incense smoke forming a heart shape

Things to Know About Incense

Incense is a lovely smelling combustible organic plant material combined with fragrance such as essential oils, that when lit and burnt releases fragrant smoke.  

Incense has been burned for thousands of years.  From offers to the gods, to magicians alters, to various religious ceremonies all over the world.  Today it is so easy to find, buy and make incense - although knowledge on the later is not nearly as widely known as in the past.  Incense is burned for purpose and recreation and really just because it is pleasant to be around. 

There are various inquiries about the nature of incense I have gathered together and hope to answer as best I can with the knowledge I have.

gold pots on a table with incense sticks burning clouds of smoke

Anyone can burn or use incense.  There are specific cultures and religious sectors that use incense for specific purposes but that does not mean that if you do not belong to those groups or sectors that you cannot use it.  


To make your own incense sticks check out this video tutorial that I made.

There are different uses for incense, it can be used for:

  • aesthetic purposes and to create a mood in yoga studios 
  • by individuals doing yoga or meditating  
  • in ceremonies of different types from modern day witchcraft ceremonies that people burn on their own alters
  • in more formalized ceremonies and religious worship of different sectors
  • for aromatherapy
  • an insect repellent 
  • a deodorant for smells such as cigarette smoke 

Incense sticks have been around for a very long time. 

It is hard to say where they come from originally or which culture invented them.  Incense have been displayed in Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Around 2000 BCE Ancient Chinese cultures started to use incense for worship.  It was also used in Neolithic times by Chinese cultures in the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties.  Buddhist monks brought incense to Japan in the 6th century.  While natives peoples of North America burned sage and cedar as their own form of incense.  

a hand holding a bunch of burning and smoking incense sticks

Can incense make you sick?

The manufacturing of incense is not regulated by any sort of health authority so if you bought cheap incense you might be exposing yourself to toxic chemicals.  In many first world countries, like Australia, it is illegal to have lead wicks in candles.  This is not necessarily the case with incense and lead and other toxic heavy metals may be present in the sticks and cones.  

There is also the debate of burning and exposing yourself to manufactured fragrances that may be used to scent the incense.  These fragrances may cause long term health effects but are still available on the market in all sorts of products such as candles, wax melts and air freshers just to name a few.  

Purchasing a high quality product from a company you trust who can disclose the ingredients used to produce their incense is the best type to buy. 

Smoke can contain gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NO), sulfur oxides (SO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Like with any product you burn that produces smoke, you are responsible for your own choices and have to choose what is best for yourself.

Being aware of what is in the air you breathe and proper ventilation is one of the keys to good healthy lungs.  


Can incense give you headaches?

Any fragrance when exposed to can have an adverse effect on a person.  Some people react to different fragrances in different ways and a headache may be a side effect of this. 

If you are burning a specific scented incense and notice yourself getting a headache, extinguish the scent, air out the room and see if your condition changes. 

You can always experiment with that particular scented incense in the future to see if you develop a headache with that scent burning.  If you notice that you are getting a headache again, then avoid using that particular fragrance of incense.  Give it to someone else and try something new.  

a stone cauldron holding a large amount of smouldering and smoking incense sticks of various sizes

Can incense cause a fire?

As with anything that is ignited, it is important to use the incense in a safe way.  They should be burnt in a heat safe container and kept away from things that can catch alight such as curtains. 

Always keep your incense away from pets and small children who could burn themselves or knock over the container that the incense is burning in.  It is also possible that the smouldering incense sticks can ignite into a flame so keep an eye on them and keep you and your home safe!  

As the incense sticks burn to the bottom they will burn themselves out.  Just be safe and always check to ensure that the flame is completely out before leaving the room or sleeping.

Remember that incense is still smoke so burning too much of it at one time may trigger your smoke detector / alarm or sprinklers.  Just take it slow, burning one stick at a time and you should be fine.   

Too much smoke at one time could stain your walls, so keep the smoke away from your walls or just burn less sticks at one time.  Excessive amounts of smoke is not really safe or healthy for anyone to be around. 

Burning the incense around your food, computers, or plants is a choice that you need to make.  Everything in moderation is fine, just remember that it is smoke particles and you need to make your own decisions about your health and what you think is fine for you.  

 a monkey meditating in a yoga pose while a single incense stick burns with smoke in the air

Watch your pets around your incense. 

If they start to act different or sneeze then you should probably not burn the incense smoke around them.  You are the best judge of your pets because you know their behaviour better than anyone.  If you think your cat or dog is being negatively impacted by the scent or the smoke then be a proactive pet owner and take care of your pet by not burning incense around them.


Incense cones or sticks are wonderful for creating a relaxing atmosphere.  I light an incense stick almost every evening in my bedroom to help me wind down and relax for the evening.  It is handmade lavender incense that is my little winding down ritual to mark the passage of another day finished.  Light some for yourself whether it is for a ritual, to meditate to or just for fun!

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