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Ask an Aromatherapist: Is Frankincense Essential Oil the Same as Frankincense Extract?

Frankincense is a favorite of many and is touted for use in everything from skin care to helping against arthritis and cancer. Frankincense is available as an essential oil, resin, and extract. Are they all they same and what are the benefits?

Essential oils are distilled from the resin or gum that comes from one a variety of frankincense trees. Boswellia carterii and Boswellia sacra are two common species. Boswellia papyrifera, and Boswellia frereana are also used by some companies. Essential oils contain the small, volatile, hydrophobic or oil loving molecules purified during distillation. Top aromatic compounds vary from species to species but typically Boswellia carterii and Boswellia sacra are rich alpha-pinene and other 10 carbon montoterpenes such as d-limonene and beta-myrcene. (1)

Other species may boast higher contents of octyl acetate an ester, geranial, neral, both aldehydes, geraniol a monoterpenol, or monoterpene alpha-thujene.

Frankincense essential oil is often used in skin care products or for mediation, and has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and calming properties. It is often used for respiratory support as well.

Frankincense extract is produced in a different manner. The extraction process can be done with alcohol, water, or glycerin in the home or in a standardized manner in a lab. The extraction process allows for a greater number of molecules to be extracted, not just the small, aromatic ones.

Boswellia serrata is often used in standardized extracts of frankincense and they typically are standardized to contain at least 60 to 65% boswellic acids, the component that research suggests are responsible for the plants helpful properties.

So if you are taking a drop of frankincense essential oil in hopes of gaining the benefits of boswellic acids you are missing the boat. While frankincense essential oil is amazing I'd stick to using in skin care products, diffusing, and other topical or aromatic applications. To get the benefits of boswellic acids for internal use you'll need to take a frankincense resin extract in a capsule form. And to be certain it contains boswellic acids (not all frankincense species are rich in them) look for an extract standardized to 60-65% boswellic acids.

Research on boswellic acids indicate that it may be helpful in soothing osteoarthritis (2) but it's had mixed results with rheumatoid arthritis (3). The acids have shown promise in soothing irritated bowel disorders and may support the fight against cancer. (4) General dose guidelines are 300-500mg by mouth two or three times a day. Some situations may require more.

So yes frankincense essential oil and extract can be beneficial but it is important to pay attention to the species and form (essential oil vs extract) to know what compounds you are taking in. I have personally found great benefit from taking Boswellia serrata extract standardized to 65% boswellic acid for knee pain. The extract also contains a black pepper extract as well.

If you have questions about aromatherapy, essential oils, or extracts it's wise to consult a certified aromatherapist or holistic health care professional knowledgable on such matters. If you are in the Temecula area you can contact me or visit my colleague Shanon Mayberry at "An Optimal you" which is located in Murrieta, CA.

1. Tisserant, R. and Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety, Elsevier Press New York

2.Kimmatkar, N. et al; (2003) Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee – A randomized double blind placebo controlled trial, Phytomedicine, Vol 10: Issue1

3. Mostafa, D, et. al; (2015) Transdermal microemulsions of Boswellia carterii: formulation, characterization and in vivoevaluation of anti-inflammatory activity. Drug Delivery, Volume 22: Issue 6

4. Suhail, M. et. al., (2011) Boswellia sacra essential oil induces tumor cell-specific apoptosis and suppresses tumor aggressiveness in cultured human breast cancer cells BCM Complementary and Alternative Medicine


I understand that the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated the therapeutic suggestions or any statements made on this website about essential oils, carriers or other products offered by Aromatherapy by Tricia Ambroziak (ABT)

The statements made on this website are for educational purposes and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The data on this website is not considered complete and is not guaranteed to be accurate.

Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment based on something you've read or accessed through this website. Tricia Ambroziak is a professional aromatherapist but not a licensed health care professional.

I understand that essential oils and aromatherapy are not a substitute for professional medical care. I understand that the products being sold by ABT are not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease.

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