Frankincense Essential Oil

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Frankincense Essential Oil
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Frankincense Essential Oil – General Description

Frankincense essential oil is produced from the aromatic resins hardened from the exuded gums obtained from drought-resistant Boswellia trees, [1] which include Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana. [2] Frankincense essential oil possesses a rich woody or earthy scent, which is described by many as “stimulating” or something that “overcomes stress and despair, elevates the mind, and encourages a meditative state,” and appears as a colorless or light yellow liquid.

This essential oil can be blended without any problem or concern whatsoever with basil, bergamot, cardamom, cedar wood, chamomile, cinnamon bark, clary sage, coriander, geranium, ginger, myrrh, and vanilla. [3] Frankincense is valuable both socially and economically, being used primarily in aromatherapy and perfumery as incense, fumigants, or fixative in perfumes; [2] frankincense essential oil is prepared by steam distillation of the dry gum resin. [3]

Frankincense Essential Oil – Uses and Reported Benefits

In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, the gum resin of Boswellia serrata is a constant staple in the traditional management of diverse inflammatory diseases. [4] It is also used as an efficacious antiseptic, astringent, carminative, digestive, diuretic, sedative, tonic, and expectorant agent and can be of help, as claimed, in the rejuvenation of aging skin and in the treatment or management of bacterial and fungal infections. Being a grounding aroma, it is often used in meditation therapies as well. [3]

Depending on one’s preference and intent, frankincense essential oil can be in the form of blended massage oil or can be diluted in the bath for various ailments such as bronchitis, rheumatism, chilliness, poor circulation, exhaustion, nightmares, heavy periods, respiratory problems, and mucus congestion. [5]

Frankincense Essential Oil – Contraindications and Safety

It is generally advised that pure frankincense essential oil be always diluted with a carrier oil prior to cutaneous or dermal use [5] and be avoided during the pregnancy period [3] because of the lack of substantial information about its safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation. To date, no contraindications have been identified, [6] and significant side effects have not been described as well, except for few reported complaints of stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and allergic rash. [7]

Frankincense Essential Oil – Scientific Studies And Research

A myriad of studies have already demonstrated the antitumor activity of frankincense. Winking, Sarikaya, Rahmanian, Jˆdicke, and Bˆker (2000), for instance, have provided data on the influence of frankincense extract in rat glioma growth, studying the effects of boswellic acids – the constituents of the extract from gum resin – on tumor growth in vivo in 200-250 g female Wistar rats. In this study, when the brains of the sacrificed rats were examined microscopically and the low- and high-dose treatment groups were compared, a significant difference as regards tumor volume was noted (p < 0.05) such that the proportion of apoptotic tumor cells in high-dose treatment group was significantly larger than in the low-dose treatment group. [8] The study results of Huang et al. (2000) had also indicated the anticarcinogenic, antitumor, and antihyperlipidemic activities that beta-boswellic acid and its structurally related derivatives (i.e., constituents of the methanol extract derived from Boswellia serrata gum resin exudate) possess. [9] Frank et al. (2009) recommended that frankincense essential oil be an alternative intravesical agent for the treatment of bladder cancer, owing to its ability to suppress cell viability in bladder transitional carcinoma J82 cells while distinguishing cancerous from normal bladder cells and to activate the genes responsible for cell cycle arrest, cell growth suppression, and apoptosis in J82 cells. [1] A more or less similar finding in human cancer cells was reported by Suhail et al. (2011) wherein frankincense essential oil induced breast cancer cell-specific cytotoxicity in their study by suppressing the cellular network formation and disrupting the spheroid development of breast cancer cells while regulating the molecules associated with apoptosis, signal transduction, and cell cycle progression. [10] Ni et al. (2012) stand on the same ground like the other previously mentioned studies, also reporting that crude frankincense essential oil can be of value as an alternative therapeutic agent in the management or treatment of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. In their study, frankincense essential oil “suppressed cell viability, activated the caspase-dependent apoptotic pathway, induced a rapid and transient activation of Akt and Erk1/2, and suppressed levels of cyclin D1 cdk4 expression in cultured pancreatic cancer cells.” [11]

Banno et al. (2006) undertook a study to investigate the constituents of the frankincense resin and their anti-inflammatory activity and found that most of the compounds they were able to isolate displayed remarkable anti-inflammatory effect at a 50% inhibitory dose of 0.05-0.49 mg/ear. [12] Boswellic acids exert antiinflammatory and antiarthritic activities, and according to the study of Chevrier et al. (2005), a mixture of boswellic acids from the plant resin of Boswellia carterii possesses a carrier-dependent immunomodulatory property, inhibiting TH1 cytokines and potentiating TH2 cytokines in vitro. [13] Thus, frankincense essential oil’s anti-inflammatory action may partly be due to the resin’s regulatory effect on immune cytokine production.

Frankincense Essential Oil – Molecular Components and Chemistry

According to Siddiqui (2011), the resinous part of Boswellia serrata contains monoterpenes, diterpenes, triterpenes, tetracyclic triterpenic acids, and four major pentacyclic triterpenic acids, namely, fl-boswellic acid, acetyl-fl-boswellic acid, 11-keto-fl-boswellic acid, and acetyl-11-keto-fl-boswellic acid. Among these four boswellic acids, acetyl-11-keto-fl-boswellic acid has been determined to be the most potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme that is key to the biosynthesis of leukotrienes from arachidonic acid in the cellular inflammatory cascade. [14] The boswellic acids in frankincense have an important role to play in the antiinflammatory property of frankincense essential oil because they are responsible for inhibiting 5-lipoxygenase in a non-redox and noncompetitive manner, leading to the consequent inhibition of the leukotriene biosynthesis in neutrophilic granulocytes.

Furthermore, a few boswellic acids have been determined to inhibit elastase in leukocytes, induce apoptosis, and suppress topoisomerases of leukoma and glioma cell lines. [4]

khaeil, Maatooq, Badria, and Amer (2003), using capillary gas chromatography/mass spectrometer method, identified several different constituents in frankincense essential oil, the chief ones being monoterpenes (13.1%), sesquiterpenes (1%), and diterpenes (42.5%). Other components include:

• duva-3,9,13-trien-1,5alpha-diol-1-acetate (21.4%)

• octyl acetate (13.4%)

• o-methyl anisole (7.6%)

• naphthalene decahydro-1,1,4a-trimethyl-6-methylene-5-(3-methyl-2-
pentenyl) (5.7%)

• thunbergol (4.1%)

• phenanthrene-7-ethenyl-1,2,3,4,4a,5,6,7,8,9,10,10a-dodecahydro-1,1,4a,7-
tetramethyl (4.1%)

• alpha-pinene (3.1%)

• sclarene (2.9%)

• 9-cis-retinal (2.8%)

• octyl formate (1.4%)

• verticiol (1.2%)

• decyl acetate (1.2%)

• n-octanol (1.1%) [15]

A certain Boswellia resin component known as incensole acetate has been determined to elicit psychoactivity in wild-type mice by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. This makes incensole acetate a potent TRPV3 agonist with anxiolyticlike and antidepressive-like behavioral effects. [16]


[1] Frank M. B. et al. (2009). Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 9:6.
doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-9-6. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[2] Frankincense. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[3] Frankincense Essential Oil. 10 ml. 100% Pure, Undiluted, Therapeutic Grade.
Plant Therapy Essential Oils. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[4] Ammon H. P. (2002). Boswellic acids (components of frankincense) as the active principle in treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases. Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift, 152(15-16): 373-378. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[5] Frankincense Essential Oil 10ml. The Aromatherapy Shop. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[6] Frankincense, Indian. Retrieved 16 March 2013 from

[7] Find a Vitamin or Supplement: Indian frankincense. WebMD, LLC. Retrieved 16
March 2013 from

[8] Winking M., Sarikaya S., Rahmanian A., Jodicke A., & Boker D. K. (2000).
Boswellic acids inhibit glioma growth: a new treatment option? Journal of Neurooncology, 46(2): 97-103. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[9] Huang M. T., Badmaev V., Ding Y., Liu Y., Xie J. G., & Ho C. T. (2000). Anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic activities of triterpenoid, beta-boswellic acid. Biofactors, 13(1-
4): 225-230. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[10] Suhail M. M. et al. (2011). Boswellia sacra essential oil induces tumor cellspecific apoptosis and suppresses tumor aggressiveness in cultured human breast cancer cells. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 11: 129. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-129. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[11] Ni X. et al. (2012). Frankincense essential oil prepared from hydrodistillation of Boswellia sacra gum resins induces human pancreatic cancer cell death in cultures and in a xenograft murine model. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12: 253. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[12] Banno N. et al. (2006). Anti-inflammatory activities of the triterpene acids from the resin of Boswellia carteri. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 107(2): 249-253.
Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[13] Chevrier M. R., Ryan A. E., Lee D. Y., Zhongze M., Wu-Yan Z., & Via C. S.
Boswellia carterii extract inhibits TH1 cytokines and promotes TH2 cytokines in vitro. Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology, 12(5): 575-580. Retrieved 15
March 2013 from

[14] Siddiqui M. Z. (2011). Boswellia serrata, a potential antiinflammatory agent: An overview. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 73(3): 255-261. Retrieved 15
March 2013 from

[15] Mikhaeil B. R., Maatooq G. T., Badria F. A., & Amer M. M. (2003). Chemistry and immunomodulatory activity of frankincense oil. Zeitschrift f¸r Naturforschung C, 58(3-4): 230-238. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[16] Moussaieff A. et al. (2008). Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. FASEB Journal, 22(8):
3024-3034. doi: 10.1096/fj.07-101865. Retrieved 16 March 2013 from

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