Truth Serum... Does Frankincense Essential Oil Diminish Dark Spots?
As an aromatherapist and cosmetic formulator I often have people ask questions about what certain essential oils "do".
On several occasions I've had people ask "I've heard that frankincense essential oil helps to lighten dark spots, is that true?".
And I often counter that frankincense essential oil is touted as a wonderful oil for skin care but I'm not certain of scientific or anecdotal evidence that supports its ability to lighten age spots.
So I decided to do a search to see what evidence is out there concerning frankincense essential oil and skin care and to see if there is any clout to it reducing the appearance of age spots or dark spots.
What are Age Spots? Age spots (aka liver spots or sun spots) are flat, dark areas of various size that usually appear on skin exposed to the sun. Unlike freckles, that fade with lessened sun exposure, age spots tend to stick around.
They usually occur in people 50 and older with lighter skin and many people would like to know how to get rid of them -- especially those that occur on the face or hands.
Does Frankincense Essential Oil Reduce the Appearance of Age Spots?
While frankincense essential oil is revered in skin care I personally could not find scientific or clinical evidence that clearly demonstrated its efficacy in reducing age spots.
There are articles that note the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits in supporting skin health and wound healing.(1,2,3)
And references to it "evening skin tone" link to a U.S. patent from 2003 for a Boswellia serrata gum resin extract that is used in various cosmetic applications which contains additional compounds not present in the essential oil.(4)
But there was no reference to any data or clinical study as to how the Boswellia serrata gum resin extract was shown to produce a "more even skin tone" or how that was quantified.
As I dig through studies it appears that they are done on both the oil and resin extract and "evening skin tone" refers more to reducing redness, blemishes, and things related to inflammation and immune health. And it is important to note that the essential oil and resin extracts contain different compounds. The essential oil contains volatile aromatic compounds while the resin extract contains additional compounds such as boswellic acid. Thus, when a study is done using a a resin extract, substituting the essential oil may not give the same results.
What Does Frankincense Essential Oil Contribute to Skin Care?
In aromatherapy frankincense essential oil is revered for its role in complextion to "nourish scars", "contract and tone tissue", "regenerate aging skin", and "keep wrinkles at bay". (5)
And as an aromatherapist and scientist I know that plant extracts are powerful. In fact many medicines have their roots in plants and as we all know plant compounds such as ethanol alcohol and caffeine exert pronounced effects on our physical and mental states.
Frankincense essential oil appears to offer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune supportive benefits due to monoterpene and aromatic compounds such as limonene and pinene. And anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds certainly support skin health.
But as far as specific claims concerning reduction of dark spots or wrinkles there is no clinical data to support such claims I could easily find.
However frankincense has been used in beauty and skincare since ancient times. And although there is not data to quantify its results we can tap into the findings of herbalists and aromatherapists as to its effectiveness.
Personally I find frankincense essential oil is useful in skin care applications to soothe dry skin, support mature skin, and to relax and support respiratory wellness.
I personally use it in small amounts in facial creams and in hair care blends for its aroma and to support scalp health.
What Are Better "Natural" Choices to Help Reduce Dark Spots?
Reducing the appearance of age spots is a common concern in skin care and there are two approaches to reduce them: topical applications and procedures.
Procedures tend to involve helping improve skin turn over and are beyond the scope of this post.
As far as topically applied skin lightening ingredients are concerned, there are different modes of action:
They can block melanin synthesis, inhibit tyrosinase activity to suppress skin pigmentation, or other. Some can be harsh on the skin.
But in the hands of a skilled cosmetic formulator here is an example of a few ingredients that may help reduce the appearance of age spots.
Niacinamide or Vitamin B3: this ingredient has been clinically shown to improve the appearance of hyper-pigmented spots. It is widely used by many major brands so it's a good indication that the ingredient delivers.
Alpha-Arbutin: A natural plant derivative it can also be synthetically derived. Alpha-Arbutin " Alpha-Arbutin blocks epidermal melanin synthesis by inhibiting enzymatic oxidation of Tyrosine and Dopa" and is reported to minimize dark spots and brighten skin.
Vitamin C Derivatives: Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP) "By inhibiting tyrosinase activity, MAP is capable of suppressing skin pigmentation, making it effective in whitening dark skin, or areas of dark skin." While Vitamin C itself is quite unstable there are more stable forms that can be incorporated into skin care. Vitamin C dervatives may support a more even skin tone and even complextion.
Although frankincense essential oil is a wonderful addition to skin care and offers anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and immune-supportive benefits to the skin, at present there is not clear evidence that it is able to reduce the appearance of dark spots or age spots.
If we look at the cosmetic ingredients available to reducing age spots or lightening skin frankincense is not typically included in the mix.
So as I've delved into the research concerning frankincense essential oil and dark spots as well as what is available to cosmetic formulators to help support the skin in reducing the appearance of age spots frankincense essential oil is not showing up as a promising candidate at present.
But it may be promising to support mature skin and to support wound healing in skin and if you're looking to include it in your skin care routine try our Goat Milk Face Cream with Frankincense or Blue Tansy Serum that includes frankincense essential oil
What are your thoughts? What research have you discovered that supports the role of frankincense essential oil in skincare?
1. Han, X., Rodriguez, D., & Parker, T. L. (2017). Biological activities of frankincense essential oil in human dermal fibroblasts. Biochimie open, 4, 31–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopen.2017.01.003
2. Alraddadi BG, Shin H-J. Biochemical Properties and Cosmetic Uses of Commiphora myrrha and Boswellia serrata. Cosmetics. 2022; 9(6):119. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics9060119
3. Mikhaeil, Botros R., Maatooq, Galal T., Badria, Farid A. and Amer, Mohamed M. A.. "Chemistry and Immunomodulatory Activity of Frankincense Oil" Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C, vol. 58, no. 3-4, 2003, pp. 230-238. https://doi.org/10.1515/znc-2003-3-416
4. United States Patent PDF, Compounds Containing Boswellia Extracts, Accessed from: https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/ed/fe/20/d6cb3ac96ac65e/US6589516.pdf
5. Purchon, N. and Cantele, L. (2014), The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness, Robert Rose, Ontario