Health Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oil

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on June 03, 2024
8 min read

Frankincense is one of more than 90 types of essential oils that are popularly used in the realm of aromatherapy. Essential oils are made from petals, roots, peels, and bark of flowers, herbs, and trees. They get their name because they give the plant its “essence,” or fragrance. They can be inhaled or diluted (watered down) and applied to your skin.

Each essential oil has its own unique smell and potential health benefits. Some popular ones include rose, lavender, sandalwood, chamomile, jasmine, and peppermint.

Frankincense is not one of the most widely used oils, but it does have potential health benefits. You may also find it as a resin or extract. It's sometimes sold as a dietary supplement or as an ingredient in skin care or other products.

What does frankincense smell like?

It's often described as rich, warm, and woody. You may also notice it has a citrusy, fruity, or spicy scent.

Where does frankincense come from?

Also known as olibanum, frankincense comes from trees in the Boswellia family. Frankincense oil is prepared by the steam distillation of gum resin from the Boswellia tree. Boswellia trees are native to Oman and Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Somalia in northeastern Africa.

People have used frankincense for thousands of years. It's traditionally used medicinally in Islamic, Chinese, and Indian medicine. People also use it as chewing gum, incense, and in perfume.

Much is still being learned about the health benefits of frankincense, but some experts think it could have some good uses. As research continues, more uses and evidence to back them up could emerge.

Research shows that frankincense naturally has many activities. For example, it is:

  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Pain-relieving (analgesic)
  • Anti-cancer

It can also affect the immune system in different ways. This property is known as immune-modulating.

Frankincense oil for pain

Frankincense, along with myrrh, has been prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine and administered for the treatment of blood stagnation and inflammation diseases in addition to pain relief and swelling.

There's some evidence that it can help with infection and inflammation. It may stop your body from releasing chemicals that cause inflammation. For example, one study showed that its topical use could help with knee pain.

Frankincense oil for skin

People have realized that frankincense can have many effects on your skin. It can help with inflammation and pain.

One study looked at whether it could have anti-aging effects. The study found some evidence that it might protect against aging related to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. While more study is needed, researchers concluded that frankincense oil may have promising uses as a topical anti-aging therapy.

Frankincense oil and cancer

Studies by doctors in countries around the world suggest that frankincense may help in the treatment of cancer. Specifically, boswellic acid might prevent cancer cells from spreading.

Specific cancers frankincense may help fight are:

But most studies have been done in cancer cells not in people with cancer. It's not clear if frankincense can help people with cancer. So, you should always talk to your doctor before trying anything new.

In another study in a Cancer journal article in 2011, patients with brain tumors took 4.2 grams of frankincense or a placebo each day. In the group taking frankincense, 60% had reduced fluid in their brain, compared to 26% of the people who were given the placebo. So, it's possible that the oil could help people with cancer in other ways.

Frankincense oil and asthma

One study found that the compounds found in frankincense prevent your body from making leukotrienes, which cause bronchial (throat) muscles to constrict in people who have asthma.

In one study, 70% of participants with asthma said they had improvements in their symptoms, including wheezing and shortness of breath, after receiving 300 milligrams of frankincense daily for a month and a half.

Another study in Italy found that a standardized version of frankincense helped 32 people with asthma use their inhalers less often. The findings led the researchers to suggest it might be used in combination with other kinds of treatments. But more study is needed.

Frankincense oil and arthritis

The prevention of inflammatory leukotrienes not only helps ease symptoms of asthma but also plays a role in helping people with arthritis. Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation and pain in joints such as the fingers, knees, and feet. Leukotriene compounds cause this inflammation.

In one study, participants who were given 1 gram of frankincense extract per day for 8 weeks said they felt less joint swelling and pain than those who were given a placebo. In addition to that, they reported a better range of motion and walked farther than patients who received the placebo. But frankincense isn't proven for arthritis or a replacement for your regular arthritis medicine.

Frankincense oil and oral health

The boswellic acids that come from frankincense have good antibacterial properties, which can help prevent and treat infections in your mouth. These include bad breath, toothaches, and cavities.

For example, in one study, high school students with gingivitis were given gum that contained 100 milligrams of frankincense extract or 200 milligrams of frankincense powder. They chewed the gum for 2 weeks, and both gums were found more effective at reducing signs of gingivitis than a placebo.

Frankincense oil and gut disease

The anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense also may help reduce symptoms of diseases in your stomach, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

In one study, people with chronic diarrhea were given either 1,200 milligrams of Boswellia or a placebo each day. Six weeks into the study, the people who had used Boswellia had cured their problem at a better rate than those who had used the placebo.

As with any product or food you use, it’s important to consider their health risks, if any. Frankincense essential oils are used in aromatherapy. Many essential oils used in that way are not regulated by the FDA. So, they might be harmful if used on the skin or taken by mouth. Problems with essential oils could include:

Frankincense allergy

The body reacts to different chemicals in different ways. As an essential oil, frankincense contains many chemicals that could make your body react. One possible side effect is an allergic reaction.

Signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, hives, and itchy skin. If you experience one or more of these symptoms soon after coming into contact with frankincense essential oil, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Skin reaction to frankincense

Similar to allergies, people who use frankincense essential oil may experience skin discomfort or sensitivity. This is also a way your body lets you know that it’s coming into contact with something that doesn’t agree with it.

If you experience discomfort, pain, dry skin, red patches, or itchy skin after putting frankincense essential oil on your skin, it’s a good idea to stop using it and seek medical advice if it doesn't get better.

Reaction with medication

Frankincense essential oil may interact with other medicines or supplements you’re taking in ways that could be harmful to you. There's not much known about how frankincense may affect approved medicines. Talk to your doctor before using frankincense in essential oil or as a dietary supplement.

It's best not to go overboard when using the oil or supplement on your own. That's because doctors are still in the early stages of researching frankincense, and only small studies have been conducted in people. Essential oils and supplements aren't regulated in the way that medicines are in general. So, it's hard to know for sure how much frankincense is really in the products you might buy.

You may find practitioners who use frankincense as part of traditional medicine practices, such as Chinese medicine. Although there have been some encouraging signs, medical doctors in many parts of the world aren't likely to recommend it to treat any health condition. But it might be safe enough to try and see if it helps. Talk to your doctor before trying it and ask for a recommendation on whether it's safe and how much it's OK for you to use.

People use frankincense and products containing it in many different ways. You can put drops of the oil in a diffuser for aromatherapy. Some people find that aromatherapy helps them feel better or relieves stress.

You also can put frankincense oil on your skin. In addition to the oil itself, some soaps, lotions, and other products may contain frankincense. Frankincense is also sold in capsules as a supplement alone or sometimes in combination with other herbs, such as turmeric.

Frankincense is a natural ingredient that comes from a tree. It's been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine, and there's growing evidence that it may have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and potentially other benefits. Because the evidence for its use for any health condition in people is limited, most doctors aren't likely to recommend it. It's a good idea to check with your doctor first, but it may be safe enough to try using it in aromatherapy or on your skin to see if it helps.

How do you use frankincense essential oil for skin care?

You can find ideas about how to use it online. Also, frankincense is an ingredient in some skin care products. But there's no standard way to use frankincense essential oil in skin care. Check with your doctor first and use it cautiously at first to make sure it doesn't irritate your skin or cause a skin reaction.

Can frankincense essential oil help with stress and anxiety?

There's some evidence that aromatherapy using frankincense or other essential oils can ease stress or anxiety. However, the evidence to show how well it works is limited. It's likely safe enough to try to see if it actually works.

How do you use frankincense essential oil in aromatherapy?

You can smell the frankincense essential oil or put it into a diffuser. The idea is that receptors in your nose detect the scent and send signals to your brain that release hormones to make you feel more relaxed.

What precautions should be taken when using frankincense?

Take precautions if you have asthma, allergies, epilepsy, migraine, or other conditions that might be triggered by frankincense essential oil. Check with a doctor if you're pregnant or taking other medicines. You should also keep essential oils away from open flames, children, and pets. Don't ingest them and be careful about putting them on your skin.

How does frankincense essential oil differ from other essential oils?

Essential oils contain extracts from flowers, seeds, leaves, or other plant parts. Frankincense is made from a tree in the Boswellia family. Other essential oils, such as bergamot, jasmine, pine, sandalwood, or rose, contain extracts from other plants.