The Ancient Healing Power of Frankincense

January 27, 2020

If you have tried our new serum-in-a-mist product, On a Swing Among Trees, you may have noticed that one of its most prominent ingredients is frankincense. Along with myrrh and turmeric, frankincense sets the tone for this serum and is the primary driver of its stimulating healing action. 

Perfumers and other scent connoisseurs—myself included—recognize significant differences among the various grades and species of frankincense. The scent can be on the piney or piney-orangey side, or can be smoky-windy, sweet-citrusy and almost green, or resinous and reminiscent of bark and amber. Inexpensive extractions of low grades can smell cold and flat, though still resinous. For On a Swing Among Trees, I chose to combine different extracts to take advantage of their slightly different properties and scents. The formula includes the highest quality, responsibly wildcrafted Boswellia serrata essential oil from India, Boswellia serrata CO2 extract from Oman, and frankincense sacra resin essence. 

Frankincense has a long and deep history as a powerful skin healer. Renowned herbal healers and famous physicians since the days of ancient Egypt, including Imhotep (c. 2630 BC), Hippocrates, Arab physician Al-Kindi, Galen, and many others, have written about the uses of this ancient resin. Regardless of the species they used, overall these ancient healers were in agreement about using frankincense for wound healing (where it regenerates tissue and prevents infection), skin infections (where it is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and opens pores to allow impurities to be released), and for a wide range of painful skin conditions (due to its analgesic, pain-reducing properties). Frankincense is also used for arthritis and gout in many patented Chinese herbal formulas, often alongside other resins such as myrrh and benzoin.

Though the famous physicians of ancient times were focused on frankincense's medical healing properties, there are also anecdotes about the use of frankincense in antiquity for skin-beauty potions, where its recurring purpose was for reducing wrinkles and toning aging skin. And there are well-documented uses of frankincense for issues other than skin healing, as well, such as for depression or to ease labor. 

The Greek physician Galen established a fascinating way of classifying herbal medicines that remains extremely helpful to herbalists even today. He and his successors would assign a number describing how a given substance interacted with the body's heat and bodily fluids. As it turns out, frankincense is considered warming in the second degree, which means it opens pores and reduces inflammation, as well as drying in the first degree, which was considered strengthening, and also means it is lightly drying to excess body fluids. This drying tendency makes it especially helpful for weeping eczema, wet or oily breakouts, and cold-sore outbreaks.

When formulating On a Swing Among Trees, I was able to draw on the work of these ancient healers for guidance. In this dry serum-mist, frankincense offers antimicrobial properties, opens pores to facilitate the release of impurities, dries up excess oils, and decreases skin pain, as well as mending and regenerating skin tissue. With its warming and drying qualities, frankincense plays an essential role in delivering a soft, matte, totally natural and enlivened look and feel for the skin. 

—Ava



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