Frankincense essential oil has been used since ancient times for sacred and medicinal purposes.
An essential oil commonly used in aromatherapy, frankincense oil is typically sourced from the resin of the Boswellia carterii or Boswellia sacra tree. Also called olibanum, frankincense oil has a sweet, woody scent and is sometimes used to ease stress.
Commonly Known As
In aromatherapy, inhaling the scent of an essential oil (or absorbing it through the skin) is thought to send messages to the limbic system, a brain region that influences our emotions and nervous systems. Proponents suggest that essential oils may affect a number of biological factors, such as heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function.
Frankincense essential oil is also used as an ingredient in perfume, incense, and skin care products.
In aromatherapy, frankincense oil is typically used for the following conditions:
Frankincense essential oil is also used to alleviate stress and relieve pain.1
When used as an ingredient in skin care products, frankincense essential oil is said to treat dry skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, age spots, scars, and stretch marks.
While preliminary research suggests that frankincense essential oil may offer certain health benefits, there is currently a lack of research testing the health effects of frankincense oil. A component in frankincense, boswellic acid, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Here’s a look at the science.
Laboratory research on human cells indicates that frankincense essential oil may possess immune-stimulating and cancer-fighting properties that could aid in the protection against breast cancer2 and pancreatic cancer.3 However, it’s important to note that these studies were conducted in a lab (and not in people) and didn’t test the aromatherapeutic use of frankincense oil. More research is needed.
A combination of essential oils including frankincense oil may help sleep in people with cancer, according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2016.4 For the study, people with cancer were given personal inhaler devices containing essential oils.
Of those who used the device, 64% had an improvement of at least one point on the sleep scale.4 One essential oil blend found effective included frankincense (Boswellia carterii), mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
Frankincense appears to have anti-inflammatory properties and several studies have examined its use for osteoarthritis and knee pain.1
One 2018 review of published studies found Boswellia serrata extract shows clinically significant pain reduction for short-term use.5 However, studies showing its efficacy for long-term pain reduction are lacking.
Possible Side Effects
Research is needed to assess the potential benefits and risks. Ingesting frankincense essential oil may have toxic effects and isn’t recommended, unless under a doctor’s supervision.6
In addition, some individuals may experience irritation or an allergic reaction when applying frankincense essential oil to the skin. A skin patch test should be done before using any new essential oil. Additionally, essential oils shouldn’t be applied to skin undiluted.
Pregnant or nursing women and children should consult their health care providers before using essential oils.
It’s also important to note that self-treating a condition with frankincense essential oil and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.
Dosage and Preparation
There is no standard or recommended dose for frankincense essential oil.
When a drop or two is combined with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado oil), frankincense essential oil can be applied to the skin or added to baths in small amounts.
Frankincense essential oil can also be inhaled after sprinkling a drop or two of the oil onto a cloth or tissue, or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer.
In aromatherapy, several other essential oils are often used in combination with frankincense.
What to Look For
Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and do not have to meet any purity standards.7 When purchasing essential oils, look for a supplier who either distills their own material or deals directly with reputable distillers and uses gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to analyze the quality of the product.
When buying pure frankincense essential oil, check the label for its Latin name, Boswellia carterii or Boswellia sacra. No other oils ingredients should be listed. If you see another oil, such as fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, or sweet almond oil, the frankincense is diluted and should not be used in a diffuser.
Essential oils should be packaged in a dark amber or cobalt bottle and stored out of sunlight.