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Are Incense Bad For You?

Updated: Oct 6, 2022


Incense has been a common household product for thousands of years and is used for different purposes. You can burn it in the room, or you can add it to your bathwater in the form of a liquid for a relaxing and fragrant experience. But does incense really have any health benefits?

Incense burning on a wooden burner stand with stacked pebble stones around it

It has been used for centuries before the invention of any kind of aerosol air freshener as a way to purify the air, help you focus and increase energy. Now, that’s not to say incense is only purely for relaxing and detoxing. There are other ways it can be used, like cleansing negative energies from your home. A lot of people swear by the health benefits of incense, but it’s not a miracle cure-all. The effects are also dependent on many other factors, including your own health and lifestyle.

According to the National Institutes of Health, studies show that burning incense can help reduce stress and improve concentration. However, there’s not enough evidence to support these claims that incense can lower blood pressure or reduce anxiety, similar to those few studies and researches carried out on burning incense which promote us to ask the question are incense bad for you?

What are Incense made of?

Although most incenses available commercially are a combination of bamboo stick, wood powder, charcoal powder, fragrant gums, resins, herbs and spices the exact quantity in which these are mixed is a commercial secret.

Ingredients used in the making of an Incense can be dry, moist or both. The ingredients used in the making of an Incense depend on the type of incense being made and also on the choice as to how one wants it to smell. There are a number of different types of ingredients that are used for making an incense stick.

Incense stick and cones along-with Ingredients all from natural plant based herbs and resins displayed on a dark brown surface

Some can be made without too much effort and may prove to be a cheaper option, these are chemically infused synthetic Incense and better to be avoided, while others like the premium masala agarbathi/incense require a careful selection of the right amount of natural herbs and oils and are manually hand-rolled and require quite an effort to produce, also when choosing which herb is to be used the following practice are followed.

Herbs with strong odours such as thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender usually work best when mixed with other herbs to bring out their potency. One should also choose a herb that is not too harsh on the senses such as lemon balm or chamomile which can help soothe feelings after using it for a while. Other herbs known for their healing qualities include cinnamon bark, peppermint leaves and many others. It is always advisable to use incense made out of natural plant ingredients as they are considered safe.

Health Risks associated with Burning Incense

Burning incense is a popular pastime in many parts of the world. But although burning incense can be good for the soul and the mind, it doesn’t mean that it poses no health concerns when overdone. Burning incense, especially the ones which are synthetic in nature and chemically infused has been known to cause respiratory problems when inhaled in large quantities. The inhalation of these incense causes irritation of the airways, which may lead to allergy symptoms sore throat, chronic bronchitis and other serious conditions. Youngsters are more likely to experience these side effects because their respiratory system is still developing. In addition, some people who have asthma or other breathing disorders should avoid burning incenses as they may worsen their condition through increased inflammation.

Burning of Incense and Air Pollution

Huge amount of incense when burnt in an enclosed space becomes a major source of indoor air pollution as it produces aromatic hydrocarbons, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

White Incense smoke flowing with a purple colored hue in the background

These pollutants and particulate matter are not only responsible for polluting your indoor air but they can also lead to adverse health effects. The same holds true for aromatic candles or anything that produces smoke.

Fire risk

Accidental house fires are generally caused by unattended lit candles or incense, hence it is always advisable to never leave a lit incense unattended and also never to place lit incense or candle on or near a flammable surface.

Burning Incense around Children and Pets

Children and pets are especially vulnerable to smoke inhalation from burning incense and long-term exposure may develop respiratory illness in them. Also, they are more likely to get burnt as they are unaware of the dangers of touching and handling a burning incense.

What are the Research Findings on Incense and its Reliability?

As per a research study, Incense compounds were found to contain Polyaromatic hydrocarbons and benzene carbonyls. Incense smoke contains irritants in the form of particulate matter, as a result, it has the potential to cause a variety of respiratory disorders, including asthma. Over 3,000 schoolchildren were tested for asthma, asthma symptoms, and burning incense in one study.

Closeup shot of glass test-tubes and microscope used in clinical research

In another research study, it was concluded that incense smoke was comparable to cigarette smoke and was thus harmful, but this research was found to be carried out by researchers who were a part of a tobacco-producing company, so it cannot be relied upon completely as it would have contributed to a lot of biasses thus affecting the final results.

A female doctor with a stethoscope checking on a virtual lung report on the screen

In most of the research studies carried out on the effects of burning incense the sample size has been quite small and this alone leads to inconclusive research findings.

Experts do advise taking these health risks into consideration while using synthetically produced Incense.

How to use Incense safely?

YES! it can be done. Incense is great for cleansing and purification and not all incense is created equal, quality of ingredients used while making incense does matter and that too natural plant-based ingredients are always a good choice over synthetic cheap incense. Also, incense should always be used following all of its safety standards and it won't lead to any kind of problems.

You can burn good quality incense anytime in a well-ventilated space and you will not feel any ill effects. However, if you are sensitive to strong scents, then burning incense any time of the day may cause migraines or other side effects, for this you can choose an incense that has a mild aroma.

While burning incense indoors always choose a place with cross-ventilation, also It’s best to use it during the morning hours before going to work or school, as this way you can avoid getting migraine headaches from burning incense, also avoid placing it too close to you to not let the smoke go in your eyes or nose.

An Incense stick safely burning inside and wooden incense burner box

Always take care when lighting a new stick of Incense, fan it out so that it smoulders leaving a glowing amber behind that smokes gradually releasing the scent, place it on a stand or an incense burner box made out of a fire-proof surface and away from any kind of flammable material and also don’t leave it unattended until fully burnt. Ambient air quality standards can be maintained with the help of an indoor air purifier after the use of incense.

Try to switch to high-quality premium masala Incense sticks which mostly consist of all-natural plant-based ingredients in them and also try to use incense sticks without smoke (reed-diffuser can be a great alternative to incense) or those emitting a low smoke burn, avoid synthetically produced cheap incense which is loaded with chemical compounds.

So are incense bad for you still or are there any benefits of Burning Incense?

Burning incense is believed to be able to connect you with the elements of nature (earth, air, fire) and the spirit world. Incense has been used as a way to attract good luck! A nice sweet smell can help relieve stress and improve your mood. The incense that is made from all-natural ingredients and those which are non-toxic, neither animal tested, burning of such incense does not produce any harmful chemicals or gases. It offers a soft pleasant scent that will not offend anyone in your home.

A closeup shot of multiple beige color masala incense sticks displayed horizontally

Burning incense clears negative energy from the atmosphere and helps to purify an area and makes it more peaceful! You may want to burn some incense during meditation sessions to clear your mind before entering deep spiritual states. Enjoy beautiful fragrances while you meditate!

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