Essential Oil 101: Frankincense

Danh NgoEssential Oil, Healthy Living Division, UncategorizedLeave a Comment


Frankincense is an oil with an intriguing religious backstory of various cultures, from Buddhism, Egyptians, Romans, and Catholicism to name a few. The name itself is derived from the Old French ‘franc encens’ meaning pure incense. It is most popular as one of the three gifts given to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. Frankincense oil is made from a gum resin of a milky white sap from the soon-to-be endangered tree of the Boswellia family and its related species. This tree is found in African and Arabian regions, with Oman being the most ancient source of frankincense. There are varying qualities of frankincense.  The highest quality can be distinguished by its clear and silvery appearance.

Our family uses frankincense oil frequently as an option in skin health. From ancient to modern day, it is claimed to be “one of the top” essential oils for your health. I wanted to dig deeper to know why it is common in skin care products, like soaps and lotions, especially in eczema care. There was more to this oil than I thought. As a rehab practitioner, I like that it is a viable option to address scar tissue. Frankincense is becoming a more validated by research studies as an option in cancer treatment.

The main components of this essential oil are ketonic alcohol (olibanol), resinous matters (30 to 60 percent), and terpenes such as α-and p-pinene. The (mono)terpenes, like campene and phellandrene, help prevent and discharge toxins from your liver and kidneys, and have antiseptic, antibacterial, stimulating, analgesic (weak), and expectorant properties.  Meanwhile, (sesqui)terpenes can go beyond the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the limbic system of your brain, as well as your hypothalamus, and pineal and pituitary glands.

To go into more nerdy details, low exposure of α-Pinene (bronchodialator) helps you to breath, is an anti-inflammatory agent (via PGE 1), and a broad spectrum antibiotic. It exhibits activity as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, aiding memory which is one theory in Alzheimer’s care.  α-Pinene binds to benzodiazepine, like Valium, which is why it has a relaxing sedative and anti-anxiety effect.  Frankincense contains incensole actate, which a study has shown to provide this same anti-anxiety and anti-depressant response from the brain in mice by activating Transient receptor potential vanilloid 3 (TRPV3).  Actanol and linalool, components of frankincense, help with being a decongestant and insect repellants, respectively.  Linalool has been shown to have stress reduction property and a downstream product of vitamin E.  Vitamin E is important for scar healing and skin “regenerative” health.

In summary, frankincense is considered a tonic providing a wide multi-system benefit to the skin, nervous, respiratory, digestive, immune system. It can be used topically, added to a bathwater for a relaxing anti-aging soak, as an aromatherapy, or if good quality, ingested. Frankincense’s incense aroma brings a sense of mental peace, relaxation, and satisfaction, thus people equate it to spirituality and religion. The sedative effect with the anti-inflammatory property can be a powerful dual combo in pain relief. This has been documented to work for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as helping to prevent the breakdown of cartilage tissue.

There are many recent studies that show how frankincense is a viable option in cancer treatment via cell lysis; the destruction of cells by rupture or disintegration of the membrane and loss of cell contents, such as that produced by viruses, anti-bodies and complement, or by a hypotonic environment. The exact reason on how this is done is unclear but many theories are proposed.  This is a hot topic where there are two sides on cancer treatment, holistic versus pharmaceuticals. My job is to educate anyone who is interested in alternative care.

Frankincense has a unique compound known as acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA), which regulates menstruation estrogen production in women.  AKBA helps to reduce the risk of post-menopause tumor or cyst formation in the uterus.  Multiple studies have looked at the efficacy of frankincense in cervical, uterine and ovarian cancer. There is more research showing promising data in treating skin, breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

There have been no documented side effects but as I analyze the mechanism of this oil, my assumption is that it can sway the other way if done long term. The nervous system can become accustomed to an enhancing aide and become dependent on it.  The compounds itself within frankincense can be a skin irritant for some people.  This might explain the occasional complaint of rash and itchiness.  When ingesting this oil it is not recommended for children ages 6 and below. Due to the lack of studies in pediatrics, nursing mothers, and pregnant subjects, more because no one wants to volunteer, use with caution. In my family, we have used it as a topical creme, aromatherapy and soaking in bath water with our kids with no issues.  I did apply the diluted oil on an open wound by accident and it did burn.  So only apply it to closed skin regions only.

Blends well with: Bergamot, black pepper, camphor, cinnamon, cypress, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, neroli, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang ylang.

When choosing frankincense oil choose a product made with pure, natural frankincense oil. To test if you are sensitive to frankincense oil, dilute the oil with coconut or jojoba oil and apply to a small area of your wrist first. I am a believer of “nothing in extreme” so even if frankincense oil is a “miracle” oil for you, use it sparingly to avoid a central nervous system maladaptive effect.

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any diseases.

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