January 5, 2022

What Does Frankincense Smell Like? (And 6 Perfumes)


Frankincense has been used in religious rites and traded in the Arabian Peninsula of the middle east, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean since ancient times. 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, natural resin from a specific variety of Boswellia trees. 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 (Boswellia Serrata), and Northern Africa.

What Does Frankincense Smell Like - frankincense trees

Boswellia Sacra trees

From about 8 to 10 years old, the trees are slashed to produce an aromatic 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. 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, ready for steam distillation process 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.
frankincense resin

Frankincense resin

What Does Frankincense Smell Like?

The frankincense smell can vary, depending on species as well as soil and weather 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.

What does frankincense oil smell like? The distilled essential oils tend to have a sweeter and brighter distinct smell than resins, and this is what is typically used in incense and perfumery.

Frankincense Perfumes

Frankincense essential oil is often referred to as incense in perfumery, the fragrance oil can be found in candles as well. It’s used as a woody base and pairs well with sweeter scents like citrus.

1. Best Frankincense Perfume Overall: La Liturgie des Heures EDP by Jovoy

La Liturgie des Heures by Jovoy

The very best frankincense perfume for men and women is La Liturgie des Heures by Jovoy. 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.

This perfume 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 smell, 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, this earthy scent leans slightly masculine.

This warm but slightly formal fragrance 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 EDP by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Timbuktu Eau de Parfum by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Timbuktu by L’Artisan Parfumeur is primarily a composition of woodsy scents, 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. This fragrance is a classical composition of dry woods, with vetiver, sandalwood and patchouli. It evolves beautifully with pepper and grapefruit giving it an appealing freshness. It is the brightness of wood sap and sweet pine trees resin that lingers. As Timbuktu changes on the skin from spicy incense to smoky woods, the freshness of the frankincense smell 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 EDP by Byredo

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 Eau de Parfum is an original fragrance without the heavy and ceremonial incense note.

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 EDP 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 Eau de Parfum 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 smell, 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 notes 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. 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 EDP 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 Eau de Parfum 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 scent

Base Notes:Amber, Benzoin, Musk

6. L'Artisan Parfumeur Passage D'Enfer EDT

L'Artisan Parfumeur Passage D'Enfer Eau De Toilette

Passage D'Enfer Eau de Parfum 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

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of Frankincense?

Aside from religious rituals 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
  • Stimulate the respiratory system.
What is the difference between Frankincense and Myrrh?

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins extracted from trees in the Burseraceae family. Frankincense comes from the dried sap of Boswellia trees, while myrrh comes from the sap of the Commiphora trees.

What smells better Frankincense or Myrrh?

They are quite different: frankincense is sweet, warm, and woodsy, while myrrh smells more earthy with slight licorice tones.

Is it OK to smell Essential Oils?

Yes, but if you see a big change in the way an essential oil looks, feels, or smells, you should throw it away, because it has probably spoiled. If essential oils are spoiled they may irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction.

Why is Frankincense the King of Oils?

Frankincense essential oil has earned its title as “The King of Oils” because it is so versatile. For example, frankincense oil has powerful anti-aging properties. It promotes cellular function and the appearance of healthy-looking skin, evening out skin tone and minimizing blemishes.

What are the top 5 Essential Oils?

Peppermint, Lemon, Lavender, Rosemary, and Frankincense. These are the most frequently used essential oils.

In Conclusion

In ancient times Frankincense has been used in religious ceremonies and in perfumes. We are indeed privileged to still have access to this magical scent today. 

Frankincense smell is 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 modern perfumes featured here - frankincense is perfect for 2022! 

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