Myrrh will always be linked in everybody’s mind with Frankincense as one of the first two recorded examples of a skin care product being given as a Christmas gift. The pair do have some other similarities.
Both come from the same region of the world – the countries around the Horn of Africa mainly Somalia and the Yemen. Both are exudates from damaged shrubs. This is a defence against drying out after being eaten by goats. In the case of myrrh the shrub is comiphora myrrha (with some other closely related species also used as a source as well.
The Bible is not the only ancient text to mention myrrh. Pliny talks about it too. It also has a long history of use in Ayuvedic medicine, the traditional Indian system of herbal cures.
It gets used in a fair number of cosmetic products, though it doesn’t crop up as often as frankincense. It gets particular use in mouth washes and toothpaste. The reason presumably being its pain killing properties. This is something traditionally attributed to myrrh but which now has some scientific backup as well. A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology confirmed the ability to reduce the effects of pain.
That same paper and some other work has also revealed evidence of myrrh’s anti-inflammatory abilities. So myrrh is an ingredient with a great history, a great smell and some proven skin benefits. Its biggest drawback is its price. It is somewhat tricky to harvest. You need to damage the shrub to allow the myrrh to form and pick it with care. It also comes from a part of the world that is sadly rather troubled at present. Also having a distinctive smell is very much a mixed blessing. It might be just what you want, but you have a lot more control over the finished product if you use an odourless skin soothing agent and a synthetic fragrance.
I don’t think myrrh will make a big comeback as a skincare ingredient any time soon. But it is an interesting material that crops up from time to time. The name to look for in the ingredient list is Commiphora myrrha.
Holist Nurs Pract. 2007 Nov-Dec;21(6):308-23. Myrrh: medical marvel or myth of the Magi? Nomicos EY.