Frankincense essential oil is one of the oldest oils that have been extensively used since ancient times for healthier skin and more efficient digestion. In Ayurvedic medicine, frankincense essential oil has been extensively used in the treatment of arthritis, the management of wounds, and the strengthening of the female endocrine system. In Western cultures, however, frankincense is best known for its use in aromatherapy as well as in a variety of skin care products. It is very popular in Christian churches as it is often used in the anointment of newborn babies as well as initiates or new members of the church who are entering a new phase in their spiritual lives.
However, more than its religious significance, frankincense essential oil is now largely used as a very effective alternative treatment for many skin conditions as well as facilitate healthier digestion. Remarkably, frankincense essential oil is now being extensively investigated for its ability to distinguish normal cells from cancerous cells. It has also been used in the management of ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, depression, and anxiety. It is truly a very astonishing essential oil.
Frankincense oil is extracted from the resin of the Boswellia family of trees which includes the famous Boswellia serrata or the Indian frankincense. The term frankincense literally translated to high quality incense, after the “franc encens” of the Old French. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation. The quality of the frankincense can be distinguished by its color, age, purity, and aroma. Frankincense has a very distinct scent, often described as balsamic and sweet. The Indian frankincense, on the other hand, produces a very refreshing smell. It is very important to look at the frankincense essential oil that you buy because there are some manufacturers that say theirs is pure. Unfortunately, many of these products lack boswellic acids, the main active ingredients of frankincense oil that gives it its superb health benefits.
Franincense essential oil is primarily composed of monoterpenes, monoterpenoles, ketones, sesquiterpenes, and sesquiterpenols. These are the ingredients that provide it with its superb heath properties which include the following.
- Anticancer – Studies show that frankincense essential oil can distinguish cancerous cells from normal healthy cells. It then kills the cancer cells while protecting the normal cells.
- Anti-inflammatory – May help in the suppression of the inflammatory response by reducing some of the signs of inflammation particularly swelling and increased viscosity of secretions.
- Antimicrobial – Frankincense essential oil has been shown to exhibit inhibitory and cytotoxic effects against susceptible organisms including bacteria and fungi.
- Antioxidant – May help reduce the production or generation of free radicals from oxidative processes and lead to improved cellular regeneration.
- Antiseptic – Helps kill the microorganisms in surfaces of the body.
- Astringent – Increases the contractile nature of the different tissues of the body. This helps strengthen different organs.
- Carminative – Frankincense essential oil can help eliminate gas and prevent its formation and buildup.
- Cicatrisant – Helps hasten the speed of cellular regeneration especially those found in the skin. This helps with more efficient wound management.
- Cytophylactic – Frankincense essential oil helps in the enhancement and strengthening of cellular integrity. This helps improve the different physiologic processes performed by each individual cell.
- Digestive – Helps improve digestion by facilitating the secretion of gastric juices as well as help improve the peristaltic movement of digested food through the intestines.
- Disinfectant – Helps kill microorganisms found in inanimate objects.
- Diuretic– Helps improve the production of urine in an effort to balance body fluids as well as regulate hormones. This can have an effect in the regulation of blood pressure.
- Emenagogue – Helps improve the symptoms associated with delayed menstruation, premenstrual syndrome, and pre-menopausal syndrome.
- Expectorant – Helps expel respiratory secretions that may have accumulated in the airways to help improve the flow of air and relieve symptoms associated with difficulty breathing.
- Immunomodulator – Frankincense essential oil has been shown to boost the activities of the immune system by enhancing both lymphocytic and leukocytic activities.
- Sedative – Helps induce relaxation and a feeling of calmness which can be very important among individuals who have anxiety, restlessness, or even insomnia.
- Tonic – Improves overall health and sense of wellbeing.
The many health properties of frankincense essential oil can bring about the following health benefits.
- Helps manage stretch marks as well as scars and other skin lesions – One of the most important benefits of frankincense essential oil is in its ability to heal a variety of skin lesions and deformities. This makes it highly effective against acne, eczema, and other skin problems.
- Boosts the immune system – Frankincense essential oil helps improve the body’s ability to fight infections. This superb protection against infectious diseases is a lot better than taking expensive antibiotics which can also have serious side effects such as liver and kidney problems.
- Helps in faster wound healing – The cicatrisant, astringent, and antiseptic properties of frankincense essential oil help make it an ideal alternative to expensive wound care products. It helps contract the tissues surrounding the wound to allow it to close and heal faster. It also helps by reducing inflammatory effects on the wound. Additionally, it helps kill microorganisms in the area surrounding the wound so that it won’t get infected.
- Slows down the effects of aging – Studies show that frankincense essential oil can effectively prevent the formation or development of free radicals brought about by oxidative stress. These substances hasten the rate of aging leading to the formation of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. Frankincense essential oil helps prevent these changes from occurring leading to healthier looking skin.
- Improves digestion – One of the earliest indications of frankincense essential oil since the ancient times is improvement or enhancement of digestive functions. It allows the better digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food that we eat by enhancing the secretion of gastric and pancreatic juices needed for optimum digestion. It also helps facilitate the more efficient movement of undigested food and fecal matter through the large intestines for elimination.
- Relieves signs of inflammation – The anti-inflammatory effects of frankincense essential oil has been indicated in the management of arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, and even bronchitis. It is able to reduce the swelling as well as the production of excessive secretions in these disease conditions to allow individuals to experience relief from their symptoms.
- May help protect against cancer – One of the more controversial, yet very remarkable, benefits of frankincense essential oil is its ability to distinguish cancerous cells from non-cancerous or normal healthy cells. This ability has never been seen before from any other essential oil making frankincense a true marvel if it is indeed proven by science. The implications of its anti-cancer properties is just astounding to begin with.
One of the most studied benefits of frankincense oil is its anticancer properties. Several studies have already attempted to establish the mechanism of action as to how frankincense oil can exert its cytotoxic properties against certain types of cancer cells. In a 2000 study by Winking, Sarikaya, Rahmanian, Jodicke, and Boker, it was revealed that frankincense oil had the power to inhibit the growth and affect the continued proliferation of gliomal cells. Glioma is a kind of cancer that is found in the glial structures of the brain. While the study was performed on laboratory mice, the implications for human brain cancer treatment is immense. Just imagine, if studies will prove that frankincense oil is as effective in inhibiting the growth and development of brain cancer cells in humans as it effectively does with lab rats, then we may be seeing a new horizon in human glioma management. Unfortunately, conducting such tests on human subjects is largely considered unethical, not to mention, inhumane.
Nine years after the Winking study, Frank et al published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2009 their findings about the bladder tumor cell-specific cytotoxicity of frankincense oil. The study revealed that frankincense oil modulated the expression of cancerous genes to induce tumor cell death. It also revealed that frankincense oil may play a role in the activation of the intrinsic and extrinsic death signaling pathways to initiate apoptosis or cell death. The study simply showed that frankincense oil can be a very effective alternative in the management of bladder cancer. This supported earlier observations about the ability of frankincense oil to trigger cell death to abnormal cells while protecting normal healthy cells. This ability to differentiate a sick cell from a healthy one is truly a remarkable characteristic only found in frankincense oil.
In 2013, a similar study was performed but using frankincense together with myrrh essential oil. The goal was to identify potential anticancer uses of the two essential oils particularly in the management of breast cancer. While the study revealed that myrrh has a better and more potent apoptotic property, it nevertheless revealed that frankincense essential oil may also have the same cytotoxic effects on breast cancer cells. What the Chen et al study of 2013 revealed, however, is that they were able to identify the exact component of both frankincense and myrrh essential oils that have the most potent antitumor activity. The study showed that beta-elemene provided greater sensitivity to the different breast cancer cell lines. However, they did say that further investigation needs to be carried out to prove if such is the case.
Part of frankincense oil’s antitumor properties is its immunomodulator characteristics. In a 2003 by Mikhaeil and his colleagues in Egypt, frankincense oil was shown to stimulate the heightened activity of lymphocytes, enabling them to better combat infections. This was supported by the 2010 study of van Vuuren, Kamatou, and Viljoen who showed that frankincense oil has excellent antimicrobial properties and has been proven effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, Proteus vulgaris, and Bacillus cereus. This simply means that when used against infections caused by these microorganisms, frankincense oil can be an effective and safer alternative to certain antibiotics, especially those which these microorganisms are already resistant to.
Frankincense oil has also been shown to have excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Its many chemical components have been implicated in the reduction of swelling although it did not show any antipyretic or analgesic properties. It was nevertheless, shown to be effective in reducing the swelling found in arthritic conditions.
The antioxidant activity of frankincense oil was established by the 2008 study of Choi et al when they focused on the changes that occurred with the irradiated tissues of laboratory mice. The study revealed that frankincense oil can effectively reduce skin damage as well as inhibit the generation or production of free radicals. This has significant implications in the management of skin problems such as wrinkles, age spots, fine lines, moles, and even eczema.
With so many health properties and benefits, you would think that there could be hundreds of clinical applications of frankincense essential oil. However, we only included those that have been studied or have undergone careful consideration by the scientific community. Here are some of the more recognized uses of frankincense essential oil.
- Skin disorders – The cicatrisant, cytophylactic, astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator, and antimicrobial properties of frankincense essential oil make it excellent for treating a variety of skin disorders including acne, atopic dermatitis, eczema, insect bites and stings, warts, wounds, scars, moles, and age spots.
- Inflammatory disorders – Frankincense essential oil helps reduce the swelling of tissues so it is effective in the management of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and other inflammatory joint disorders. In the respiratory system, it helps reduce the swelling and increased mucus secretion of the airways as can be seen in bronchitis and asthma. This helps relieve the pulmonary symptoms which can include coughing, throat irritation, and difficulty breathing.
- Immune system enhancement – The immunomodulator effects of frankincense essential oil allows it to be used as an immune booster especially during certain times of the year when we are more susceptible to viral infections. This can help protect us from such infections by enhancing our body’s ability to fight these infections.
- Wound healing – Wound repair and healing requires a variety of elements. Frankincense essential oil helps by contracting the tissues surrounding the wound. This limits the flow of blood to the area so you will not bleed profusely. The contraction of the surrounding tissues also help facilitate the adhesion of the different collagenous materials found in the wound so that they can begin forming a new matrix that will become the foundation for the repair and regeneration of the injured tissues.
- Bronchopulmonary infections – Frankincense essential oil has been shown to be effective against certain bacteria and fungi that have been implicated in the development of certain infections of the broncho-pulmonary tree. This can include bronchitis and pneumonia. It thus, facilitates the alleviation of the different symptoms associated with these health conditions.
- Anti-aging – There’s a reason why many beauty products manufacturers today include frankincense oil in their lineup. The antioxidant properties of this particular oil helps negate the effects of oxidative stress leading to healthier and more vibrant skin. It helps minimize if not totally eliminate fine lines, age spots, and even wrinkles, all of which are signs of aging.
Frankincense essential oil contains alpha pinene, incesyl acetate, actanol, octyl acetate, bornyl acetate, incensole, and linalool. More than three-quarters of the oil is composed of monoterpenes, monoterpenols, ketones, sesquiterpenes, and sesquiterpenols. These account for the many health properties seen in frankincense essential oil.
Currently, frankincense essential oil is generally considered to be safe. However, you should understand that it is an emenagogue and an astringent which can have adverse effects on a pregnant woman and her unborn child. While there are no studies to either confirm or refute the safe use of frankincense oil among pregnant women, it is a lot better not to take it if you’re pregnant.
1.Choi, O., Kwon, M., Kong, M., Lee, S., Gang, S., et al (1986). Inhibition effects of frankincense oil on skin aging (II): focused on histological observation. Journal of Environmental toxicology. 23(2): 129-138
2.Chen, Y., Zhou, C., Ge, Z., Liu, Y., Liu, Y., et al (2013). Composition and potential anticancer activities of essential oils obtained from myrrh and frankincense. Oncology Letters: Spandidos Publications. DOI: 10.3892
3.Mikhaeil, B. R., Maatooq, G. T., Badria, F. A., and M. M. A. Amer (2003). Chemistry and immunomodulatory activity of frankincense oil. Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung C: A Journal of Biosciences. 58(3-4): 230-238.
4.Van Vuuren, S. F., Kamatou, G. P. P., and A. m. Viljoen (2010). Volatile composition and antimicrobial activity of twenty commercial frankincense essential oil samples. South African Journal of Botany. 76(4): 686-691.
5.Singh, G. B., and C. K. Atal (1986). Pharmacology of an extract of salai guggal ex-Boswellia serrata, a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent. Agents and Actions. 18(3): 407-412.
6.Frank, M. B., Yang, Q., Osban, J., Azzarello, J. T., Saban, M. R., et al (2009). Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 9(6): 10.1186
7.Winking, M., Sarikaya, S., Rahmanian, A., Jodicke, A., and D. K. Boker (2000). Boswellic acids inhibit glioma growth: a new treatment option? Journal of Neuro-Oncology. 46(2): 97-103.