Updated May 24, 2019
Frankincense oil has legends that extend far and wide, from ancient Egyptians and biblical texts to modern day miracles. Are these legends or facts? Let’s take a look at the rich history of frankincense essential oil uses and the research we have to support its use today. You will soon find out the uses for frankincense are vast. This blog also contains the best frankincense oil brands and a comparison of their quality.
What is Frankincense?
Frankincense oil is derived from the resin of the Boswellia tree and it has many names. Frankincense is also known as:
- Indian Frankincense
These names are interchangeable and all come from the Boswellia tree. Over 25 species of Boswellia tree exist, but they all have similar and overlapping benefits. Frankincense resin is the medicinal part and it comes from this resin.
Frankincense essential oil and Boswellia supplements are made from the same orange-brown resin that comes from the Boswellia tree trunks.
The Boswellia tree is also referred to as the guggal tree. Guggul trees belong to the family Burseraceae. Boswellia trees are mainly found in the dry regions of India, Pakistan, Somalia, and Bangladesh.
History of Frankincense
Frankincense was depicted in the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt about 500 BC and was used as medicine by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
The use of frankincense fell out of favor when trade routes were disrupted, but is gaining renewed interest due to its many potent health benefits. Like many plants, frankincense oil holds deep traditions for its use both as medicine and incense. Frankincense is known as the King of Oils.
Frankincense literally means “Pure Incense.”
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Frankincense oil contains many beneficial compounds including:
- Boswellic acids
These compounds help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, support healthy immunity, reduce arthritis, asthma symptoms, reduce cancer risk, support healthy brain function, and more.
Why Quality Matters
By far one of the most potent essential oils, frankincense is likely to improve your health. It is a very safe oil to use as well, with the exception of people who do have a sensitivity to frankincense. However, the brand that you buy is extremely important. Many brands of frankincense are more perfume than actual essential oil. The best frankincense essential oil is one that is Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade.
The best frankincense oil will also be one that is harvested in a sustainable way. Why? We want the trees to be with us forever. Current practices of harvesting can damage the trees.
Essential oil tip: Organic is not always purer, more sustainable, or more potent.
Why? Frankincense grows naturally in Africa, where there are often no organic certifications. Any frankincense claiming that it is organic is likely grown in a region that is NOT conducive to the tree’s optimal conditions and therefore does not have the same therapeutic potential as one grown in its indigenous region.
High-quality oils are also grown in a region where chemical farming is not used, so organic certifications really aren’t very useful or applicable.
To determine the purity of essential oil, every batch of essential oil should be inspected with gas chromatography or gas spectrometry (GC/MS).
Jump to Best Essential Oil Brands section to learn more below.
Scientifically-Proven Frankincense Essential Oil Uses
Over 600 studies report benefits of frankincense in the National Library of Medicine.
The first medical paper came out in the 1960’s, which described the pain-relieving properties of frankincense. Doctors were also talking about its anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory activity then.
Of these 600 studies, researchers have determined that frankincense has undeniable health benefits for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, dermatitis, diabetes, infectious diseases, ear infections, respiratory diseases, asthma, psoriasis, gingivitis.
Frankincense also helps protect liver, nerve, heart, and thyroid tissue.
Frankincense benefits health because it works on many pathways in the body.
Do We Have Enough Research To Support Use of Frankincense?
Researchers spend billions of dollars to figure out the most minute and sometimes inconsequential facts; frankincense is no exception.
We search for answers when the answers for health are often right in front of us. These answers come from clinical research, human experience, which is diverse, complex, and innately individual.
I surmise that 600 studies showing benefits for frankincense oil use are enough.
As many of you know, I’ve been defending the use of plants in a way that they were meant to be used; through traditions, practical research, through complex combinations, and careful observations.
How Does Frankincense Work?
Frankincense has unique properties and no medicine can compare. Why? A substance from frankincense called guggelsterone is the only known substance on the planet to be an antagonist of farnesoid X receptor (FXR). This effect of frankincense has the ability to help reduce inflammation in the body.
Frankincense also reduces a strong inflammation compound that starts in the nucleus called NFkB.
It also reduces many other inflammation-provoking chemicals in the body.
In a review from the British Medical Journal, frankincense reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis, and collagenous colitis.
The authors in this prestigious journal concluded that ALL clinical research so far have found frankincense beneficial for human health [R]. Let that thought resonate for a minute. All. No wonder it is getting some positive attention these days.
Plants are complex and work on many root problems for our health. Frankincense has many known mechanisms to help our health. Frankincense helps the body by:
- Reducing inflammation
- Improves immune response
- Supports digestive health
- Benefits mood
- May reduce cancer
- Reduces autoimmune response
- Helps balance hormones
Here are the supporting research trials that show how frankincense works.
13 Frankincense Essential Oil Uses
1. Frankincense Arthritis Benefits
Frankincense reduces symptoms of arthritis because it helps brings down inflammation or swelling in the body.
Supplemental Boswellia reduced symptoms of osteoarthritis compared to placebo in a randomized, clinical trial. It also increased range of motion and walking distance in these patients with arthritis.
Another more recent clinical trial found that frankincense effectively reduced arthritis symptoms and improved functional ability. The researchers also found that frankincense improves arthritis symptoms in as little as 5 days [R].
2. Asthma Relief
Asthma medications often leave patients with remaining symptoms. A great add-on treatment may include frankincense. Why? Frankincense is one of the very few substances on the planet that can reduce 5-LOX inflammation. 5-LOX is an enzyme that drives inflammation in many tissues. With asthma, 5-LOX levels are elevated.
Other bad effects of 5-LOX is that it may lead to tumor formation, inflammatory, digestive, respiratory, and cardiovascular conditions. Frankincense helps reduce this inflammatory chemical in the body.
Clinical research has shown that frankincense may help asthma: 70 percent of patients, receiving frankincense supplements at 300 mg three times daily, had improvement in asthma disease functional markers compared to 27 percent of the placebo group.
3. Skin Benefits
Frankincense use may help protect our most important barrier from the outside world; our skin.
Frankincense use may also reduce skin aging from sun, skin roughness, and fine lines, as well as increase elasticity as shown in clinical study.
Frankincense essential oil improved markers of skin health in cell study. This cell study suggests that frankincense likely may reduce scar formation and reduce wound persistence.
Many people (including myself) use frankincense oil on their skin because they notice that it helps reduce signs of aging as well.
4. Frankincense Essential Oil Uses for Immunity
Frankincense compound enhances the innate immune response and natural killer cell activity in the body.
5. Frankincense Oil Cancer Benefits
Many early research trials show that use of frankincense oil may reduce the burdens of cancer.
Frankincense even reduces the genes that contribute to the spread, or metastasis, of cancer.
Although research is still early, frankincense reduced tumor growth and spread by killing cancer cells in a rat study of glioma, a type of brain cancer.
Frankincense also killed breast cancer cells in cell culture.
In lab study, frankincense also reduced inflammatory markers in:
- head and neck-type cancer cells [R].
While research in this area remains somewhat early-stage, no downsides to frankincense use have been reported.
More Frankincense Cancer Benefits
Frankincense reduced growth and spread of prostate cancer in mice [R].
Frankincense reduced tumor growth and spread of head and neck cancer in a mouse model. Additionally, it increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
While treating cancer with frankincense essential oils is still preliminary, many frankincense testimonials suggest benefit.
6. Thyroid Function
Thyroid disorders are treated, but often the underlying inflammatory condition does not change without lifestyle changes. Plants that help reduce inflammation, like frankincense, can support healthy thyroid tissue.
Many essential oils are used to help improve thyroid function, including frankincense oil.
Early research shows that frankincense essential oil use may help the thyroid. Frankincense had a positive effect on thyroid function in cell culture study.
7. Frankincense Essential Oil for Seizure Reduction
Frankincense is rich in compounds called terpenes. Terpenes in the essential oil may reduce seizure activity. For example, frankincense oil use improved learning and helped retain brain function in rats with epilepsy.
While human trials are still needed to see if frankincense is helpful for seizures, frankincense testimonials for seizures in humans are promising. The best approach is always using essential oils as a preventive lifestyle add-on, and not to replace medications.
8. Frankincense Essential Oil for Alzheimer’s and Memory
Frankincense may protect neurons and brain function. How? By providing the nerve cells with antioxidant protection. Frankincense helps increase glutathione levels. Glutathione is our body’s biggest antioxidant reserve system.
Frankincense reduced memory deficits in an animal model of Alzheimer’s dementia.
9. Frankincense May Improve Heart Health
Rich in antioxidants and compounds that support healthy immune function, frankincense is a natural plant to focus on for heart health. While we still are waiting for human trials, animal studies show great promise for frankincense’s benefit for our heart.
For example, frankincense had remarkable cardiovascular benefits in a recent animal study. It protected the heart by decreasing dangerous fats, improved heart enzymes, improved antioxidant enzymes, and reversed heart damage.
10. Frankincense Use Reduces Colitis
Frankincense may outrank current drug treatments for colitis. Take this example: frankincense resin reduced ulcerative colitis symptoms better than treatment with sulfasalazine drug in terms of remission. 85 percent of the frankincense group achieved remission while 75 percent of drug treatment achieved remission.
Boswellia supplements helped patients achieve remission for their colitis in another small clinical trial. Frankincense worked better than standard treatment.
11. Frankincense Essential Oils for Depression
Frankincense essential oil use may also help ease depression as well.
A study of patients receiving hospice care used a blend of frankincense, bergamot, and lavender applied topically as a hand massage for 5 minutes.
Those receiving the oils had reduced pain and depression compared to hand massage alone.
12. Frankincense for Pain
Frankincense has numerous pain-relieving properties, so it can be used for many kinds of pain. The pain-relieving properties of frankincense are very strong.
In a clinical study, frankincense improved both pain threshold and pain tolerance.
I use a combination of frankincense, copaiba, and marjoram to knock down my neck pain. It works almost instantly when I use a roller bottle of this essential oil combination along with coconut oil applied to my neck.
Frankincense essential oil testimonials for pain and healing:
- Reduces otherwise daunting pains when using internally and topically
- Helps heal wounds
- Relieves muscle tension
- Speeds healing time
- Reduces discomfort of colds and allergies when combined with peppermint and rosemary
Bottom line: frankincense may help pain significantly. It is a much safer option than prescription pain drugs.
13. Frankincense Oil Use for Gingivitis
Gingivitis is a gum disease that is caused by the bacteria build-up on teeth that results in the inflammation of the gum tissue. Poor oral care, but also poor diet can cause gingivitis.
A rigorous clinical study of 75 teens showed that oral use of frankincense reduced inflammation of gingivitis more than drug treatment over a 14 day period.
Frankincense Essential Oil Production
Frankincense essential oil is usually extracted from the Boswellia carteri tree and Boswellia extract for supplements is most often from the Boswellia serrata tree.
The harvesting of frankincense can take 5 months long and the best frankincense oils usually are harvested from Somalian wild Boswellia trees. The bark of the frankincense tree is carefully chopped in an area where hard resin appears on the surface of the tree. This allows the resin to drip out and begin to harden over a period of time.
Frankincense Brands to Avoid
While some brands are certified organic, potency is unknown. The following are organic but untested. The testing is SO important.
Examples of companies that are organic, but purity is unknown:
- Dr. Axe
- Plant Therapy
- Majestic Pure
- Wellness Scent
- US Organic
- Neal’s Yard
The reviews on many of these brands state that the scent is too weak. This should be your first clue that there is a breakdown in purity. While they may not cause harm, they won’t have a guaranteed therapeutic benefit either.
Companies like Dr. Axe use organic oils, but as a consumer, you don’t have access to the potency or the purity of the product.
Just because an oil says it is organic doesn’t mean it isn’t grown in an area with high pollutants in the air! They are cheaper, but of low quality without purity assurance. Most of these oil brands are not safe for oral intake either.
Other brands that are NOT organic, and may contain solvents, chemicals, and very little actual essential oil in them include:
- Many more
Chemicals solvents in low-quality essential oil brands do absorb into your body so aren’t even recommended for topical use. With the popularity of essential oils, the number of brands producing them now is staggering. Read below for the only oils to choose for therapeutic health benefits. These are NEVER safe for oral intake.
Best Frankincense Essential Oil Brands to Use
Therapeutic Grade Oils are guaranteed to be pure. There are only two brands that meet this criterion:
- Young Living
Both of these brands are comparable in price. However, the accessibility of this purity is not available readily for the consumer with the Young Living brand.
Doterra is the only brand that holds the distinction of Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade. What does this mean? Each batch has 14 independent, 3rd party tests, and you can access the EXACT compounds of each batch of oil at Source To You.
Why is purity so important? Take this example: 1 drop of Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade peppermint oil is equal to the number of compounds in 29 cups of peppermint tea. It is actually more medicinal and therapeutic than any other oil brand at this level of concentration.
With Certified Pure Therapeutic Oil, Doterra frankincense is 100% pure and potent as proven by gas chromatography and mass spectrometer. This certification means that they are proven to be free of all chemicals, unlike brands that are organic.
It costs just $0.37 cents per typical dose as well at wholesale prices. For its potent health benefits, I am happy to spend that for reducing my healthcare costs overall. Doterra gives back rewards, too, up to 30 percent back on all purchases.
Many hospitals and insurance companies are now reimbursing and using Doterra brand for the simple fact that its purity and strength is beyond compare.
Another reason Doterra is the best choice? The Doterra brand is so important for sustainability and for supporting the thriving of the trees and communities:
Is Frankincense Essential Oil Use Sustainable?
Some harvesting of frankincense resin is sustainable and some are not.
Doterra frankincense uses Co-Impact sourcing, which helps the people who grow the frankincense, the environment, social and economy of the region where it is derived. It supports the health and vitality of these precious Boswellia trees.
Watch this inspiring video about how Doterra is providing income, education, and sustainability for both the trees and the farmers in Somaliland.
doTERRA Co-Impact Sourcing Initiative in Somalia
High-quality essential oils are steam-distilled and harvested in a sustainable way. The best frankincense oil will be free of chemical solvents and will be Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade. Be aware that some Organic brands are not always pure and can contain very little frankincense at all.
Frankincense Essential Oil Uses
- Use ONLY Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade Frankincense oil when consuming frankincense oil. Find it here.
- High-quality frankincense oil is really important. Why? Many “organic” and health food store varieties contain dangerous solvents, perfumes and only trace amounts of active frankincense!
- Take 1-2 drops in a glass of water daily, up to 4 times a day, to support healthy cellular function.
- Take the Lifelong Vitality supplement regimen, which contains supplemental Boswellia, to best support overall nutrition and reduces inflammation markers.
How to Use Frankincense Oil on Face or Skin
- Dilute with doTERRA Fractionated Coconut Oil to minimize any skin sensitivity.
- Frankincense roller bottles: Add 20 drops frankincense per 5-10 ml of coconut oil in a roller bottle.
- Anti-aging skin routine: Add 1-2 drops to your usual moisturizer morning and evening.
- Breast detox: For breast detoxification, place 4 drops twice daily to each breast two times a day for 30 days. Clinical study shows that use of frankincense may reduce breast tissue density.
- Headache and Pain: For headache or pain relief, simply apply to the area of discomfort.
- Lung health: Enhance the effectiveness of other respiratory oils: combine with Breathe oil for respiratory health.
- Pain relief oils: Add frankincense to peppermint oil for great headache relief.
- Muscle relief: Blend with copaiba and marjoram essential oil for a warming joint pain oil or for muscle and nerve pain.
- Inflammation: Blend frankincense and myrrh together for inflammation.
- For Calming: Mixes well with lavender essential oil for calming and relaxation.
- Apply topically 1 drop several times a day to desired area.
Diffusing Frankincense Oil
- Cleansing and renewing: frankincense helps promote a calm environment while cleansing the room when diffusing.
- Diffuse 3-4 drops in water in your diffuser.
- Frankincense blends well with wild orange, myrrh, lavender, and blue tansy.
Dilute frankincense oil to reduce the chances of skin sensitivity.
There are no significant side effects of frankincense essential oil use. As with any plant, a small percentage of people are allergic. If you have a sensitivity to frankincense, avoid its use.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, always consult a doctor before using essential oils.
Over 600 medical journal studies support frankincense essential oil use for health. As with anything, frankincense should be used along with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Consult with your healthcare provider before adding frankincense. Always choose Certified Pure Essential Oil brand to get the highest quality and the best value for your health.
Want ALL of your essential oils, hair products, cleaners, and skin products to be this pure? Get a Natural Solutions kit today.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.