Incense is in so many cultures a sign of sanctuary. Whether it's the Catholic Church or your yoga class, it has a purifying nature that adds a feeling of peace to the room. But not all incense is created equal--and in some cases, the smoke caused by burning incense can have some negative repercussions. If you’re a fan of incense, but want to avoid any negative impacts, here’s what you need to know.
Why We Love Incense
We’ve used incense in some capacity since the dawn of human history. Once fire was invented, humans realized that burning different woods, plants, etc. gave off certain aromas that could impact the mood, and it's been used for ceremonial purposes ever since. It’s been used for sanctifying reasons, dedicated to the Gods or God, depending on the religion and time period. The three wise men brought the baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, all gifts that were thought to be only fit for a king.
In Eastern religions, “smudging” or cleansing a person or home of negative energy has been done with dried white sage or cedar. The Roman Catholic Church uses incense during ceremonial services. And in more recent years, it’s been tied to aromatherapy. We love the stuff across so many cultures because of its ability to set a mood.
The Benefits of Burning Incense
Some research in recent years has shown that incense can be beneficial. A study published in the November 2006 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that white sage can actually purify the air. “The most frequent medical indications for medicinal smoke are pulmonary (23.5%), neurological (21.8%) and dermatological (8.1%)," the researchers noted. "Other uses of smoke are not exactly medical but beneficial to health, and include smoke as a preservative or a repellent and the social use of smoke.”
Another study, published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, found that frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates a part of the brain that may help with the alleviation of anxiety and depression. The aroma of lavender incense has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress just as the essential oil is known to do. It's no wonder this stuff has been used for so long.
It should be noted that the benefits below are claims from enthusiasts and are not scientifically proven as those above have been.
Other Benefits of Burning Incense
- Creates awareness and a sense of ceremony
- Creates a sanctuary
- Increases focus
- Increases creativity and motivation
- Helps foster inner strength
Health Concerns Surrounding Incense
While incense has been used for millennia, it does come with some important health concerns. A study published in Environmental Chemistry Letters found that hazardous particulate matter and VOCs produced from burning incense can be very dangerous. In fact, researchers found that the particulate matter produced from burning incense was the same as the particulate matter produced from smoking a cigarette.
That said, you ingest cigarette smoke and with incense, the second hand smoke is only an issue when it’s used in close proximity indoors. Additionally, the lead researcher on this study said we should not simply conclude that incense smoke is like cigarette smoke because the study was small in size and there are so many kinds of incense on the market. That said, this study shows the importance of properly ventilating a room when you are burning incense.
Using Incense Safely
There is the obvious fact that incense is something you burn, so be careful not to burn your house down. Make sure you never leave the house with incense burning. Other safety tips include:
- Burn incense in a ventilated area.
- Keep both lit and unlit incense out of the reach of small children and pets.
- If you’re asthmatic or have other respiratory issues then you should avoid burning incense.
- If you’re pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before burning incense.
- Be aware of some mind-altering varieties of incense. For example, mugwort has been shown to affect mood and induce vivid and lucid dreaming
- Choose high quality organic or all natural brands of incense. For example Fred Soll incense is made from natural resin and Mereville Trust makes incense harvested with biodynamic principles.
- If you love the feeling that incense gives you, but you’re afraid of the smoke, consider purifying the air with a Himalayan sea salt lamp or an air purifier. You could also crack the window.
Is Burning Incense Bad for Your Pup?
Our pets don't necessarily have the same response to incense as we do. Consider these safety tips to protect them:
- Incense can produce environmental pollutants as discussed above, and it’s important to note that dogs have lungs that are much more sensitive to these pollutants.
- Dogs have considerably more sensitive noses so aromatherapeutic substances like essential oils or incense can drive them crazy.
- For some dogs, that strong smell can cause headaches or respiratory issues.
- Make sure that your pup doesn’t ingest incense as it can be poisonous.
- Keep your pets safe by burning incense in a well ventilated area. If you burn it when dogs or cats are not in the room, that's even better.
Soy candles made with non-synthetic fragrances are also a good way to set the mood if you or your pet respond poorly to incense smoke or if the health concerns listed above make you nervous.
Do you burn incense? Why do you love it? What is your favorite variety? We want to know all about it! Drop us a line via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit.
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