Scents can have a powerful influence on your well-being. Aromatherapy, which uses concentrated essences of various botanicals, allows you to harness the olfactory power of plants for healing on many levels. Essential oils carry biologically active volatile compounds in a highly-concentrated form that can provide therapeutic benefits in very small amounts.
There are hundreds and many thousands of essential oils available if you factor in combinations, each with its own potential benefits. That said, one essential oil that stands out above the crowd is frankincense essential oil — commonly referred to as the King of Oils — made from the resin of either the Boswellia sacra or Boswellia carterii tree.
Boswellia trees grow in African and Arabian regions, including Yemen, Oman, Somalia and Ethiopia. The oil is pale yellow-green with a woody, earthy and spicy aroma. Frankincense oil is traditionally used in many religious holy rites, and as an ingredient in perfumes and skin care products.
Composition of Frankincense Oil
Its main chemical constituents are alpha-pinene, octanol, linalool, octyl acetate, bornyl acetate, incensole and incensyl acetate. Monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes are thought to be the most valuable elements of frankincense oil.
According to the "Studies in Natural Products Chemistry: Bioactive Natural Products, Part H,"1monoterpenes work in the liver and kidneys, and lower cholesterol activity in the liver. Some monoterpenes have antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, antitumor2 and expectorant3 properties.
Sesquiterpenes may cross the blood-brain barrier, as seen in this 2013 animal study,4 and help stimulate the limbic system, aka the emotional center, of your brain. This stimulates secretions of antibodies, serotonin, endorphins and neurotransmitters which can influence your mood and emotions.5
Quality frankincense oil is nontoxic and generally nonirritating.6 That said, it's always best to perform a skin test before using it undiluted on your body. Should any irritation occur, be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil.
Health Benefits of Frankincense Oil
Anecdotally, many swear by its healing powers, and substances found in frankincense essential oil — such as alpha-pinene and boswellic acid — have been scientifically shown to impart a number of health benefits, including:7
1. Speeding up wound healing8
2. Fight the appearance of stretch marks, age spots and wrinkles9
7. Supporting uterine health in women by regulating estrogen production. It also helps regulate the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women19
9. Promoting sleep21
Frankincense is also one of the best oils to use for the removal of skin tags. One recent study29confirmed that frankincense essential oil is bioactive and affects human gene expression, upregulating at least 42 and downregulating 41 genes, stating that "Many of these signaling pathways are closely related to the biological processes of inflammation, immune response, and tissue remodeling in human cells." The researchers also noted that:
"Alpha-pinene, the top constituent of FREO [frankincense essential oil], is widely recognized as the major anti-inflammatory component of FREO. Alpha-pinene showed anti-inflammatory properties in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells and mouse macrophages through inhibition of tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β, nitric oxide, and mitogen activated protein kinases.
An in vitro study showed that isolated alpha-pinene had the ability to reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Another study found that alpha-pinene inhibited the nuclear translocation of NF-kB induced by lipopolysaccharide in THP-1 cells, explaining its benefits in the treatment of upper and lower airway diseases.
Recent research has also provided evidence that alpha-pinene has some immune-enhancing properties, particularly regarding enhanced T-cell activity.