Frankincense may be a firm feature of festive lore and a much-loved scent in this part of the world, but it is also a worthy addition to your daily beauty regime.
Woody, earthy and ever-so-slightly spicy, frankincense is dried resin from the Boswellia sacra tree, which is found across the Middle East and parts of Africa. In a process called striping, the bark of the tree is cut, and it then takes about two weeks for the resin to bleed out and harden into highly prized milky drops called tears.
Burned as incense, used as a soothing fragrance, or steam-distilled to produce an essential oil that boasts numerous healing benefits, frankincense has been traded in the Middle East for an estimated 5,000 years, and has been a feature of Chinese medicine for at least half that time. Once deemed more valuable than gold, depictions of frankincense sticks were found painted onto the wall of the tomb of Eqyptian Queen Hatshepsut, which dates back to about BC 1,458.
It is thought to have been used as part of the embalming process in Ancient Egypt, most likely because of its enticing smell, since certain fragrances were linked to holiness. Traditionally, it was also chewed and it is now known to have helped ward off tooth decay, thanks to its antiseptic properties.
The Boswellia tree is tough and hardy, and so resilient it can grow out of solid rock. Its’s ability to adapt to its surroundings means that the resin – extracted twice a year – varies widely and noticeably from region to region, even in areas that are relatively close to each other. One of the most sought after – and valuable – types of frankincense in the world is Royal Green Hojary, found high up in the Hajar Mountains of Oman. Sourced only from the upper branches of the Boswellia there, its rarity means that for many years Royal Green was exclusively reserved for the Sultan of Oman.
Frankincense has been the subject of more than 1,700 studies, making it the most observed of all the essential oils. Attributed with natural antiseptic and astringent qualities, it can be used for both healing and cleansing. It is believed to reverse signs of ageing, strengthen hair, promote cell turnover and prevent breakouts. It is suitable for all skin types and should be applied twice a day in order to gain optimal results.
A new spa concept in Dubai is looking to promote frankincense’s many positive properties. Luban (Arabic for frankincense) Spa only uses resin that has been cultured in Oman in its facials, body scrubs and bespoke 90-minute massage rituals. The Luban Bespoke body massage, for example, combines hot stone therapy with frankincense oil, while the Royal Hojari treatment lasts for three-and-a-half hours and includes a 30-minute frankinsence and wild orange body scrub, as well as a massage and mask.
Located in a 2,477-square-foot, double-storey space on Umm Al Sheif road in Jumeirah, the women-only facility gives the traditional spa concept a modern Middle Eastern twist. In addition to the all-pervasive, heady scent of frankincense, background music played in the spa has a distinctly Middle Eastern feel, while an after-treatment snack consists of date balls covered in sesame seeds.
Luban Spa also creates and sells its own frankincense-based beauty products for you to take home.