Frankincense: Let's put this into perspective!

Posted on July 02 2020

Truth & Information about Frankincense Essential Oil

This is the look on my face when people ask.
Which Frankincense oil is the best to ingest?

Then they proceed to tell me;
I read an article on the internet.
My natural health care provider suggested it.
My neighbour sells it.
Apparently you place a few drops under you tongue or rub some on the roof of their mouth every day in order to treat or prevent cancer, to reverse the affects of concussion syndrome, to reduce joint inflammation and prevent bladder cancer.  Yikes - what is happening?

Frankincense Essential Oil (EO) is obtained by distilling a resin (a sap like substance) that exudes from the Boswellia family of trees which predominately include sacra, carterii, frereana and serrata.  Frankincense oil contains a variation of chemical constituents predominately monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and ketones which naturally occur in various Boswellia species and levels are dependent upon the geographical region to which the tree is grown. From a scent perspective the EO of Frankincense has a fresh balsamic peppery aroma, with a slightly dry green note, with coniferous tones and is used extensively in the perfume industry.

Traditional Health Uses
From a traditional health perspective the aroma is said to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, nervous tension and stress-related conditions.  From an inhalation perspective it seems to lessen symptoms associated with asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs and laryngitis. Topically, indigenous persons throughout the world use the fresh sticky resin in natural skin care preparations for blemishes, scars and wounds and is often touted as improving dry skin, and reversing UV damaged skin.

Massage Therapy & Aromatherapy Massage
Frankincense EO would serves as an excellent adjunct to Massage Therapy, as Frankincense EO contains constituents that may help to improve circulation and reduce inflammation due to the monoterpene levels specifically a-pinene, but the level of a-pinene is dependent upon the species of the Frankincense EO. Since there is reputed research pointing to the benefits of Massage Therapy combining a few drops of Frankincense EO with a natural vegetable carrier oil such as coconut oil may have a positive affect on arthritic and muscular conditions when massaged into those areas of need.

The Hype
Despite all the chatter on the internet and by those who sell essential oils,  distilled Frankincense EO does not contain any boswellic acid.  This is where the problem lies, when statements and headlines are conflated and equivocated by those who sell false-hope.

Scientific Study

In a laboratory setting when bacteria is grown in a petri dish, Frankincense EO has proven to be quite effective as an anti-bacterial agent, and food chemists have investigated its properties to control various types of Listeria monocytogenes. However, Frankincense EO has yet to be proven as a substance to treat human pathogens.

Other research points to the oral use of Boswellia extract which may in fact have some positive health benefits due to the presence of Boswellic Acid.  If you are hoping to benefit from Boswellic Acid then ask at  your local natural health shop for an oral supplement containing a standardized dose of Boswellic Acid that has been approved by the FDA or Health Canada. You can identify licensed natural health products by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label.

Under no circumstance should Frankincense essential oil be taken internally because during the distillation process the Boswellic Acid is lost and other constituents are either heightened and/or altered into other substances which are not safe to ingest.

Frankincense Essential Oil Preferences
Frankincense sacra, carterii, frereana and serrata are all suitable for general aromatherapy inspired products.  Presently I am using serrata in my own personal skin care products because it is an affordable oil and happens to be organically grown it also contains a higher level of a-thugene, some research points to the idea that a-thugene may slow down malignant melanoma cells. I prefer carterii in massage oils and for inhalation due to the higher content of a-pinene.

I flip back and forth between the three when it comes to creating natural perfumes.  Serrata possesses more of a punctuating top note whereas carterii is warmer and more full-bodied with a twist of citrus due to the higher content of limonene. However,  in citrusy chypre style perfumes I prefer to use frereana due to its fresh clear and dry aroma.

Price should not be Indicative of Quality
Some Frankincense oils are more expensive than others, this has nothing to do with the quality. Different species of Boswellia resin yield different amounts of Frankincense oil. For example when the same volume of serrata and carterii resin are distilled the serrata will produce more oil.


Lis-Balchin, M. (2005). Aromatherapy Science: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals (1st ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Lis-Balchin, M. (1995). Aroma Science: The Chemistry & Bioactivity of Essential Oils (1st ed.). United Kingdom: Amberwood Publishing.

Tisserand, Robert, and Rodney Young*. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. 2nd ed., Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
*This author is not affiliated with the Young Living Oil company.

PubMed is a valuable online resource to look up science based research.
Search for:
Boswellia Serrata: A Potential Anti-inflammatory Agent.
Effects of Topical Boswellic Acid on Photo and Aged-Damaged Skin

Frankincense Essential Oil & Cancer

Frankincense Essential Oil - Cancer in Perspective

Sharing Truths - Not Nonsense.
Sandra Topper, has been a Certified Aromatherapist in Canada since 1993 and is registered with the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy as a Clinical Aromatherapist & Aromachologist.

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or by Health Canada. This information and/or these statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and should not be relied upon when making important medical decisions.

Note:  Aromatherapy, like any other natural therapy is intended to complement not replace traditional medicine.

When in doubt about any medical condition, always seek medical advice.
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