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Essential oils are a growing area of interest in the wellness world as of late. Whether they're used in cosmetic products or aromatherapy sessions, people are curious as to what each one does and why. Take lavender essential oil, for instance. It's prized for soothing and settling the mind, which is why it's in so many sleep products (like Vitruvi Sleep Aromatherapy Roll-On Oil). Lavender, like eucalyptus, orange, and rose, is among the most widely known essential oils. But there are others that fly under the radar—like frankincense, for instance.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile plant extracts. We obtain essential oils through a few different extraction methods, and the part of the plant we get the essential oil from can be different depending on the oil but is typically the most aromatic part.
Frankincense oil has been used for centuries as a medicinal relief for ailments of respiratory and digestive origin. Today, it's mainly used in aromatherapy in order to soothe the mind, boost energy, and promote rejuvenation and healing, among other things. You see, people refer to it as the "king of essential oils" for a reason. It does a little bit of everything. Below, we've rounded up the five best uses for frankincense oil in your wellness routine.
"Frankincense is a beautiful essential oil with a rich history and aroma," says Sara Panton, CEO and co-founder of Vitruvi. "The oil and resin of frankincense have been used for hundreds of years, with first mentions of it dating back to when it was traded with myrrh as a form of currency." Aside from the fact that it was once traded as actual currency, frankincense is unique among other essential oils in its origins. "The majority of essential oils we use every day are created via steam distillation and cold-pressing of herbs, flowers, and citrus fruits. However, frankincense essential oil is special because it is created from the sap or 'resin' of the Boswellia sacra tree," Panton explains. "This gives it a deep yet fresh base note aroma, which pairs really beautifully with blends and adds depth and complexity to any aroma."
Establish a Habit of Mindfulness
We could all stand to be a little more mindful in our daily lives, right? Whether that means mindful eating or meditation, being present has been proven to alleviate stress and worry from our lives. "Frankincense is a nice way to help establish ritual and consistency throughout the day," Panton says. "The brain naturally loves patterns and familiarity, and this essential oil has been used in meditation, prayer, and yoga practices for hundreds of years. I love using it in daily meditation practice or as a reminder to take a few deep breaths throughout the day. Sometimes when I know I'm going to have a really busy day, I will actually schedule alarms on my phone a few times a day as a reminder to take a pause, ground my feet, and breathe deeply." Frankincense essential oil is the perfect companion to these small moments of mindfulness.
She also suggests incorporating the oil into an existing meditation routine. "Add five drops to the palm of your hands and rub on meditation beads or crystals to help create a calming and restorative meditation practice," she says.
Make no mistake: Science backs aromatherapy. Take it from Hope Gillerman, founder of wellness brand H. Gillerman Organics, who told us that "your olfactory nerves are actually in your sinuses. … They're extensions of the olfactory part of the brain. When you breathe in an essential oil, you are not just enjoying the scent; you are actually ingesting the quickly evaporating micro-particles into the part of your brain that controls our emotions."
As Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS, and Health and Exercise Scientist of DoTerra Essential Oils explains, "The chemical components of frankincense result in an extremely powerful aroma that can help dispel negative feelings—like stress—and are effective at relaxing and focusing the mind and balancing mood." What's more is that it doesn't just get rid of negative feelings, but it also actually encourages positive ones. It "promotes feelings of satisfaction, peace, relaxation, and overall wellness, which explains its unique value in ancient times." It also explains why "frankincense oil is highly valued today and continues to be one of the most popular essential oils."
Ready Yourself for Sleep
Remember how Panton said that frankincense is good for establishing new habits and rituals, especially when it comes to mindfulness? The same goes for sleep. "I find that using frankincense in my evening ritual is a nice way to create patterns and sleep routines that help me fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply," she says. "This has a huge impact on my day because when I've gotten enough sleep, I find that my energy level is better and I don't have to reach for coffee as much. I like to turn my diffuser on in my bedroom with seven drops of frankincense and six drops of organic French lavender about an hour before I go to sleep and shut the door. By the time I get into bed, the room is filled with a familiar aroma that cues my brain and body that it is time to sleep."
According to Rodriguez, and a recent study conducted by DoTerra scientists, frankincense oil can actually boost cellular immunity and function. "In a recent study, DoTerra scientists investigated the effect of Frankincense essential oil on human skin cells using the BioMap dermal fibroblast system. The BioMap system is a molecular biology method that the researchers used to examine how healthy cellular activity was supported by frankincense essential oil in human skin cells. Taken together, the results from the conducted experiments suggest that frankincense essential oil supports a healthy immune response, promotes overall skin health, and supports a healthy inflammatory response in skin cells." While these statements haven't been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, this research that suggests frankincense oil could support "diverse cells" when taken internally, a potential benefit of using frankincense oil in a wellness routine.
Improve Skin Health
According to Panton, "frankincense essential oil also has great topical benefits for the skin." Even Cleopatra is said to have used frankincense oil, in conjunction with geranium oil, as a skin treatment. "I like to blend three drops of frankincense essential oil with two drops of geranium essential oil in one tablespoon of jojoba carrier oil. I apply it to my cheekbones and around my eyes and massage it in using pressure point techniques along the brow line and on either side of the bridge of the nose." She even adds a couple of drops to eye cream to naturally prevent signs of aging from appearing.
Note: Essential oils can prove too irritating for some skin types. So if you're interested in incorporating one into your regimen, consult a professional and/or conduct a patch test.
Aside from using the oil topically, Rodriguez suggests using it aromatically, either through a room diffuser, like the above from DoTerra, or a DIY room spray. Either one will help promote feelings of calm, remind you to take mindful moments, and even encourage sleep. We don't know about you, but that sounds kind of magical to us, which is why we're suddenly itching to get our hands on a bottle of the so-called "king of essential oils."
If you're interested in learning more about frankincense essential oil, or just essential oils in general, here are some resources (and accessories) you can turn to.
This book includes general facts and info on some of the most effective essential oils, along with blending recipes you can follow. Consider it a scout's guide to essential oils.
This book deals specifically with the aromatherapy end of essential oils. It's also targeted at beginners, which makes it a good option for novices.
Vitruvi's essential-oil diffuser doubles as a chic, minimalist home décor element.
Esym's scent pods make aromatherapy portable. Add a couple of drops of essential oil into the capsule and reach for it whenever you need a boost.
Natural skincare brand Tata Harper is responsible for this aromatic blend of essential oils designed to promote calm and relaxation. Simply apply some to your palms, rub them together, and inhale the scent.
Also be sure to check out what dermatologists have to say about essential oil skincare, specifically, why essential oils won't work for people who have combination skin (sorry).
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Al-Yasiry AR, Kiczorowska B. Frankincense--therapeutic properties. Postepy Hig Med Dosw. 2016;70:380-391. doi:10.5604/17322693.1200553
Han X, Rodriguez D, Parker TL. Biological activities of frankincense essential oil in human dermal fibroblasts. Biochimie Open. 2017;4:31-35. doi:10.1016/j.biopen.2017.01.003
DoTERRA. doTERRA frankincense study [Blog post].
Hamidpour R, Hamidpour S, Hamidpour M, Shahlari M. Frankincense ( rǔ xiāng; boswellia species): from the selection of traditional applications to the novel phytotherapy for the prevention and treatment of serious diseases. J Tradit Complement Med. 2013;3(4):221-226. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.119723