Welcome to Alpinia’s new blog series: Skincare Close-up! In this series of articles, each post will “zoom in” on different natural substances and ingredients and their health benefits for the skin. In this first installment, we’ll be looking at frankincense, the golden-yellow aromatic resin long revered by various cultures, medical experts, and skin care professionals.
What is it?
Frankincense is a resinous dried sap harvested from Boswellia, a genus of trees native to the Indian subcontinent, northeastern Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula.
The art of harvesting frankincense is an ancient tradition of tribal communities living in the forests of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. To collect the resin, the first step is to peel part of the outer bark of the Boswellia tree. The tree then begins “bleeding” sap, which is harvested after a few days, then dried, cleaned, and sorted. Careful management of the number of cuts per tree as well as seasonal-only tapping mean that, when done right, the harvesting process is safe for the tree and a sustainable way to enjoy and make use of this gift of nature.
You might recognize frankincense from the story of the Three Magi, who brought it as a valuable gift along with gold and myrrh. From Ancient Greece and Rome to the Islamic Arabic and Christian Latin Middle Ages, this widely revered “King of Oils” is closely intertwined with human history. For instance, frankincense was such a coveted trade item that a major ancient trade route—the Incense Route—was named after it. It also features as a vital remedy in traditional Ayurvedic, Chinese, and other medicinal systems.
Fast-forwarding to the present day, what makes this substance so special?
Benefits of Frankincense
At this point, you may be wondering: frankincense sure sounds like a big deal, but what does the science say? As it turns out, frankincense has several scientifically recognized benefits.
Frankincense is anti-inflammatory.
Perhaps the most powerful benefit of frankincense is its ability to counter inflammation in the body.
A quick primer on inflammation: There are two main kinds of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is what you may be most familiar with, and is the redness, heat, and swelling you experience at the site of an injury. This kind of inflammation is essential to the proper functioning and healing of the body. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is when the body’s inflammatory response is constantly on high alert. This is very taxing for the body and is associated with all kinds of problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and various inflammatory diseases, including skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
The terpenes and boswellic acids in frankincense are very strong anti-inflammatory compounds that help prevent and reduce chronic inflammation [2, 3, 4, 5]. Research suggests that boswellic acids may even be as powerful as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and with fewer negative side effects! This has profound implications for inflammatory conditions, and is why frankincense can be helpful in soothing and repairing irritated skin .
Frankincense has anti-cancer properties.
Not only has frankincense been shown to limit cancer cell growth and prevent cancer cells from spreading [2, 8, 9], but research suggests that frankincense can also distinguish healthy cells from cancerous ones, and targets only the harmful cells .More specifically, frankincense has also been shown to be helpful for skin cancer . So, along with sunscreen, frankincense may be helpful in protecting the skin from exposure to the sun’s UV rays, which could otherwise lead to skin cancer over time .
Frankincense may improve gut function.
This potent resin has been shown to reduce the symptoms of inflammatory gut diseases, and in some studies was even as effective as a pharmaceutical, with minimal side effects [13, 14].Why is this relevant to skincare? Believe it or not, gut health is actually closely related to skin health. Read more on the gut-skin connection.
So, all the historical hype around frankincense is warranted after all! Interested in adding frankincense to your skincare regimen? Check out Alpinia’s line of frankincense skincare products.