Dangers of Burning Incense Sticks | Incense Sticks & Health

Dangers of Burning Incense Sticks | Incense Sticks & Health


If you enjoy the pleasant aroma of burning incense sticks during your religious or spiritual practise you may want to think again!

Are you aware of the dangers of burning incense sticks?

If you’re a keen practitioner of Reiki, spirituality, meditation or any number of religious practices, you will likely have inhaled the smoke from an incense stick at one time or another and experienced a sweet aroma of blissful olfactory indulgence.

What many people are unaware of however, is that there are many incense sticks health concerns that one should be aware of. The National Institutes of Health have published research showing the dangers of burning incense sticks and how burning incense sticks can cause a number of health problems and serious diseases.

In certain Asian countries especially, but also throughout the world, burning incense sticks is a daily practice. And while many of these seemingly innocent practices produce a pleasant smell, the materials used to produce those smells are of serious concern. The dangers of incense sticks is something you need to know if you regularly use such things in your daily spiritual or religious practice.


Some of the chemicals and compounds released by burning incense sticks are as dangerous as cigarette smoke!

As quoted by the National Institutes of Health,

A typical composition of stick incense consists of 21% (by weight) of herbal and wood powder, 35% of fragrance material, 11% of adhesive powder, and 33% of bamboo stick. Incense smoke (fumes) contains particulate matter (PM), gas products and many organic compounds. On average, incense burning produces particulates greater than 45 mg/g burned as compared to 10 mg/g burned for cigarettes.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377255/

The National Institutes of Health further states that:

The gas products from burning incense include CO, CO2, NO2, SO2, and others. Incense burning also produces volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, as well as aldehydes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The air pollution in and around various temples has been documented to have harmful effects on health. When incense smoke pollutants are inhaled, they cause respiratory system dysfunction.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377255/


There are a number of serious health effects caused by burning incense sticks!

Incense sticks are used in many religious and spiritual practices as a way of cleansing and purifying a space of negative energies and harmful entities and this is a practice that has existed in many cultures for thousands of years.

Today you can freely buy incense in many forms, such as sticks, cones, powders, coils and rocks. And while the appearance of these may each differ, the chemicals used to produce them are often just as dangerous for your health.

People who inhale incense sticks are at risk of respiratory disease due to the inhalation of toxic compounds found within the smoke. Further more, by inhaling particulate matter, which enters and penetrates deeply into the lungs, the non-toxic matter used to make incense sticks can accumulated within the respiratory system.

However it’s not only the lungs that are adversely effected by incense sticks. Incense sticks can cause damage to various organs as well as cause a variety of serious health effects, including cardiovascular issues and cancer.


Some of the health damaging gases that are released by burning incense sticks include:

Carbon Monoxide – Carbon Monoxide reduces your blood’s capability to transport oxygen and can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and death in high enough concentrations.

Sulfur Dioxide & Nitrogen Dioxide – Both these gases can negatively effect the heart and cardiovascular system, effects pulmonary function, and can cause lung irritation and respiratory illness.

Volatile Organic Compounds – These numerous compounds found in incense sticks can cause eye, throat and nose irritation, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and can worsen the symptoms of asthma. Chronic symptoms of Volatile Organic Compound exposure include cancer, kidney and liver damage, and central nervous system damage.

Formaldehyde – Burning incense sticks is known to generate a range of harmful aerosols including formaldehyde, which is especially harmful to health and is known to be a sensory irritant and a cause of cancer. Studies have shown that the combination of formaldehyde and wood dust, which is used to make incense sticks, enhances the toxicity of formaldehyde and is linked to nasal cancer.

Diethylphthalate – If your incense sticks are made in India, this chemical is extensively used to bind the perfumes to the incense sticks and these chemicals are released into the air when burning commences. Diethylphthalate is suspected to be carcinogenic.

These are only some of the many chemicals and compounds found in incense sticks which can have a damaging effect upon your health.

One of the biggest dangers of incense sticks is the research showing that inhaling incense smoke has been associated with neoplasm. Neoplasm is defined as ‘a new and abnormal growth of tissue in a part of the body, especially as a characteristic of cancer’.

As quoted by the NIH,

“Incense smoke contains various N-nitroso compounds, which have been shown to be potent nervous system carcinogens.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377255/

So Now what?



There are options available you can take to limit your exposure and reduce the health risks associated with incense smoke inhalation!

The next time you think about sitting down to pray, or meditate where there is incense smoke burning, such as in a temple, keep in mind the dangers of incense sticks. You may wish to limit the length of time you are exposed by reducing the time spent in that area.

If you wish to continue burning incense sticks in your home, or within an enclosed space, it would be beneficial to do so in a well ventilated area. Opening a window or external door will help to reduce the air pollutants indoors which will help to reduce the health risks associated with exposure.

Or perhaps a safer option would be to substitute your incense sticks for a healthier alternative. For example, burning 100% natural white sage is a far safer alternative to harsh incense smoke. You may alternatively try gently warming 100% pure essential oils using a candle in a burner, many of which not only smell good but come with a variety of added health benefits too.

Whether you’re applying it to your skin, consuming it, inhaling it, or otherwise absorbing it, be safe and healthy and always question what you’re putting into your body. Your body and your health will thank you for it.

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