Frankincense is a resin with a history in traditional medicine. It’s sometimes used to help manage arthritis, asthma, and other health conditions. But don’t believe everything you read on the packaging. Many of its health claims are unproven.

Frankincense, also known as olibanum, is made from the resin of the Boswellia tree. This tree typically grows in the dry, mountainous regions of India, Africa, and the Middle East.

Frankincense has a woody, spicy smell and can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or taken as a supplement.

Researchers believe that frankincense can prevent the release of leukotrienes, compounds that can cause inflammation.

Terpenes, including boswellic acid, appear to be the strongest anti-inflammatory compounds in frankincense.


In one 2014 study, oral and topical boswellic acid reduced cartilage loss and joint lining inflammation in osteoarthritis in mice. In humans, frankincense extract may help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In one 2018 review, frankincense was consistently more effective than a placebo at reducing osteoarthritis pain and improving mobility. However, the review noted that the quality of most studies was low, and more research is needed.

In a subsequent study, participants took 169.33 milligrams (mg) of Boswellia extract twice daily for 120 days. Results indicated that the supplement reduced inflammation, joint pain, and stiffness in mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis without serious side effects.

Another study found that oliban oil, another name for frankincense, reduced osteoarthritis pain when applied to the skin for 6 weeks. However, participants’ ability to do daily activities or participate in sports didn’t significantly improve.

Combinations of frankincense with other supplements may also be effective.

A 2018 study found that 350 mg curcuminoid and 150 mg boswellic acid supplement taken 3 times per day for 12 weeks was associated with reduced osteoarthritis pain. The combination was more effective than curcumin on its own or a placebo.

Similarly, taking a combination of 5 g of methylsulfonylmethane and 7.2 mg of boswellic acids daily for 60 days was more effective at improving pain and function than taking glucosamine sulfate, a standard supplement for osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

For rheumatoid arthritis, researchers induced arthritis in rats and then treated them with 180 mg/kg of Boswellia extract. They found that frankincense reduced inflammation but wasn’t as effective as standard medications.

One 2017 study found that frankincense, in combination with other herbal medicines, reduced abdominal pain, bloating, and even associated depression and anxiety in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Another study also indicated that Boswellia 250 mg tablets taken daily for 6 months improved symptoms in people with IBS.

This resin appears particularly effective at reducing symptoms of ulcerative colitis, one of the main inflammatory gut conditions.

A study found that Boswellia extract taken daily for 4 weeks improved symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis in remission.

Boswellia extract also had anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in rats with colitis.

However, most studies were small or not done in people. Therefore, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

3. Frankincense may help improve the symptoms of asthma

Traditional medicine has used frankincense to treat bronchitis and asthma for centuries.

Its compounds may prevent the production of leukotrienes, which cause the bronchial muscles to constrict in asthma.

Frankincense may also affect Th2 cytokines, which can cause inflammation and mucus overproduction in people with asthma.

In one small study, people who took a daily supplement of 500 mg Boswellia extract in addition to their standard asthma treatment could take fewer inhalations of their regular medications during the 4-week study.

Additionally, when researchers gave people 200 mg of a supplement made from frankincense and the South Asian fruit bael (Aegle marmelos), they found that the supplement was more effective than a placebo at reducing asthma symptoms.

In another study, asthma symptoms in mice improved with boswellic acid, a component of frankincense resin.

4. Frankincense may help improve oral health

Frankincense may help improve oral hygiene and prevent gum disease. The boswellic acids it provides appear to have strong antibacterial properties, which may help prevent and treat oral infections.

In one test-tube study, frankincense extract was effective against Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, which causes aggressive gum disease.

In another very small study, participants chewed gum containing frankincense for 5 hours, with saliva samples indicating reduced numbers of microbes each hour. The authors suggested that frankincense may decrease sources of infection in the mouth.

However, more research is needed on the effect of frankincense on oral health.

5. Frankincense may have anticancer properties

Test-tube studies suggest that the boswellic acids it contains might prevent cancer cells from spreading.

A research review notes that boswellic acids may also prevent DNA formation in cancerous cells, which could help limit cancer growth.

So far, test-tube studies suggest that frankincense may fight breast, prostate, pancreatic, skin, and colon cancer cells. It may also help reduce side effects of cancer treatment.

In one study of people being treated for brain tumors, 4,500 mg of boswellic acid extract taken each day helped reduce brain edema — an accumulation of fluid in the brain — while also lowering participants’ regular medication dose.

However, more research in humans is needed.

Although frankincense is praised for multiple health benefits, not all are backed by science. The following claims have very little evidence behind them.

Yet, while very little research exists to support these claims, very little exists to deny them, either. Until more studies are done, however, these claims should be considered myths.

Myth: It prevents diabetes

Some small studies report that frankincense may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, and a recent research review also indicated that frankincense may help control diabetes.

Still, other studies have found no effect, and more research is needed.

Myth: It reduces stress, anxiety, and depression

Frankincense may help lower depressive and anxious behaviors and reduce stress in rats. However, human studies are needed.

Myth: It prevents heart disease

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects that could help reduce the inflammation common in heart disease. Some research has suggested heart-protective effects from frankincense, but more studies are needed.

Myth: It improves memory

Studies show that large doses of frankincense may help boost memory in rats. However, more research needs to be done in humans.

Myth: It balances hormones and reduces menstrual symptoms

Frankincense is said to delay menopause and reduce menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood shifts.

One study found that some essential oils increased the amount of estrogen in women’s saliva, which could be linked to reduced menopause symptoms.

However, frankincense was not found to have this effect, and research is needed to confirm any benefits of frankincense on menopause.

Myth: It enhances fertility

Frankincense supplements may increase fertility in rats, but few studies are available.

Frankincense can be used in several ways. You can take it as an oral supplement in a capsule or tablet or use it in topical creams.

It’s also available as an essential oil for aromatherapy or topical use. It’s important to dilute this form with carrier oil before applying it to the skin and to avoid ingesting it.

Frankincense is generally safe, but as with any supplement, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before taking it.

The optimal dosage of frankincense is not well understood and may vary by person or condition.

If you’re considering supplementing with frankincense, ask a healthcare professional about a recommended dosage.

Frankincense is considered safe for most people. It has been a remedy for thousands of years without severe side effects, and the resin has a low toxicity.

One study found that doses up to 1,000 mg/kg were not toxic in rats. This is equivalent to almost five times the typical maximum daily dose of 1,500 mg for humans.

Still, more research is needed on toxic doses of frankincense in people.

Side effects reported in scientific studies have included indigestion, constipation, and nausea.

Some research reports that frankincense may increase the risk of miscarriage, so pregnant people or those trying to become pregnant may want to avoid it.

Frankincense may also interact with some medications, particularly blood thinners like warfarin and possibly nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.

If you’re taking any of these medications, discuss frankincense with your doctor before using it.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) cautioned in a 2020 report that some supplements, including frankincense, may interfere with the body’s inflammatory response during a COVID-19 infection.

On the other hand, some research has suggested that frankincense may be an effective complementary therapy for COVID-19 due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

More research is needed on its safety, effectiveness, and reactions to other medications.

What are the benefits of frankincense?

Used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, frankincense appears to offer certain health benefits, from improved arthritis and digestion to reduced asthma.

How is frankincense used in healing?

Frankincense is used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. This resin may benefit things like arthritis, as well as gut and oral health. It may even have anticancer properties.

What happens if you put frankincense directly on the skin?

Frankincense oil is touted as an effective natural anti-acne and anti-wrinkle remedy. A recent study suggested that frankincense essential oil may have potential for skin care, but little other research has been completed.

While frankincense is likely safe for most people, it may cause side effects in pregnant people and people taking certain medications.

As with any supplement, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before trying it.