The Health Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oil

Can this ancient oil soothe stress, ease anxiety, and calm the mind?

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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

  • Frankincense
  • Boswellia carterii
  • Boswellia sacra
  • Olibanum

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.

Uses

In aromatherapy, frankincense oil is typically used for the following conditions:

Frankincense essential oil is also used to alleviate stress and relieve pain.

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.

Health Benefits

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.

Cancer

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 cancer and pancreatic cancer. 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. 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. One essential oil blend found effective included frankincense (Boswellia carterii), mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). 

Osteoarthritis

Frankincense appears to have anti-inflammatory properties and several studies have examined its use for osteoarthritis and knee pain.

One 2018 review of published studies found Boswellia serrata extract shows clinically significant pain reduction for short-term use. 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.

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. 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.

Other Questions

I have type 2 diabetes. Can frankincense essential oil lower blood sugar?

Despite its purported use as an anti-diabetic agent, a placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine in 2018 found frankincense essential oil did not have any significant blood sugar lowering effects over a placebo.

Is it safe to ingest frankincense essential oil?

While some essential oil companies recommend ingesting frankincense essential oil for a wide variety of health ailments, there is no evidence to support its safety or efficacy. If you choose to ingest essential oils, be sure you are using pure oils and follow the manufacturer's directions carefully and discuss it further with your doctor.

Can frankincense essential oil be applied directly to the skin?

Frankincense is a mild oil and most people can apply it directly to skin, or neat, without any issues. However, if you experience any burning, tingling, or irritation, dilute the oil by rubbing a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, or grapeseed oil, over the irritated area. Do not apply frankincense oil close to your eyes as its vapors may irritate eyes.

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