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Frankincense Essential Oil

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

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Updated August 02, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Frankincense essential oil is a type of essential oil commonly used in aromatherapy. Typically sourced from the resin of the Boswellia carterii or Boswellia sacra tree, frankincense essential oil is said to offer a variety of health benefits.

Sometimes referred to as olibanum, frankincense essential oil is also used as an ingredient in perfume, incense, and skin-care products.

How Does Frankincense Essential Oil Work?

In aromatherapy, inhaling the aroma of frankincense essential oil (or absorbing frankincense essential oil through the skin) is thought to transmit messages to a brain region involved in controlling emotions. Known as the limbic system, this brain region also influences the nervous system. Aromatherapy proponents suggest that essential oils may affect a number of biological factors, including heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function.

Health Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oil

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 aromatherapeutic use of frankincense essential oil.

For instance, laboratory research on human cells indicates that frankincense essential oil may possess immune-stimulating and cancer-fighting properties that could aid in protection against breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. However, it's important to note that these studies did not test the aromatherapeutic use of frankincense essential oil, and that more research is needed before frankincense essential oil can be recommended in treatment of any health condition.

Uses for Frankincense Essential Oil

In aromatherapy, frankincense essential oil is typically used to treat the following problems:

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, reverse signs of aging, and reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks.

How to Use Frankincense Essential Oil

When combined with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado), frankincense essential oil can be applied directly to the skin or added to baths.

Frankincense essential oil also can be inhaled after sprinkling a few drops of the oil onto a cloth or tissue, or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer.

Safety

Frankincense essential oil should not be taken internally without the supervision of a health professional. Internal use of frankincense essential oil may have toxic effects.

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.

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 chronic condition with frankincense essential oil and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Learn more about how to use frankincense essential oil safely.

Alternatives To Frankincense Essential Oil

Although further scientific support for the health effects of frankincense essential oil is needed, several other types of essential oils have been found to offer certain health benefits.

For example, lavender essential oil may help alleviate anxiety and relieve insomnia, while rose essential oil may ease menstrual cramps and reduce stress. In addition, both orange essential oil and lemon essential oil may help enhance mood.

Where To Find Frankincense Essential Oil

Here are some tips on purchasing essential oils.

Frankincense essential oil is widely available for purchase online and is sold in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in self-care products.

Sources

de Rapper S, Van Vuuren SF, Kamatou GP, Viljoen AM, Dagne E. "The additive and synergistic antimicrobial effects of select frankincense and myrrh oils--a combination from the pharaonic pharmacopoeia." Lett Appl Microbiol. 2012 Apr;54(4):352-8.

Frank MB, Yang Q, Osban J, Azzarello JT, Saban MR, Saban R, Ashley RA, Welter JC, Fung KM, Lin HK. "Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2009 Mar 18;9:6.

Mikhaeil BR, Maatooq GT, Badria FA, Amer MM. "Chemistry and immunomodulatory activity of frankincense oil." Z Naturforsch C. 2003 Mar-Apr;58(3-4):230-8.

Ni X, Suhail MM, Yang Q, Cao A, Fung KM, Postier RG, Woolley C, Young G, Zhang J, Lin HK. "Frankincense essential oil prepared from hydrodistillation of Boswellia sacra gum resins induces human pancreatic cancer cell death in cultures and in a xenograft murine model." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Dec 13;12:253.

Suhail MM, Wu W, Cao A, Mondalek FG, Fung KM, Shih PT, Fang YT, Woolley C, Young G, Lin HK. "Boswellia sacra essential oil induces tumor cell-specific apoptosis and suppresses tumor aggressiveness in cultured human breast cancer cells." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Dec 15;11:129.

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