Frankincense Essential Oil is extracted from the resin of various species of Frankincense tree (Boswellia spp). There are many species of Frankincense tree, most of which are native to Eastern Africa and the Middle East.
Ancient texts and oral histories indicate that Frankincense resin has been used by the people of the region for thousands of years. For example, Frankincense was one of three gifts that the Magi brought to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Frankincense is widely used in Ayurvedic, Naturopathic and many forms of Traditional Medicine. Pure frankincense resin is consumed orally to treat a range of digestive tract problems. Frankincense is used extensively in Aromatherapy. Several research studies have reported that Frankincense is toxic to cancer cells, but these studies were all done in test tubes and it is unclear whether Frankincense would be a useful cancer treatment in humans or animals.
For Naturopathic acne treatments, Frankincense Essential Oil is generally used as a topical treatment. It can be added to topical formulations where it is purported to help ameliorate acne symptoms by reducing inflammation, suppressing bacterial growth and accelerating healing. Some Naturopathic practitioners may also prescribe Frankincense resin as an oral treatment for acne, although this is uncommon.
Despite the fact that many Naturopaths and their patients report improvements in their acne symptoms with the use of Frankincense Essential Oil, there is very little clinical research on this topic. There do not appear to be any controlled studies about the efficacy of Frankincense for the treatment of acne. Laboratory testing indicates that Frankincense is not strongly toxic to gram-positive bacteria, a group which includes the acne-causing P. acnes bacterium.
Because Frankincense Essential Oil can be produced from the resin of several species of Frankincense (Boswellia) tree, there is considerable variation in the composition of Frankincense Essential Oil. Frankincense is most commonly obtained from the resin of the following Frankincense species: Boswellia carterii, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia papyrifera, Boswellia sacra and Boswellia serrata. Frankincense Essential Oil contains significant concentrations of many biologically-active molecules, including alpha-Pinene, Limonene, p-Cymene and B-Caryophyllene.
Populations of native Frankincense trees are declining in many regions, largely due to unsustainable harvesting of Frankincense resin. A substantial proportion of Frankincense trees grow in countries that have high levels of poverty and weak environmental protections. Resin extraction can slow the growth of Frankincense trees, reduce their seed production or even kill them outright. Consumers can help protect Frankincense populations by purchasing resin and oils that are sustainably harvested.
Composition and potential anticancer activities of essential oils obtained from myrrh and frankincense. Chen, et al. 2013.
Volatile composition and antimicrobial activity of twenty commercial frankincense essential oil samples. Van Vuuren, et al. 2010.
Chemistry and immunomodulatory activity of frankincense oil. Mikhaeil, et al. 2003.
Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of some oleogum resin essential oils from Boswellia spp.(Burseraceae). Camarda, et al. 2007.
The Encyclopedia of essential oils: the complete guide to the use of aromatic oils in aromatherapy, herbalism, health, and well being. Lawless. 2013.