Incense is a fragrant smoke that’s released when combustible incense material burns. Typically, resins like frankincense and myrrh are combined with aromatic woods, barks, seeds, roots, and flowers.
Incense can be either indirect or direct-burning. The former consists of powdered incombustible material mixed with fragrance materials and then formed into a stick or cone shape. The latter uses a fuel and oxidizer mixture to fuel the combustion, with fragrant materials added afterward.
1. It’s Dangerous
Scents (or aromas) are used for a variety of reasons: They encourage relaxation, help people sleep better, enhance concentration, stimulate creativity and even increase sexual desire. And of course, they’re often used for religious and aesthetic purposes.
Incense sticks and wands are made from a mixture of materials, usually charcoal or wood powder, an oxidizer, and fragrant ingredients like oils or herbs. They’re burned to produce smoke that gives off the scent and helps to purify the environment.
However, if it’s not burned correctly, incense can be dangerous. It’s important to avoid putting the sticks or wands too close together, as this can create fire hazards. Also, children should never be left alone near burning incense. If they touch the hot ashes, they can burn themselves or be poisoned by the chemicals. Ideally, you should put a bowl or other surface underneath the burning incense to catch any embers that fall off. If you’re at the beach, a pile of sand is the best option because it can easily extinguish any remaining embers.
2. It’s Only Safe to Burn Outdoors
The burning of incense is often associated with religious worship and meditation, but it can be used for ambiance as well. This aromatic biotic material emits fragrant smoke when burned and is composed of plant materials and essential oils.
The smoke emitted from incense contains particulate matter, gas products and many organic compounds. These pollutants can cause air pollution and health problems. Some of these include elevated cord blood IgE levels, allergic contact dermatitis and inflammatory lung responses.
However, the main risk from incense is its incomplete combustion which leads to threatening levels of PM consisting of manifold unburned carbon particles and their derivatives. These pollutants are highly cytotoxic and can trigger respiratory disorders. This is especially true in poorly ventilated spaces. Consequently, it is safer to burn incense outside and to use non-dipped sticks made with all-natural ingredients.
3. It’s Not Effective
Historically, people burned incense to establish a connection between the earthly world and the heavens. Today, many use it to purify the air and improve concentration or focus. However, there’s no evidence that any of these effects are caused by the incense itself. Instead, it’s likely due to the chemicals and pollutants emitted by burning incense.
Incense smoke is a complex mixture of particulate matter, gas products and volatile organic compounds such as musk ketones, musk xylenes, aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and diethylphthalate (DEP). While it’s difficult to isolate the effect of incense smoke alone, many studies have shown that these pollutants are harmful to human health.
Inhalation of incense smoke particles and the associated PAHs has been linked to respiratory dysfunction and accelerated aging of the lungs. PAHs can also increase inflammation in the lungs and interfere with natural cell functions. Additionally, a recent study found that PM from incense and cigarette smoke was more toxic to Chinese hamster ovary cells than cigarette-only PM.
4. It’s Unhealthy
Incense can release a lot of pollutants into the air when burned. These include particulate matter and dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide. They can aggravate asthma and even trigger attacks in people with sensitive respiratory systems. They can also trigger inflammatory responses and elevate oxidative stress.
The compounds in incense smoke may also affect metabolism, resulting in undesirable weight loss and decreased good cholesterol levels. These compounds have been linked to cardiovascular diseases and a higher risk of cancer, especially lung cancer.
While it’s possible that incense can increase the risk of these conditions, most studies show only an association between them and incense use. However, inhaling second hand smoke is still more likely to cause these diseases than the fumes from incense burning alone. It is important to choose quality incense sticks that are made with clean-burning materials and have a transparent ingredient list. Avoid cheap brands, as they tend to produce more toxic incense smoke.