Raw Materials Incense Perfumes and Recent News

Incense Perfumes and Recent News

11/04/16 04:53:58 (5 comments)

by: Matvey Yudov

The aromatic resin extracted from the Boswellia tree known as olibanum or frankincense is one of the most ancient fragrant materials known to humankind. Its aromatic properties have been exploited since the Late Stone Age, about 15 thousand years ago. It was treasured as gold by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. For the name perfume itself (per fumum, through smoke) we have to thank incense. The price of good natural incense resins has never been cheap, even in modern times. During the major part of the history of using incense, its usage was restricted to sacred purposes to be burned in temples, that is why many of us associate the scent of incense with religion.


In traditional modern perfumery, the scent of incense had been used merely as an accent or a bright detail to stress a certain direction in the perfume development. Nobody had entrusted anything more important to this wonder material until Comme des Garçons introduced their Incense Series of five perfumes in 2002.

Since then incense has been gloriously used in perfumery and new incense perfumes keep appearing. Just recently in Florence the new brand SAUF introduced three incense-based perfumes.

Talking about the quantity of natural incense in perfumes, I name Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande in the bell flacon among champions with the highest percentage of natural olibanum oil (16% of ethereal oil and 0.2% of resinoid). The formula of Tauer Parfumes 05 Incense Extreme, created in 2007, is 1/4 built on olibanum CO2.

Incence Perfumes

Key ingredients of a natural Frankincense oil have been known already for quite a long time. It contains a big quantity of α-Pinene (sometimes over 50%) which is found in citruses and oils of coniferous plants, as well as many other natural oils and possesses a fresh and sweet earthy piney smell. Aside from pinene, Frankincense contains a very close by its structure Camphene, as well as Sabinene, p-Cymene, Thujene, Limonene and other terpenes forming a specific turpentine-like odor.

Octanol and Octyl scetate are responsible for an aldehydic waxy nuance of Frankincense, reminiscent of orange peel with fruity and floral hints (coconut, rose) and a slight mushroomy undertone.


In the second part of the 20th century, with the development of precise methods and tools, much research regarding minor Frankincense compounds has been published. In 1978 scientists from Dragoco discovered that a fraction of monoterpene acids plays a significant role in the general incense smell. Later it was confirmed that Incensol and Serratol might take an important part in forming an incense aroma, and Incensol acetate to possess certain antidepressant properties. In other works it was suggested that incensol and serratol did not smell per se, but produce aromatic products during their thermochemical decomposition or Pyrolysis, in other words when they are burnt.


Among synthetic materials, there is only one compound with a specific smell of burnt incense – Mystikal, a captive material by Givaudan, produced in 2008. From a chemical point of view, it is a carbonic acid 2-Methylundecanal (aldehyde С12 MNA by Givaudan). Any student with a basic knowledge in organic synthesis can transform affordable С12 MNA into a mysterious captive base, especially after reading a detailed algorithm described in its patent. But officially only Givaudan perfumers can do it, at least for a little while until the patent expires.

Olibanic Acids

News about incense aromas appeared just a month ago in the respectable professional magazine Angewandte Chemie International Edition. Nicolas Baldovini of the Nice university together with the Grasse company Albert Vieille announced the discovery of key incense odorants, which they named olibanic acids. (1S,2S)-(+)-trans-octyl cyclopropyl-1-carboxylic acid and, especially, (1S,2R)-(+)-cis-octyl cyclopropyl-1-carboxylic acid have a very intense "churchy" odor characteristic to a base note of Frankincense in which they are contained in the amount of a few parts per million. By the way, researchers devoted their discovery to the Swiss scientist Roman Kaiser who works for Givaudan and who a few days ago celebrated  his 70th birthday. Roman Kaiser is an eminent specialist in the analysis of natural aroma materials.

burning incence

Let's hope that very soon chemists will find an affordable method of synthesizing olibanic acids so that the perfumer's palette will be enriched with new, interesting materials. Probably, a new era of Frankincense popularity awaits us in the nearest future.


Mat Yudov

Mat Yudov is a chemist, perfumer, and musician. Mat is also a researcher and specialist in the chemistry of aromatic materials. He graduated from Moscow State University "Lomonosov" in 1999. He writes for the popular perfume blog leopoldray.blogspot.com (in Russian).

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drugstore classics
drugstore classics

This is good news indeed!

I too hope that someday soon the new incense accords will become affordable tools in the arsenal of the perfumer. So far, many of my favorites have incense/resin/nag champa notes, and I can hardly wait to smell more! Here are just a few that come to mind:

Al Haramain Makkah (Strawberry Nag Champa)

XOXO Kundalini (Iris Nag Champa)

Dana Tabu

Revlon Ciara

Plus so many others that seem to contain a wee hint of something unlisted that reminds me strongly of incense...

What would Really Delight me would be if more fragrances were designed with a specific SMOKE accord along with the incense, so it would be as if smelling BURNING incense, not merely incense in a box! (Alkemia's fine 'Smoke and Mirrors' is a good example of such a believable smoke note, minus the enviable incense.)

Too many perfumes today lack the depth, mystery, and warmth that incense and resins could bring. I would LOVE to see incense developed further in the perfume market at all price ranges....

Angela Agiannidou
Angela Agiannidou

Thank you for this wonderful article, and,yes, a very good chemical compound will be most welcomed as it can only enrich any usage in perfumery. Growing up as a Greek Orthodox Frankincense was a huge part of my life. I can still recall, whenever I wear it, the eerie, ancient, otherworldly calmness and sanctity of a Church. The importance of it since Ancient times throughout the Mediterranean World is well documented. This is a note I simply adore. I own Zagorsk, Avignon,Extreme Incense and Elixir, all strong on my beloved note. Avignon is so strongly reminiscent of the aromas of a Church that I usually wear it at home, when I want to feel calm, soothed and serene. I find all resins amazing which is the reason I own quite a lot of Orientals. Whether popular or not one thing is for sure, that this enigmatic and ancient ingredient will always be part of our lives.


a new era of Frankincense popularity awaits..i love this material and al its dervities but i love it in its real form either the franckinsense from oman dofar or the african francinsense..as you said it has been used since antiquity for so many reasons ,i personally love it for its astrigent smell and for its caming and de stressing qualities it clears negative energies and disinfects the place and in many ways it does act like an anti depressant ..i grew up smelling this every morning and before sunset it was a part of growing up we burn the real resins from the trees in charcoal and smell would infuse where ever were were it was even used out doors or in patios where the smell to me was even more beautiful..
my grandma would use the tears in her perfumes and maturate them and we would use mastic in cooking it adds such beautiful aromas to food so in many ways it was a part of the culture.its extraction is a harder than many but the amouage house has been using it for many years in their older formulas it adds depth without being utterly cloying or heavy ..
i am really curious as to what they will come up with i love resins balsams and frankincense in most of its forms
thank you for your well written topics i love reding them


This is am amazing article! It is so important for me because i was tried to create burning incence accourd in the lab but i coulnd't create it! I put variety of natual olibanum (absolute, oil, resnoid) with some woods and cashmeran but it didn't work! I wanted to create the smell of burning incence in the church and as well dry woods. Thank you again for this amazing article.


Thank you for sharing wonderful news about progress in making incense aroma! I love this kind of smell, it is my must have for cold days and hot days when I need some space for myself.


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