Exotic aromas are an acquired taste. The smell of truffles, one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, makes my mother nauseous. Funny how she always mistakes its smell for gasoline, which is exactly what I think I smell when I get a whiff of frankincense oil. The smoke, I am familiar with. It brings back childhood memories of hearing First Friday Mass at our very old, very creepy school auditorium. They would shut the large wooden doors and we would smell the incense up to the balcony, where our class would always be seated. The scent is warm, stimulating. In the context of spiritual activity, it may also seem cleansing.
Frankincense, which originates from Oman from a three-foot, bald tree from the boswellia family, is a sap that bleeds from its branches when they are cut. Exposure to air and sunlight turns the sap into a hard and gummy resin, almost like beeswax, and this is what locals harvest and trade as far back as 500BCE. It was an item so sought after that its trade routes were kept top secret. And we all know it is a gift fit for a King, as well. Even more precious than gold.
History recounts exactly how precious frankincense was back then, in the sense that water is precious — it was used ubiquitously as a part of everyday life. The smoke was used for religious ceremonies as well as to drive away mosquitoes. It was offered to gods. It masked the odor of dead bodies. It was used as deodorant, toothpaste, flavoring, and medicine.
Frankincense is hardly mentioned today. I found a website that sells it as “purely curios” but claims it will intensify any spell. A more scientific sounding site claims that not only is the oil an effective pain reliever, but its scent, induces euphoria and is a good mood lifter for people suffering from depression. Sadly, I didn’t find any frankincense quotes on Goodreads. Funny how not many authors of classic literature have written about it, upping its mysteriousness.
Recenly, London-based company Neal’s Yard Remedies was brought to the Philippines by Rustan’s The Beauty Source. At the launch of their second counter and just in time for Chinese New Year, we were treated to a day of creating our own essential oil blend. Naturally, we had to smell all the oils, which included mandarin, rosemary, cedarwood, vetiver, and frankincense. In the beginning, I wasn’t a fan of the frankincense oil’s pungent smell. This was before I tried Neal’s Yard’s Frankincense range.
The family-owned company based in Convent Garden in London has been championing holistic and natural healthy, beauty and wellness for 30 years. One of its bestselling products is the award-winning anti-aging Rejuvenating Frankincense Skincare Collection. Apart from being the perfect hostess gift for important events, like, say, the birth of the Messiah, frankincense, Neal’s Yard discovered, is also one of the most important oils for improving skin tone and treating aging skin and wrinkles. It’s also anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, calming and uplifting. With the inclusion of mandarin and bergamot essential oils, the line is also oil-balancing and cooling. The products also contain boabab oil, which has high contents of vitamins A, D, E and F, to encourage the regeneration of cells, as well as gardenia plant stem cells to stimulate the skin’s own stem cells and protect skin from damage. The frankincense, the star ingredient from this line, comes from a Neal’s Yard-supported community in Northern Kenya.
So what are the products like?
I abandoned my current skincare routine (which has not been doing me any good, maybe because it’s not hydrating enough for this weather) to try out the Neal’s Yard Frankincense range. The company’s studies say users will be able to see results in 30 days, so for now, I can only describe the product’s topical feel and immediate effects.
Rejuvenating Frankincense Facial Wash. It’s thick and very nourishing. You can feel the essential oils in its balmy texture, but its completely liquid. It doesn’t foam a lot; massaging it on the face is a spa-like experience. It washes off easily and surprisingly left my face shine-free but not tight, and it stayed shine-free for a longer time than usual.
Price: P1,350, 100ml
Rejuvenating Frankincense Toner. The toner doesn’t have a strong frankincense smell (which is growing on me, by the way). No stinging, no tears. It feels like water, but cooler because it has aloe vera, which also soothes and calms skin so it’s also good for acne-prone skin.
Price: P1,550, 200ml
Frankincense Intense Concentrate. It claims to boost skin’s plumpness in seven days. The immediate result is visible smoothness. It also absorbs easily. Will be using this for the entire week and update you.
Price: P5,050, 30ml
Frankincense Intense Cream. This super thick, super rich cream is one of the most comforting creams I’ve tried. It’s hardly scented, save for a mild lingering of frankincense that makes me sleep better. I massage it on my face and inhale the scent with my palms over my nose of mouth. Aids in meditation. It’s also very hydrating. I use it night and day. For daytime, I apply a thick layer immediately upon getting up, and I leave it on while having coffee and scrolling endlessly on Instagram. After washing it off in the shower, skin feels more awake and plump. My brain feels more awake as well. Price: P4,250, 50g.
* * *
In the Philippines, Neal’s Yard is available at Rustan’s Makati and Rustan’s Shangri-La Plaza.