reasons why Frankincense essential oil is a reliable ingredient to improve uterine health.
5. Treatment for osteoarthritis
Frankincense oil exhibits excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Not many know that it is one of the best oils to treat osteoarthritis and knee pain.
It has been clinically proven that frankincense is highly effective as a pain-relieving agent for patients suffering from arthritis and joint pains. (15)
However its efficacy for long term pain reducing agent is under observation, and has not been reported anywhere.
6. Boosts immunity
The strong anti-microbial properties of frankincense oil help against several pathogens. (16)
Frankincense also shows an excellent role as an antiseptic and even has the quality to eliminate germs, especially when burnt in its raw form. The smoke emitted after burning purifies the air from germs. Thanks to its disinfectant property.
It has an efficacy to recover internal wounds and protecting them from germs & infections.
The early clinical trials suggest positive effects too. However more studies are required to confirm the same. (17)
7. Promotes digestion
Frankincense oil also has the quality of stimulating the peristaltic motion (the process in which the food moves through your intestines).
Frankincense oil enhances the secretion of gastric juices, biles, and other acids that aid in digestion. This oil has digestive properties, which helps in enhancing the activities of digestive enzymes. (18)
It facilitates digestion but unlike common antacids that only suppresses the symptoms.
8. Lightens the scars
Wound healing is one of the intricate processes of the body, where your body tissues and skin repair themselves after an injury.
The process of wound healing has several stages:
- Hemostasis (blood clotting)
- Inflammation (pain, redness, and swelling)
- Proliferation (new tissue growth)
- Maturation (tissue remodeling)
The process of healing wounds isn’t just complex, but is prone to disruption, causing chronic, non-healing wounds.
During the wound repairing or remodelling process, your fibroblasts (cells in connective tissues that produce collagen & fibres) secreted Collagen III, before collagen I deposition.
Frankincense essential oil helps in lowering the collagen III level, and improves the healing process by reducing the chances of wound persistence or scar formation. (19)
Also, when applied topically (but diluted with a carrier oil), the anti-proliferative and robust activity of frankincense oil in skin cells responds to wound healing better.
It can also be used for fading stretch marks, surgery marks, and fat cracks associated with pregnancy and delivery.
9. Delays the aging signs
Frankincense oil is well-known for its anti-aging properties. (20) It promotes the development and regeneration of healthy cells and keeps the existing cells healthy.
When this oil is mixed with other non-aging agents, you will get a potent astringent agent. It helps in eradicating sun spots, fine lines, micro wrinkles around the eyes & cheeks, and tighten the skin naturally.
Aging is a consequence of cumulative tissue damage, which overwhelm your body’s natural capability to recover them. However, frankincense is reported to replace old and dead tissues by healthier ones.
10. Promotes urination and purifies blood
Allopathic drugs like Lasix and its derivatives aren’t just the only options for releasing excess water from the body via urination.
There are some other natural alternatives too. Frankincense oil excretes toxic substances, extra water, fats, sodium, and uric acid via urine. (21)
It removes all the harmful chemicals that may have been stored in your bladder or kidney. This oil has no side effect and absolutely safe for use.
11. Treats respiratory tract issues
Frankincense oil also helps in the excretion of phlegm deposited in your respiratory tract and lungs. It is relieves pain that occurs during bronchitis and cough. (22)
It gives relief from congestion of nasal tract, larynx pharynx, bronchi and lungs.
It also works as an anti-depressant and anti-breathing agent. Thus, relaxing the process of breathing passage, which in turn, reduces the risks of asthma attacks.
12. Well-known antidepressant
Frankincense oil is highly effective as a sedative because it induces a feeling of mental peace, relaxation, satisfaction, and spirituality.
It lowers anxiety, anger, and stress, especially in men, as reported in a study published in the Journal of Men’s Health.
So, the next time you feel anxious or if you anticipate some sort of stressful episode, diffuse a few drops of frankincense oil in a diffuser or a vaporizer and inhale its aroma for a few minutes.
This promotes relaxation, opening your breathing passage, reducing blood pressure, moving your mental state back to calmness.
13. Stimulates menstrual flow
A research published by Dr. Jane Buckle, ex-faculty at University of Minnesota and author of Clinical Aromatherapy in Nursing, throws light on the importance of essential oils for sexual health.
Dr. Jane Buckle says that frankincense is an effective emmenogauge. It is great for uterine health, as it facilitates the regulation and the production of the estrogen hormone.
It reduces the chances of post-menopause tumor or cyst formation in the uterus (also known as uterine cancer).
During pre-menopausal period, it regulates proper menstrual cycles and ensures that the uterus is healthy. It also treats or regulates gynecologic conditions or stressors that can lead to complicated dysfunctions in certain women.
What Blends with Frankincense Oil?
By virtue of being an edible resin, Frankincense and its essential oil blends in naturally with many other substances and popular essential oils.
The more popular blends of Frankincense essential oil with other oils and substances include the following:
- With Lime oil – for anti-oxidative results
- With Lemon oil – for purifying fresh aroma
- With Myrrh oil – for reducing inflammation
- With Orange oil – ideal aromatic diffuser
- With Cypress oil – soothing, sedative properties
- With Lavender oil – natural cleanser, antiseptic
- With Geranium oil – for anti-aging results
- With Rose oil – for glowing skin
- With Sandalwood oil – for anti-inflammatory qualities
- With Ylang Ylang oil – for treating anxiety
- With Clary Sage oil – to improve circulation
How To Use Frankincense Oil Safely?
Every essential oil is potent in its concentrated form. Hence, it needs to be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it on the skin. Hence, frankincense essential oil in no exception.
- For smooth and young skin: Mix 5 drops of frankincense oil with 1 teaspoon of vitamin C powder, 1 teaspoon of pure water, 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel, ½ teaspoon of vitamin E oil, and ½ tablespoon of sweet almond oil. Store this in a dark glass bottle. Apply this mixture before bed and wash off in the morning. Do not apply this pack in day time, as it can cause sun sensitivity. Follow this for 6 weeks to see desired results.
- For Aromatherapy: Mix 2 drops of frankincense oil with 2 drops of myrrh oil or sandalwood oil. Diffuse this mixture in a diffuser or a vaporizer. Inhale its aromatic compounds to feel relaxed.
- For Bath: Mix a few drops of frankincense oil to your bath and soak yourself in it. This will relieve stress and calm you down.
- Ingestion: Frankincense helps prevent toothaches, cavities, and bad breath. However, its oral consumption should be administered by a certified aromatherapist or a doctor.
Side Effects of Frankincense Oil
Frankincense oil should be applied, or taken as per required dosage and concentration. Regardless of its healing properties, it needs to be remembered that a double dosage of any product with medicinal properties will not deliver faster results and it is highly likely to result in adverse effects.
It needs to be taken in moderation and wherever it is used as a medicine, it needs to be procured from reputed stores that offer superior quality.
Some of the possible side effects of Frankincense essential oil include the following:
- Pregnant women need to consult specialists before using this oil.
- Allergies are possible in individuals who have sensitive skin.
- Possible skin reactions may be experienced if undiluted oil is applied.
- Ingesting of frankincense essential oil is not recommended despite its edible nature.
- Frankincense essential oil should not be used for self-medication in the absence of adequate knowledge, as it can result in toxic effects.
- Lead to severe burns and skin allergies if used undiluted.