Can the world’s oldest wellness product survive the age of Instagram?

The trees that produce frankincense, an essential oil popular with Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad, are in jeopardy due to Instagram-fueled overharvesting.


July 9, 2019

Next time your friend Sean tells you he “discovered” essential oils, set the record straight…

Frankincense — the fragrant resin extracted from the boswellia tree of the Arabian peninsula — was a favorite among history’s original wellness influencers: Egyptian pharaohs flaunted it as eyeliner, Jesus got in gift baskets, and the Prophet Muhammad gave it rave reviews.

But the world’s oldest essential oil is in trouble

According to new research, booming demand could wipe out half of the world’s frankincense supply within 20 years.

Although members of the religious community have been buying frankincense for more than 6k years, demand for the ancient oil has recently skyrocketed thanks to the growing popularity of essential oils as a cure-all for everything from arthritis to anxiety.

Now, wellness junkies can sniff out the stuff at ritzy retailers like Sephora and Chanel or online, in tiny pinkie finger-sized 15 ml vials, for $99.95.

But the ’cense harvest doesn’t make sense

Demand, fueled by trendy wellness accounts on Instagram, has caused overharvesting in the poorly-regulated industry. 

Since boswellia trees take 40 years to mature and only grow in high-altitude outcroppings around the Arabian peninsula, the sumptuous sap is being harvested faster than it can be replenished.

But, although boswellia populations could collapse without intervention, they could still rebound with the help of sap-tapping regulations and better trade guidelines.

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