The Perfect Gift
In Biblical times, three wise men traveled hundreds of miles to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. One of the gifts of the Magi was frankincense, a milky-white resin with a fresh pine, lemony scent. It was one of the most prized commodities of its time, valued as highly as gold and fine silk. Ever since, frankincense has been associated with Christmas. While its historical significance makes frankincense an opulent ingredient to feature in spa treatments around the holidays, it also affords the opportunity to educate guests about its medicinal powers, which are less widely known.
Just as resins help trees heal wounds, frankincense has skincare properties that encourage rapid healing, treat wounds and scars, and help regenerate the skin. “Frankincense is really one of the best oils for calming the mind as well as helping treat older skin, which makes it invaluable in the spa environment,” says Geraldine Howard, co-founder and president of Aromatherapy Associates. “On a physical level, the molecules in essential oils are very small, so they can penetrate into the bloodstream, helping optimize the cellular renewal process, enhance blood circulation, and help treat aging skin. On an emotional level, frankincense has a dynamic effect. The sense of smell is the most primitive of all the senses, linked to the deepest parts of the brain that govern basic instincts and emotions.”
Frankincense has long been used in churches and temples to purify the air and uplift the spirit. Spas can tap into its calming effect, says Tino Lerma, medical esthetic educator and global corporate trainer at Pevonia International. “From a psychological perspective, frankincense promotes a deep sense of relaxation that assists clients both in letting go and calming their emotions,” he says. “Historically, this is the secondary reason that world religions in India and China, as well as the Catholic Church, have burned incense containing frankincense at religious services and also why it is used so often in the East for meditation.”
SpaRitual founder Shel Pink suggests taking advantage of frankincense’s aromatherapy benefits and incorporating it into a soothing bath or a stress-relieving massage. Her skincare line features a host of frankincense products, including Look Inside Organic Moisturizing Lotion, Look Inside 21 Mineral Bath Salts, Look Inside Scrub Masque, and Well Connection Massage Cream. “Add a few drops of frankincense essential oil to a bath, or burn the incense to enjoy the pleasant scent,” she says. “Also, frankincense can be used in the form of aromatic steam, which helps clear the lungs and makes breathing easier.”
Thanks to Aromatherapy Associates’s frankincense oil, The Spa at The Grove Park Inn (Asheville, NC) does just that during the Grove Park Classic Massage (starting at $129, 80 minutes).Guests inhale the invigorating aroma emanating from a steamed towel while a massage therapist soothes tight back and shoulder muscles.
The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Boston also uses Aromatherapy Associates’s frankincense essential oil and products to help guests retreat from holiday stress and maintain peace of mind. Its Frankincense Massage Ritual (starting at $217, 80 minutes) begins with a warming frankincense elixir, calming guests from the inside. A warm oil foot treatment is followed by a relaxing massage with De-Stress Mind Bath & Shower Oil with wild chamomile, frankincense, and petitgrain oils. Deep inhalations of frankincense essential oils begin a scalp massage fit for royalty, diminishing holiday stress. Guests are then sent home with a holiday gift of pure frankincense essential oil to continue their relaxation at home throughout the holidays and the New Year. “Frankincense is one of my personal all-time favorite oils,” says Howard. “It’s not only great at helping to calm and focus the mind but it also has wonderful anti-aging properties.”
Frankincense has also been used as an effective skin preservative for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used it in the mummification process, but Mohamed Rzal, head of product development at REN, says the skincare line takes a more high-tech approach with its Frankincense Revitalizing Night Cream. “We isolate an acid from the frankincense bark called boswellic acid,” he says. “This acid relaxes the micro-contractions of the facial tissue to smooth lines and deliver a beautifully rested appearance the next morning. We also use retinoid—once again from frankincense extract— which will boost collagen and elastin synthesis in the skin.”
Its anti-aging and rejuvenating properties make frankincense the ideal ingredient in facials, says Pink. It refreshes the skin, and its cytophylactic qualities encourage the growth of skin cells. “The natural astringent features of this essential oil also reacts as a balancer of skin and cuts down any dry or oily skintone problem, returning it to normal,” she says. “The treatments that are best suited for frankincense are decreasing and avoiding wrinkles, killing germs, healing wounds, minimizing scarring and skin inflammation, and firming and toning the skin.”
As with most, if not all, ingredients, when it comes to frankincense essential oil, quality is key. Pevonia’s RS2 line features frankincense in the form of pure olibanum essential oil within a blend of French rose essential oil, green tea, Roman chamomile, and licorice extracts, Lerma says. Not all skincare formulas use pure olibanum essential oil, he explains, and unless they do, spa guests shouldn’t expect to see younger looking skin. “Pure frankincense essential oil has been shown to clinically plump fine lines and wrinkles,” he says. “This oil possesses antiseptic abilities that assist inflammatory skin types and pre-rosacea grades from evolving further. Because of this, pure frankincense is perfect in anti-wrinkle and skin regeneration treatments for prevention and to calm inflammatory processes in hypersensitive, pre-rosacea, and rosacea skin types. Lerma also notes Pevonia laboratories use the carbon dioxide (CO2) method of essential-oil extraction, which gives the best assurance of quality and essential oil integrity for clinical effects on the skin.
Additionally, many skin types exhibit more sensitivity during the winter, when the air is drier. Spas can promote soothing, healing frankincense treatments during these months, and create signature packages with a holiday theme. Because of frankincense’s ties to the season and its fragrant aroma, Lerma suggests pairing a treatment with spicy mulled cider or spice cookies.
Accista Spa at the Hyatt Regency (Monterey, CA) offers a seasonal Harvest Manicure ($45, 30 minutes) and Pedicure ($60, 40 minutes), featuring SpaRitual Look Inside Frankincense Bath Salts, Scrub Masque, and Massage Crème. The harvest treatments are designed to prepare the body and mind for the harsh months ahead by revitalizing and protecting with frankincense. Into the new year and well beyond, spa guests can enjoy the rich skincare gifts that frankincense offers. Because who can resist the luxurious oil with the healing, wrinkle-erasing benefits fit for kings and queens?