Benzoin is the resin obtained from the tree known as Styrax benzoin, a relative of Styraxjaponicus, or the snow bell tree, belonging to the family Styraceae. The tree is native to Borneo, Malaya and Java. It grows to heights of more than 50 feet (15 meters).
Benzoin in its crude form is a resin collected from the cut trunk of the tree. It is used in the East for its fragrance – primarily as an ingredient in incense – and also medicinally for infections of the urinary tract.
Benzoin, also known as gum Benjamin, is an important ingredient in friar’s balsam, or compound tincture of benzoin, which has been favoured for many years in the treatment of chesty colds and bronchitis. The essential oil – or resinoid – is produced from the resin by solvent extraction and is very viscous. Some kinds are solid. It is orange-amber in color. It is generally sold in solution. Benzoin can be used to benefit the respiratory system by steam inhalation, is an effective expectorant and has an anti-inflammatory action that soothes laryngitis. Additionally its antiseptic properties can help in the treatment of throat and respiratory infections. Its vanilla-like fragrance makes it enjoyable to use.
In massage, mixed with a base oil, benzoin is used as a stress-reliever, relaxant and mood enhancer. It is invaluable in soothing ‘jangled’ nerves and will warm body and mind, do much to relieve rheumatic and arthritic pain and stimulate a sluggish circulation.
Benzoin is generally kind to the skin and can be used as a cleanser and as a treatment for dry and chapped skin. It is also used extensively in the cosmetics industry as a fragrant addition to the ingredients in bath products, shampoos and perfumes.
Suitable methods of use
Friar’s balsam, or compound tincture of benzoin as it is also called, can be irritating to very sensitive skins, but any irritation is likely to be caused by the other components in the tincture rather than the benzoin itself, which is unlikely to cause problems of this nature. However, there can be problems with sensitization to benzoin in a very small minority of people.