Benefits of frankincense: it's the biblical gift that keeps on giving for stressed skin and frazzled minds. From aromatherapy with frankincense to frankincense in skincare and fragrance, here’s what to look for

Gold, we can agree, we’re all still on board with, but if presented with a sack of frankincense or myrrh, most of us would be pretty mystified. 

But leaving myrrh to one side for a moment, the resin from frankincense trees remains highly valued in Chinese medicine and religious ceremonies. Frankincense is actually dubbed ‘liquid gold’, which is stealing another crown from the wise men’s gift selection somewhat, but it expresses the extent to which it’s prized the world over. Even its name indicates its worth: frankincense is derived from the French “franc encens”, meaning ‘high-quality incense’. 

Also known as the 'king of oils',  frankincense really does have some rather complimentary street names going on. It is one of the oldest essential oils still used in modern skincare, explains Libby Banks, co-founder of skincare brand  The Seated Queen,  which uses Frankincense (and myrrh, really feeling the Magi vibes) in it's cult The Cold Cream.  "The use of frankincense dates way back to ancient Egyptian times. According to the medieval mystic and polymath Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica, frankincense 'clarifies the eyes and purges the brain.' We, however, prefer to use it in small quantities for its inherent anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and, most importantly, gentle cleansing properties," she says.

"What I love about it is that it doesn’t ‘strip’ and it works perfectly as a soothing and effective cleanser for dry or sensitive skin when blended in small amounts with a carrier oil. We combine it with oils including shea butter, borage seed and apricot kernel in our Cold Cream."

So, Aside from lighting a joss stick, here’s how frankincense is used in today's beauty products and what to know before you tap into the hype. 

Be careful where you source it

Frankincense is derived from the sap of trees that only grow in certain areas of the Middle East and Africa, and due to a combination of factors, these trees are fast becoming endangered, Adele Clark-Whittle, of Neal’s Yard Remedies, explains: “The world’s finest quality frankincense comes from Oman. Sadly in recent decades Oman’s native frankincense trees, Boswellia sacra, have come under pressure through urbanisation, desertification, quarrying, neglect and an increase in the number of camels that eat the young trees before they can become established.” To safeguard the future of frankincense in Oman, Neal's Yard put in place a sustainable development project to ensure that existing wild trees are maintained and to increase the number of trees for the future through a seed propagation and replanting project. 

It’s not just in Oman that frankincense faces ecological challenges either, as aromatherapist and founder of Therapie Roques O’Neil  Michelle Roques O'Neil highlights: “Frankincense also hails from countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia, however, civil unrest and climatic conditions such as drought have affected the collection of both frankincense and myrrh. One of my suppliers has said that they are teaching Somalian farmers how to collect this precious resin ethically, but as always it’s the wider distribution that sometimes drives poverty-stricken farmers to seek out the easiest distribution routes due to demand, which is an issue further complicated by political and economic policy and external market forces.”

“There are initiatives that aim to turn this around, but the yields are low and therefore prices are high for premium wildcrafted frankincense. Governments and the private sector ought to be more involved in helping to protect this ancient tradition. In terms of sourcing sustainably produced oils, it’s down to the relationship and ethics policy of the company you buy from.”

In short, ask ALL of the questions, and if your frankincense unction is dirt cheap, treat it with a hefty dose of suspicion.

It’s got ceremonial kudos

Frankincense is often used in churches and prior to meditation and has centuries-old connotations with bringing about a sense of peace. Aromatherapist, acupuncturist and holistic facialist Annee de Mamiel underlines its most traditional use: “In its rawest form frankincense comes as a resin, and you can burn it which is often done in a church - it helps to clear a space energetically and inhaling it can ease fear, anxiety and stress.”

Best aromatherapy essential oil with frankincense: Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Pure Essential Oil, £25

Want to take a moment of mindfulness, or are just having a really bad day and needing to centre yourself? Try adding a few drops of Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Pure Essential Oil , £28, to an oil burner or onto a tissue and inhale deeply to dissolve frazzle. Clearly it can’t rival an inhaler, but frankincense is renowned for its calming effect on the respiratory system according to Annee. “Frankincense helps with our breathing rate as it relaxes the diaphragm which encourages deeper breathing, which in turn helps you to feel less stress and can help prevent the onset of panic attacks and anxiety,” she says.

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Best Frankincense aura spray: Therapie Restore Aura Spray, £32

Michelle seconds the grounding and steadying effect frankincense can have on our breathing, and subsequently mood. “It’s a warming oil both physically and emotionally and exudes a sense of security and comfort. In aromatherapy it’s commonly used to support the respiratory system,” she adds. “Frankincense is an oil that I might suggest to a client who feels a little vulnerable and it can be incredibly powerful if you’re undergoing grief, as generally grief and unexpressed emotions are linked to issues with breathing and our respiratory system. I developed Therapie Restore Aura Spray, £32, with this in mind.” A simple dab of frankincense oil anointed over the solar plexus, soles of the feet and back of the neck will also help to garner a sense of security.”

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Best frankincense rollerball for on-the-go aromatherapy:  This Works Stress Check Breathe In rollerball, £19

For on-the-go aromatherapy, keep This Works Stress Check Breathe In rollerball , £18, to hand - it’s formulated with eucalyptus to clear your airways and frankincense to both bring down stress levels to help regulate breathing and act as an antiseptic to boost immune function. Frankincense has long been used for antiseptic purposes in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. One study published in 2019 suggests that frankincense essential oil could have immune-enhancing properties, and decrease the activity of stress hormones.

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Shop the best frankincense-infused skincare products

Best frankincense overnight mask: Neal's Yard Remedies Frankincense Intense Age-Defying Overnight Mask, £50

Formulators at Neal’s Yard Remedies cite frankincense’s historical use for anti-inflammatory and antiseptic purposes as a key benefit of using the diluted resin within skincare, alongside the fact that it’s thought to help to speed up cell turnover and promote healthy skin, particularly when combined with beneficial skin cell-communicating ingredients such as peptides and antioxidants, alongside humectants and moisture-binding agents to boost hydration. 

Neal's Yard Remedies Frankincense Intense Age-Defying Overnight Mask, £50, is the newest edition to the brand's frankincense-themed range, and works to restore and recontour skin with the help of hyaluronic acid and adaptogenic botanicals such as ashwaghanda extract, centella asiatica oil and turmeric root.

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Best frankincense facial oil: De Mamiel Winter Facial Oil, £85

If you are keen to combine frankincense’s skin-improving rep with its sensual effects, opt for a well-formulated aromatherapeutic range over ever applying it neat. Annee de Mamiel harnessed frankincense extract as a key ingredient in her Winter Facial Oil , £85, as “it is a powerful essential oil that optimises cellular function and helps to preserve the skin.” 

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Best frankincense facial cleanser: Kiehl's Blue Herbal Blemish Cleanser Treatment, £20.50

If you experience winter weather-induced breakouts, switch up your regular face wash for this healing cleanser from Kiehl's, which targets blemish-prone and combination skin with the help of salicylic acid and ginger root. 

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Best Frankincense bath salts: Westlab Mindful Epsom Bath Salts with CBD Oil, £6.79

Load the tub up with a couple of scoops of these frankincense, bergamot and CBD bath salts - then sleep like a baby afterwards. Alongside its soporific sidekick lavender, frankincense is a common addition to sleep tinctures and aromatherapeutic sleep preparations, thanks to its renown for instilling calm and regulating breathing. 

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Best frankincense pillow mist: Tropic So Sleepy Pillow Mist, £20

Create a sanctuary-like atmosphere in your wind-down routine by spritzing your pillow with Tropic's So Sleepy Pillow Mist , £20, which fuses seven sleep-promoting essential oils, with frankincense coming to the fore to create an aromatic yet not overwhelming scent- it’s more light and herbal than heavy and cloying (frankincense can be a subtle as a flying brick in some blends).

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Best frankincense sleep face mist: Amly Botanicals Beauty Sleep Face Mist, £58

If you’d like to hit two birds with one stone in the sleep and skincare department, Amly Botanicals Beauty Sleep Face Mist, £52, combines calming frankincense and chamomile with snow algae to promote collagen synthesis, alongside antioxidant passion flower and hops. If you think it smells rather funky, that’s probably the valerian...it’s one of the most well-known sleep enhancers, but whether you get on with the rather pungent scent is a matter of personal taste. 

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Best frankincense perfume:  Elemis Embrace Perfume Oil, £30

Frankincense is used in 13 per cent of fragrances on the market worldwide, proving that it’s not reduced to niche nativity gift. Dab ‘the sweat of the Gods’ (those ancient Egyptians getting creative again) over pulse points by way of  ELEMIS Embrace Perfume Oil , £30. It’s a cosy scent that doesn’t whack you over the head, and frankincense nuzzles alongside uplifting rose pepper and vetiver to make for a mood elevating scent. Failing that, pop along to midnight mass, breathe deeply and take a moment away from defrosting turkey anxiety. It’s what the wise men would prescribe.

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How to cope with Christmas overwhelm

Best frankincense gift set: Alexandra Kay Me Time Scents, £45

This gift set features a trio of essential oils to help promote positivity, feelings of calm and support sleep and frankincense is a key ingredient across all three. They can be used to burn, inhale or massage onto the skin (when used with the carrier oil). A thoughtful little reminder to take some 'me time' for self-care. 

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Best all-purpose frankincense balm: Inlight Beauty Rescue Balm Frankincense, £27

This all-purpose organic rescue balm infused with propolis, tea tree, frankincense and neem oil has potent antibacterial properties and can be used on the face and body to treat acne breakouts, as well as minor skin infections.

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Best all-in-one cleanser and mask: Seated Queen Cold Cream, £39

If you like a multipurpose product then you need to know about Cold Cream. The 3-in-1 cream cleanser, facial and overnight mask is formulated with cold-pressed organic seed oils, like borage seed, argan kernel and rosehip, as well as walming aromatherapeutic scents such as bergamot, patchouli and of course frankincense. 

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