Why Incense Is the Wellness Hack You Didn't Know You Needed

Written by: Greg Chain



Time to read 14 min

What is incense? Simply put, it’s a blend of fragrant plant materials and essential oils that, when burned, release an aroma that has graced everything from ancient temples to modern homes. 

Tracing its use from ritualistic practices to aiding in relaxation and focus, we uncover the storied past and enduring relevance of incense in our lives.

Essence of Incense: Defining the Aromatic Tool

Incense, a term derived from the Latin word ‘incendere’ meaning ‘to burn,’ is more than just a source of pleasant aroma. It is an aromatic biotic material that releases fragrant smoke when burned, commonly composed of aromatic plant materials, often combined with essential oils.

The world of incense is as diverse as it is aromatic, offering myriad forms, each with unique burning times and fragrance release properties.

From joss sticks and incense sticks to cones, the options are as varied as the people who burn them.

Joss sticks, another term for incense sticks, especially in East Asia, are employed for various purposes such as religious worship, aromatherapy, and meditation.

A key distinction in the world of incense is that of direct-burning and indirect-burning incense.

Direct-burning incense, which includes joss sticks, incense sticks, and cones, can burn independently once lit, utilizing materials like charcoal, wood powder, and an oxidizer to sustain combustion.

This feature makes them particularly suitable for continuous use in practices requiring prolonged burning periods, such as religious ceremonies or meditation sessions.

The allure of incense lies not merely in its aromatic properties but also in its therapeutic potential. Incense benefits extend beyond the olfactory, resonating with the mind and soul to create an atmosphere of tranquility, peace, and spiritual connection. 

Whether you choose to use incense in a religious ceremony, for aromatherapy, or simply to fill your home with a pleasant aroma, the incense you choose makes all the difference.

So, how do you navigate the world of incense and select the right one?

The journey to choosing incense begins with understanding its core ingredients, which is our next destination.

Create The Perfect Mood On Demand With These Hand-Dipped Incense Sticks

The Historical Significance of Incense

Incense has deep historical roots, originating from ancient times and connected with spiritual practices and various religions, such as those in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Its use was not confined to creating a fragrant environment but was intertwined with these civilizations' religious and cultural fabric.

Imagine walking the bustling streets of ancient Egypt, the air thick with the scent of burning incense used to honor gods such as Amon-Re.

Not just restricted to daily rituals, incense also played a crucial role in funerary practices, with the belief that the souls of the dead ascend to heaven accompanied by the aroma of burning incense.

The significance of incense spread beyond the deserts of Egypt to other civilizations including the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. The Babylonians used incense in devotional prayer, the Greeks offered it for protection against demons, and the Romans used it in sacrifices.

Incense was not merely a fragrant tool but a medium to connect with the divine, infusing everyday life with a sense of spirituality.

The early Christian church's symbolism of the ascent of prayers and saints' merits serves as an example of how the use of incense in religious ceremonies evolved over time.

In Catholic services, it creates an ambiance of heaven, reflective of descriptions in the Book of Revelation. From its origins in ancient civilizations to its use in modern religious practices, incense has remained a constant, a fragrant thread weaving through the tapestry of human history.

As we journey from the past into the present, it’s fascinating to observe how the art of burning incense has been preserved and innovated over the centuries.

We will now examine the process and skills involved in the art of burning incense.

Anatomy of Incense: Core Ingredients

A culinary dish is only as delicious as its ingredients, and incense is no exception.

The heart of incense lies in its natural ingredients - resins, wood powders, and essential oils.

Natural resins such as Frankincense, Myrrh, and Copal, derived from tree sap, bark roots, or wood, are the primary materials used in creating incense sticks. 

These resins imbue the incense with a rich, earthy aroma, transporting the senses to the heart of nature with each inhale.

To help the incense sticks burn effectively, wood or charcoal powders serve as combustible binding materials.

These powders act as the incense stick's backbone, providing the base for the aromatic materials to manifest their fragrances.

They ensure the incense stick burns evenly and steadily, releasing a consistent aroma throughout its burning period.

Essential oils are the soul of incense, providing a natural aroma to incense sticks. These oils are often based on traditional Ayurvedic mixtures, capturing the therapeutic benefits of these ancient practices. The quality of essential oils is crucial for the natural scent and effectiveness of incense.

Here are some key points to know about essential oils in incense:

  • They should have a deep, woodsy scent, indicating the use of natural oils.

  • They enhance the aroma of the incense and contribute to its therapeutic properties.

  • Each incense stick can provide a mini aromatherapy session.

Stick incense, one of the most common types, typically includes a combination of:

  • herbal and wood powder

  • fragrance material

  • adhesive powder

  • a bamboo stick base

Hand-dipped stick incense is created by dipping unscented ‘incense blanks’ into quality essential or fragrance oils. This process allows for a high level of customization, enabling the creation of unique scents.

Understanding the ingredients in your incense is key to ensuring a high-quality, authentic experience. But the magic doesn’t stop with the ingredients. The art of transforming these components into a stick of incense that burns with a consistent, pleasing aroma is a craft in itself. Next, we’ll examine the delicate procedure of burning incense.

The Art of Burning Incense

Burning incense is an art form, a delicate balance of heat and timing that leads to a fragrant release of aromatic smoke. To light incense sticks, follow these steps:

  1. Place them on an incense burner.

  2. Light one end with a match or lighter.

  3. Let it ignite with a visible small flame.

  4. Fan or blow the flame out to leave a glowing ember that releases fragrance.

The soft glow of the ember, coupled with the rising smoke, creates a captivating visual experience that complements the aromatic journey.

Extinguishing an incense stick is equally important, with safety being a priority. One should press the lit tip against a heat-resistant surface or cut the tip off with metal scissors, ensuring the ember lands on a non-flammable surface. This practice ensures that the incense stick burning is extinguished completely, preventing any potential fire risks.

Different types of incense require different methods of burning. For instance, resin incense, which does not burn on its own, requires the use of charcoal tablets. These tablets are placed on rocks or sand in a charcoal burner, providing a heat source for the resin. When using incense burners for incense cones, start with a clean incense burner, place the cone upright on its base without touching the sides, light and let it burn for a moment, then blow out the flame to produce a glowing ember and smoke, adjusting the lid for airflow as needed.

Like any art form, the art of burning incense requires practice and understanding. But, just as every rose has its thorn, the beauty of incense is accompanied by a debate on health implications. We will now proceed with this discussion.

Health Implications: The Smoke Debate

The debate around the health implications of incense is akin to a pendulum, swinging between its therapeutic benefits and potential health risks. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Incense smoke condensates have shown higher genotoxicity in mammalian cells than tobacco smoke condensate.

  • Incense burning contributes to indoor particulate matter significantly, sometimes containing higher quantities than side-stream cigarette smoke.

  • Incense smoke contains carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, and carbonyls.

  • Incense smoke can generate up to four times the amount of particulate matter compared to cigarettes.

The health risks associated with inhaling incense smoke are extensive, including:

  • Prenatal exposure leading to hyperactive behavior in children

  • Increased risk of asthma and respiratory allergies

  • Potential germ-cell mutations

  • Cardiac disorders

  • Stroke

  • Coronary heart disease

  • Toxic effects on the liver

  • Reduction in blood’s oxygen transport ability

  • Heightened risk of lung cancer

  • Presence of various poisonous gases like CO, NO2, and SO2

These potential hazards underline the importance of using incense responsibly, ensuring proper ventilation, and avoiding excessive exposure to Chinese incense smoke hazardous effects.

Not all research paints such a grim picture, though. Studies show variability in the association between incense burning and lung cancer, with some research reporting increased risk, and others, including a survey, finding no association or an inverse association with adenocarcinoma of the lung, contributing to ambiguity in the results. This inconsistency in findings points towards the complexity of the health implications of incense, indicating a need for further research.

While incense smoke exhibits risk factors for health issues including certain types of cancer, the inconclusive results from various studies suggest a need for a balanced and cautious approach to its use. Incense, like many things in life, is best enjoyed in moderation and with a mindful approach to health and safety. With this understanding, let’s explore the myriad ways in which incense infuses its magic in various cultures and rituals.

Incense Across Cultures: Rituals and Practices

Incense forms the fragrant backbone of various cultural rituals and practices around the world, weaving a tapestry of sensory experiences that touch the soul. In Buddhism, incense is used to:

  • Purify the space for meditation

  • Serve as a common offering representing respect and the Three Treasures

  • Utilized in rituals, with various forms including coreless or bamboo core sticks

The use of incense transcends the senses to establish a spiritual connection, creating an atmosphere conducive to meditation and spiritual pursuits.

During Catholic Mass, incense signifies purification and sanctification. Its use in rites from the entrance procession to the elevation of the Sacred Host, and its role in funerals, symbolizes the body as holy and the ascent of prayers to heaven. 

Incense becomes a bridge between the earthly and the divine, a fragrant manifestation of faith and devotion.

Japanese traditions utilize incense in ritualistic practices such as:

  • The Tea Ceremony, using kneaded incense for a sweet, creamy scent

  • Mon-koh, a method for appreciating incense fragrance

  • Soradaki, a method for perfuming with incense fragrance

Incense transcends the realm of fragrance and becomes an integral part of the cultural experience, enriching the ceremony with its aroma and symbolism.

Incense also plays a role in traditional medicine and spiritual practices, with the fire element being integrated into experiences according to traditions like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. 

This integration of incense into daily life and spiritual practices reflects its deep-rooted significance across cultures, a testament to its enduring appeal.

Moving on from the realm of religious rituals and practices, we will now examine the role of incense in modern spaces.

Creating Ambiance: Incense in Modern Spaces

The magic of incense extends beyond the confines of temples and ceremonies, finding a place within modern living spaces. 

Burning incense with scents like lavender or sandalwood can have a calming effect on the nervous system, setting a serene atmosphere in modern spaces. 

Whether you’re turning your living room into a tranquil retreat or creating a spa-like atmosphere in your bathroom, incense can transform any space into a sensory haven.

Incorporating the fragrance of incense into your daily routine can significantly enhance your quality of life. Scents like:

  • lavender

  • vanilla

  • chamomile

  • jasmine

Contribute to a tranquil state that facilitates restful sleep, underscoring the benefits of incense in sleep enhancement. Imagine drifting off to sleep enveloped in a soothing cloud of lavender or chamomile, the gentle scent lulling you into a peaceful slumber.

Incense can also enhance productivity and creativity. Incorporating the burning of incense in the home office or study can aid in focused determination, recommending fragrances that support a productive and creative environment. Whether you’re working on a challenging project or seeking inspiration for a creative endeavor, the right incense scent can stimulate your senses and foster a conducive environment.

While the benefits of incense are manifold, it’s essential to consider safety precautions. To minimize health risks and maintain air quality, it is advised to burn incense in well-ventilated areas, use proper burners, and ensure safety precautions are taken to prevent too much smoke accumulation in enclosed spaces. With these precautions in place, you can enjoy the benefits of incense, enhancing your living spaces and personal well-being.

Having prepared you to experience the magic of incense, we will now guide you in selecting the right scent.

Selecting Your Scent: A Guide to Choosing Incense

Choosing the right scent of incense is like choosing the right soundtrack for your life – it should resonate with your mood, desires, and the ambiance you wish to create. Myrrh incense provides a calming effect that can purify energy, while Bergamot balances stimulating and soothing properties, making it ideal for meditation. Your choice of incense can thus become a catalyst for enhancing your mental and emotional well-being.

If you’re seeking to enhance creativity, here are some scents that might be your perfect match:

  • Vanilla incense: Its soothing yet energizing aroma enhances creativity

  • Lavender incense: Can aid in overcoming creative blocks

  • Patchouli incense: Can aid in overcoming creative blocks

In this way, incense becomes a tool for self-expression, stimulating your creativity and helping you tap into your inner artist.

For those seeking a better meditation experience, some options that promote tranquility and mental clarity are:

These fragrances enhance your meditation practice, creating a serene environment that calms the mind and soothes the senses.

Ultimately, choosing the right incense scent is a personal journey, one that requires experimentation and an open mind. Experimenting with a variety of incense scents like Cedar, Lotus, or Ylang-ylang can aid in finding a personal connection for enhanced meditation and creative practices.

Having provided a guide to choosing incense, we will now take you behind the scenes to understand the process of crafting incense.

Crafting Incense: A Peek into Production

The process of crafting incense is a delicate dance of precision, patience, and passion. It begins with a wide array of incense powder, including powdered aromatic woods, herbs, and spices, which are precisely measured and mixed according to the recipe, ensuring a consistent and quality scent profile for the incense. This meticulous attention to detail is what sets high-quality incense apart, creating an aromatic experience that is both rich and authentic.

Authenticity, in fact, is a cornerstone of incense production. Natural, organic materials are preferred to avoid the addition of synthetic fragrances. This commitment to authenticity ensures that each incense stick not only smells good but also stays true to the traditional practices that have been passed down through generations.

Once the powders are carefully blended, they are slowly mixed with warm water and mineral colors, if necessary, to achieve a pliable, dough-like consistency. This mixture is then shaped into a cylinder and pushed by a hydraulic extruding machine through a steel mold to form uniform incense strands. The freshly extruded strands are carefully arranged on wooden boards, ensuring that they maintain their shape and consistency as they move to the drying stage.

After several days of drying, the incense sticks are weighed and bundled into precise quantities, ready for the final step of packaging. Every step of the process, from blending the powders to the final packaging, is carried out with meticulous attention to detail, ensuring a consistent, high-quality product.

But how does one integrate this aromatic wonder into daily life? We will now examine this.

Incense as a Lifestyle: Incorporating Fragrance into Daily Life

Incorporating incense into daily life is like adding a soundtrack to your day - it enhances the experience, setting the tone for relaxation, mindfulness, and intimacy. Incense can transform your living room into a relaxing retreat, or your bathroom into a tranquil oasis. Imagine coming home after a long day, lighting an incense stick, and surrendering to the soothing aroma that envelops your space.

Incorporating incense into your morning or evening routines can help demarcate time and cultivate a practice of mindfulness. Some benefits of using incense include:

  • Grounding you during times of stress with scents like cedar or vetiver

  • Stimulating contemplation and reliving positive memories with familiar fragrances

  • Enhancing your daily rituals by using the fragrance of incense as a sensory cue to prompt mindfulness

Incense can also play a role in nurturing intimacy. Here are some ways incense can enhance your life:

  • Lighting aphrodisiac incense like rose or jasmine can foster intimacy and enhance sexual desire.

  • Incense can set the mood for a romantic evening.

  • Incense can enhance your meditation practice.

From setting the mood for a romantic evening to enhancing your meditation practice, incense can be a versatile addition to your lifestyle.

However, it is essential to use incense responsibly, considering its potential health implications and ensuring proper ventilation during use. With this understanding, you can enjoy the benefits of incense and enhance your daily life.

Having explored the world of incense in-depth, we will now address some common questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is incense good or bad for you?

Burning incense can emit particulate matter and chemicals linked to respiratory problems and cancer, potentially posing health risks due to air pollution and airway dysfunction. It's advisable to be mindful of potential health implications when using incense.

What is incense made out of?

Incense is made out of a combination of fragrant natural ingredients like wood powders, resins, gums, herbs, and spices. These are the main components used for making incense sticks.

What is incense in the Bible?

Incense in the Bible symbolizes ascending prayer, as seen in Luke 1:10 and Revelation 5:8. It is connected with "the prayers of the saints."

What is the best type of incense to choose for burning?

The best type of incense to choose for burning is high-quality, natural incense sticks, dhoop sticks, or cones to avoid synthetic fragrances, harmful chemicals, and charcoal. Avoiding these will ensure a better and healthier burning experience.

How can I burn incense safely?

To burn incense safely, make sure to use a suitable holder on a stable, heat-resistant surface, away from flammable materials, and ensure the room is well ventilated.


We’ve embarked on an aromatic journey, exploring the world of incense from its historical roots to its modern applications. From the sacred temples of ancient civilizations to the living rooms of modern homes, incense has been a constant, a fragrant thread weaving through the tapestry of human history.It’s more than just an aromatic tool; it’s a bridge to our past, a companion in our spiritual pursuits, and a soothing presence in our everyday lives.

As we conclude this journey, we invite you to explore the world of incense, to experience its enchanting aromas, and to discover its potential to enhance your life. Whether you use it for meditation, for creating a calming ambiance in your home, or as an aid for focus and creativity, incense holds the promise of an enriching, sensory experience. So, light an incense stick, inhale the fragrant smoke, and let the magic unfold!