Frankincense: A remarkable and miraculous oil, or an ethical nightmare?
Well, both really.... read on for more information:
Hello again, I was in two minds whether to bring out this blog post given the current climate in the world, but I wanted to Keep Calm and Carry On and I believe it is an important discussion to think about in regards to ethical consumerism.
The reason I have chosen to talk about Frankincense is that I really believe it goes against the grain for the growing "ethical/ natural" demand from skincare. And I want consumers to be more aware of not only what they are putting on their skin, but also where the ingredient has come from; the supply chain of the ingredient.
The trade of Frankincense has been reported as far back as 5000 years ago and is widely used in religious ceremonies as incense and also for medicinal purposes, aromatherapy and perfume, although the latter comes under an alternative name of Olibanum. Its uses in skincare are relatively recent in comparison.
Frankincense purports to tighten and tone the skin, cleanse and cleans the pores, kills bacteria, stimulates skin cell regeneration, promotes healthy skin growth and smooths wrinkles and fine lines; great for acne and spots, dry, chapped skin, broken skin (cuts & wounds), mature or aging skin. So, as you can see it is an amazing and wonderful oil.
However it comes at a huge environmental and human cost.
Frankincense is sourced from a variation of five different trees, all from the Boswellia tree, found in North and West Africa, India and also Yemen and Oman. To collect Frankincense, a harvester would have to cut the tree and scrape out the sap that then hardens to become frankincense resin. According to conservationists, the tree should be cut no more than 12 times a year to ensure that the tree can survive. Think how are human body repairs after a cut, thrombosis occurs to help heal, this is the same with these trees. However due to the increasing demand, particularly in the aromatherapy and subsequent skincare domain, conservationists are finding that the trees are being harvested to the point where in some cases they are on the brink of extinction and a mandate has been declared to protect all species of this precious tree.
But…. it is not only the damage to the tree that is of great concern, but it is also the human cost. The majority of Frankincense resin is sourced from species of these trees that grow in areas of the world where there is great human conflict, corruption and human rights abuse. For a majority of people living there, these trees are their only income. In Somalia, Frankincense is the third biggest export for the economy, and part of the problem here is that export reports are often not documented and confused due to the political agenda of the country so an individual harvester, who rely on the resin as their only income are habitually being exploited by frankincense brokers who offer the resin to large corporations just to use in the next on trend anti – wrinkle serum.
I could go on and on, but I will leave it with the following references below. It is up to us, as the consumer, to think about where our products are sourced from, and to question the supply chain of what we are purchasing. Look out for companies that do offer complete transparency with their supply chain, or if you particularly want Frankincense then look out for businesses who do have a fair trade co-operative with resin harvesters.
Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below, Id love to know what you think....
Until the next time, take care,
- “Frankincense and Myrhh: an ethical nightmare?”, Laggan, Sophie, 14/12/2011, https://theecologist.org/2011/dec/14/frankincense-and-myrrh-ethical-nightmare
- “Are your essential oils and incense sustainable?, Stephanie from the Here and There Collective, 26/06/2019, https://ethicalunicorn.com/2019/06/26/are-your-essential-oils-incense-sustainable/
- Frankincense trees declining, National Geographic, Fobar, Rachel, 13/12/2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/12/frankincense-trees-declining-overtapping/
- Essential oils safety, A guide for Health Care practitioners. Robert Tisserand & Tony Balacs. Churchhill Livingstone 1995.
Leave a comment