What Does Frankincense Smell Like? (And 5 Perfumes to Try)

Frankincense (along with myrrh) is perhaps best known in connection with spirituality. In fact, it’s been used in religious rites and traded in the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean for over 6,000 years. We’ve all heard of frankincense but what is it and how does it smell?

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Frankincense tree in Salalah, Oman

What Is Frankincense?

Frankincense (Olibanum) is an aromatic resin harvested from the trees of the genus Boswellia. There are five main species of trees that produce frankincense in different qualities and scents.

The trees are incredibly hardy and are able to thrive in surprisingly difficult environments — the species Boswellia sacra sometimes even grow directly out of rock.

At 8-10 years old, the trees begin to produce resin and get tapped by slashing the bark 2-3 times a year. The drips of resin are called “tears.” These are sorted by hand with the more opaque resins usually considered the highest quality.

Due to overharvesting, clearing of woodlands for agriculture, and longhorn beetle, the population of frankincense trees is dwindling.

Frankincense Tears

What Does Frankincense Smell Like?

The smell of frankincense varies both by species as well as soil and even weather conditions. However, in general, it could be described as aromatic, musty pine with notes of citrus and spice. It’s an austere, earthy scent somewhat similar to rosemary.

The distilled essential oils tend to have a sweeter and brighter scent than resins, and this is what is typically used in incense and perfumery.

Benefits of Frankincense

While frankincense is used primarily for religious and spiritual applications, in aromatherapy frankincense essential oil is believed to reduce anxiety as well as stimulate the immune and respiratory system.


5 Fragrances with Frankincense

Frankincense is often referred to as incense in perfumery. It’s used as a woody base and pairs well with sweeter scents like citrus.

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Best Classic Frankincense: Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle

Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle is a masterpiece and iconic fragrance. It’s an intensely elegant perfume with prominent rose, patchouli, and incense notes. A warm and spicy perfume that’s perfect for cold weather.


Best Travel-Inspired Frankincense: Timbuktu by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Timbuktu by L’Artisan Parfumeur is a unisex fragrance inspired by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s travel to the ancient city of Timbuktu. The fragrance journey ranges from fresh mango to the mysteries of incense and earthy vetiver.


Best Summer Frankincense: L’Eau Froide by Serge Lutens

Like the name would suggest, L’eau Froide is a light and clean fragrance with aquatic mint and a hint of incense. It’s soft and understated, a perfect unisex summer scent.


Most Unique Frankincense: Encens Chembur by Byredo

Encens Chembur is a well-balanced fragrance of spice, incense, and citrus. It’s an unusual and adventurous combination that is well-blended in this unisex perfume that’s perfect for winter.


Best Bold Frankincense: Opus VI by Amouage:

Not for the faint of heart, Opus VI is a heavy and intense scent. It’s an ultra-dry woody fragrance with strong notes of amber, pepper, and incense. An opulent scent with great longevity and sillage.

Related Post: What Does Myrrh Smell Like?

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