Timbuktu Eau de Parfum by L’Artisan Parfumeur

What Does Frankincense Smell Like? (And 8 Perfumes)

By Amy Derungs

April 26, 2021


What Does Frankincense Smell Like:
Earthy, aromatic, woody with notes of citrus and spice.

Explore the new perfumes which incorporate this precious ancient ingredient!

If you are in a rush, I suggest you choose:

La Liturgie des Heures Eau de Parfum by Jovoy

Frankincense has 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 what does frankincense smell like?

What is Frankincense?

Frankincense, also called Olibanum, is the aromatic, congealed, resinous sap from a specific variety of trees in the genus Boswellia. There are five main species of trees that produce frankincense in different qualities and scents. Boswellia Sacra is the primary tree in this genus from which frankincense is harvested. These trees require an arid climate where the only moisture is provided by morning mist. The few ideal environments in the world for this small precious tree are found in Southern Arabia, India, and Northern Africa. Frankincense trees require a limestone-rich soil and are mostly found growing on rocky hillsides and cliffs, or in the dried riverbeds below.

What Does Frankincense Smell Like

From about 8 to 10 years old, the trees are slashed to produce resin. Collecting the resin can only take place twice a year - once in the spring (March to May) and then again in the fall (September to October). The longer the resin is left on the tree, the harder it gets. These hardened resins are called tears. It takes about a week for the resin to harden up enough to be cut it off as a resin crystal, and another week for harvesters to collect the crystal resin.

This process produces different types and grades of frankincense resins. Quality is based on color, purity, aroma, and age. The most common grade of frankincense is a brownish resin that has a great deal of bark particles in it. The crystal resin goes to a distillery where it is crushed into powder, put into an oil bath, and steam distilled to extract the frankincense essential oil.

Due to over harvesting, agriculture, and the longhorn beetle, the population of frankincense trees around the world is dwindling.
What Does Frankincense Smell Like

What Does Frankincense Smell Like?

The smell of frankincense can vary both by species as well as growing conditions. However, in general, it is described as aromatic, woody with notes of citrus and spice. It’s an 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.

What Are The Benefits of Frankincense?

Aside from religious and spiritual applications, in aromatherapy frankincense essential oil is believed to reduce anxiety as well as stimulate the immune and respiratory systems.

Frankincense essential oil:

  • Helps to calm the mind
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Eases anxiety
  • Aides sleep
  • Boosts immunity

Frankincense Perfumes

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

1. Best Frankincense Perfume Overall: La Liturgie des Heures Eau de Parfum by Jovoy

The very best frankincense perfume for men and women we have for you is La Liturgie des Heures by Jovoy. Launched in 2011, it is an oriental woody fragrance with a strong incense note. La Liturgie des Heures is a very beautiful fragrance, slightly sweet and somewhat evocative of a Gothic cathedral.

La Liturgie des Heures opens with a burst of pine, incense and green notes, followed by traces of a sweet, almost nutty myrrh, slightly leathered labdanum, and musk.

The scent of crushed pine needles is juxtaposed to the leather undertones and the very cold, dry, vaguely dusty tones of High Church incense. As time passes, the undertones of frankincense, myrrh and leather come to the fore.

After thirty minutes, the base notes rise fully to the surface and the perfume becomes sweeter, more layered, and the pine recedes. The myrrh turns the frankincense warmer, while the leather adds touches of a darker note. A subtle, clean muskiness opens up.

As the hours pass, La Liturgie des Heures is primarily centered around nutty myrrh, ambered labdanum, and the sweet church incense infused with clean, white musk. The fragrance finally dries down to a musky, clean sweetness.

The longevity of La Liturgie des Heures is moderate to long at around 6 hours, and the sillage is not too big.

Although it can be worn by both sexes, La Liturgie des Heures leans slightly masculine.

This warm but slightly formal fragrance can be worn during the day, but it is best suited to colder fall and winter evenings.

Top Notes: Cypress, Green notes

Middle Notes: Incense, Olibanum, French labdanum

Base Notes: Musk

2. Premium Frankincense Perfume: Timbuktu Eau de Parfum by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Timbuktu Eau de Parfum by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Timbuktu by L’Artisan Parfumeur is primarily a composition of woods, vetiver and incense. This fragrance has lovely radiant and effervescent qualities. These qualities shine through from the soaring top notes of ripe mango, the spicy warmth of pink pepper and citrus, to the earthy dry down of patchouli and musk.

Timbuktu was created by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour in 2004 as part of the  L’Artisan’s Voyage collection, inspired by his travels in Mali, Africa. The fragrance is built as a classical composition of dry woods, with vetiver, sandalwood and patchouli. It evolves beautifully with pepper and grapefruit giving it an appealing freshness. Yet the freshness expands further as the composition dries down. It is the brightness of wood sap and sweet pine resin that lingers. As Timbuktu changes on the skin from spicy incense to smoky woods, its freshness takes on a beguiling and sensual character.

The longevity of this fragrance is 6 to 7 hours, and the sillage is moderate.

Timbuktu is a unique fragrance with a dark, dramatic, moody beauty about it. It can be worn by both sexes, but it does lean slightly more masculine.

This very special fragrance can be worn all year round, however, its woody character makes it best suited to fall days.

Top Notes: Mango, Pink pepper, Cardamom

Middle Notes: Incense, Papyrus, Karo Karounde

Base Notes: Vetiver, Myrrh, Patchouli,Benzoin

3. Best Value Frankincense Perfume: Encens Chembur Eau de Parfum by Byredo

The opening is a fresh combination of bergamot and elemi, with touches of lemon, ginger and nutmeg leading to a bright start that is soon toned down by the elemi.

The gentle dry down follows through this direction by adding the incense note that is unusual in its brightness and the lack of any ceremonial heaviness. Slightly musky and ambery notes are present.

By now the core concept of this creation is evident: combining freshness with a slimmed-down incense.The base sees the incense gradually develop with an impression of pleasant and light white musk, which is given smoothness by a labdamun undertone. So it ends where it began - brightness and darker richness combined.

This warm scent combines refreshing notes with incense. Encens Chembur is an original fragrance without the heavy and ceremonial incense note. This makes it less like a traditional incense creation and much more suitable for every day wear.

The longevity of Encens Chembur is moderate to long at around 7 hours, but the sillage is not very big.

Encens Chembur can be worn by both sexes, but it does lean slightly more masculine.

This fragrance can be worn all year round, however, it best suited to fall and spring days.

Top Notes: Bergamot. Amalfi lemon, Elemi resin

Middle Notes: Ginger, Nutmeg, Incense

Base Notes: Amber, French labdamun, White musk

4. Interlude Man Eau de Parfum by Amouage

Interlude Man Eau de Parfum by Amouage

“Inspired by chaos and disorder, this spicy and woody fragrance masquerades an interlude moment of harmony in its heart.”
– Amouage’s description of Interlude.

Interlude Man is not a subtle scent. It is powerful and quite complex. It opens with exotic spice and zest. Oregano is front and center, backed by bergamot and pimento.

The fragrance has a strong smoky backbone which is dominated by frankincense, with opoponax resin which provides the smoke accord. Additionally present are an amber accord which lends some smoothness to the fragrance. There is also a slight hint of floral accord present.

You may notice so far that these ingredients are quite a contradiction. Hence the description in the beginning of chaos and disorder – yet the harmony in its heart could be said to be the smoothing heart notes of amber and opoponax.

Despite the deliberate contradictions, everything in this blend works quite well together and exist in harmony.

Interlude Man has excellent longevity and medium to large sillage. This is a strong statement of a scent. It is better suited to casual wear rather than the office.

Being a strong warm fragrance, it is great for cold winter nights or cool fall evenings.

Top Notes: Bergamot, Oregano, Pimento

Middle Notes: Amber, Opoponax, Incense, Labdanum

Base Notes: Leather, Oud, Patchouli, Sandalwood

5. Portrait of a Lady Eau de Parfum by Frederic Malle

Portrait of a Lady Eau de Parfum by Frederic Malle

This fragrance is all about luxury, magic and quality. Wear Portrait of a Lady when you want to make a statement and stand out from the crowd.

The opening blast is a voluptuous rich rose with a hint of sandalwood. The rose becomes jammy and fruity and then quite soapy. There is also a green element.

As the raspberry and blackcurrant fades, the rose comes through stronger, closely followed by the incense.  

Deep, rich, smoky, sensual, fruity, dry, sweet, creamy, soft - Portrait of a Lady covers all the bases. The combination of rose and patchouli is enriched by glowing incense, creamy sandalwood, and autumnal spices. It is intoxicating, full-bodied, exotic, and powerful.

Simply put, one of the best rose and incense fragrances ever made. The longevity is excellent at up to 12 hours, and the sillage is quite big.

Portrait of a Lady is marketed for women, but it is totally unisex. This magical warm fragrance is best worn in fall and winter.

Top Notes: Clove, Raspberry, Rose, Blackcurrant, Cinnamon

Middle Notes: Patchouli, Sandalwood, Frankincense

Base Notes:Amber, Benzoin, Musk

6. L’Eau Froide Eau de Parfum by Serge Lutens

L’Eau Froide is a wonderfully crisp, sparkling cologne of incense, ginger, and citrus.

The first impression is a chill of ginger and lemon. The effervescence of ginger lends itself perfectly to the cool character of a perfume that means “cold water” in French. After a few more minutes, the bergamot, lemon and pepper begin to surface.

As the citrus and cool spices lose their initial sparkle, the incense takes center stage. Frankincense is usually associated with dark and voluptuous blends, but set into a crisp and cool composition, it displays its cold and austere side. Even a layer of sweet musk does not do much to warm up this beautiful note in L’Eau Froide. This fragrance is like the mineral scent of snow melting on your cheek.

Given its bright and cold character, L’Eau Froide is different from the usual rich incense scents. L’Eau Froide makes incense more prominent, allowing one to experience all of its facets, from the peppery bite of its top notes to the elegant sweetness of its base.

The longevity is moderate to long at 7 hours, and the sillage is small to medium.

L’Eau Froide is an oriental woody perfume for men and women. It leans slightly masculine. This unusual fresh, cool fragrance is wonderful for hot spring and summer days.

Main Notes: Sea water, Mint, Incense, Frankincense, Ginger, Citrus, Vetiver, Musk, Pepper, Bergamot

7. Opus II Eau de Parfum by Amouage

Opus II Eau de Parfum by Amouage

Opus II is an amber fougere fragrance for women and men.

The opening is strong fern, followed by a strong smoky incense scent. This, however, is sweetened up by the flowers of jasmine, lavender and rose. Apart from the lavender, the sweetness does not last long, because a leather accord comes into play.

The fern with leather accord penetrate and complement each other. This forms the bases of the composition, and leaves you wondering what will happen next. In addition to the two main ingredients that make up the structure of Opus II, you can also smell ambergris, patchouli, cardamom, cinnamon, all of which are sprinkled with pepper.

Finally in the dry down lovely amber and incense deepen the mix and jasmine softens it to make it truly unisex.

Opus II is easy to wear yet luxurious, restrained yet with personality, versatile but not dull. A perfect everyday fragrance with understated elegance. Longevity and sillage are moderate. Wear Opus II all year round for any type of occasion.

Top Notes: Lavender, Wormwood, Pink pepper, Pepper

Middle Notes: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Jasmine, Rose

Base Notes:  Incense, Virginia Cedar, Patchouli, Amber, Musk

8. L'Artisan Parfumeur Passage D'Enfer Eau De Toilette

Passage D'Enfer is an amber woody fragrance for women and men, but it leans more feminine.

This fragrance is very strong as it opens with incense. It's got all the accords that create the effect of a cathedral style incense: myrrh, olibanum, benzoin and incense. Smoky, dark, strong, almost overpowering. The musk is also clearly there from the start to further add some warmth and depth to the incense notes. This is a musk based incense fragrance and really does smell like the inside of a cathedral.

After a while, as the fragrance begins to dry down, the white flowers come to the fore. There's lots of white lilies and perhaps even soft little jasmine flowers. It's sweet and innocent and very powdery.

A complex fragrance, Passage D'Enfer can be worn all year round, but it is particularly suited to cooler fall days. The longevity is moderate to strong, and the sillage is intimate.

Main Notes: Incense, Lily, Woody notes, Musk

In Conclusion

Frankincense has been used in religious ceremonies and in perfumes for over 6000 years. We are indeed privileged to still have access to this magical scent today. 

What does frankincense smell like? Earthy, aromatic, woody with notes of citrus and spice. These days frankincense is no longer confined to being a dark, cold and somewhat austere fragrance reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals. It has evolved in a number of different directions as is evidenced by the perfumes featured here. 

Unusual as they may be, these perfumes all offer a glimpse of the true and varied nature of frankincense.