What are incense? What are incense made of and are they bad for you? Can you smoke them

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Why do people burn incense?

Incense is a smoke-emitting substance. It’s made of natural materials that can be burned to create a fragrant, aromatic smoke.

Different kinds of incense have different scents and materials. Some examples are cedar or rose. Some are made with resins, while others are made with powders.

Incense is used to freshen up the scent of indoor areas, for spiritual purposes, for health, and more.

Like anything else that emits smoke, incense smoke will be inhaled when using it. Recently, there have been some inquiries into how incense negatively affects health. Let’s take a closer look.

What is incense made of?

Incense is usually made of mostly natural materials. The first incenses created were made from aromatic materials such as sage, resins, oils, wood, and others.

Over time, more materials have been added to incense to enhance their fragrance, ability to combust, and to hold incense blend materials together.

You’ll need a flame source to use most types of incense, such as a lighter or matches. The end of the incense — which can be cone, stick, round, or other — is lit with flame to burn and emit smoke.

The smoke released is designed to have a sweet, pleasant smell. It can also contain particulate matter that’s easily inhaled, which means it can have possible health impacts.

What does research say about incense?

Many cultures burn incense for hygienic and even spiritual purposes. However, recent research reveals there could be some health drawbacks.


Incenses contain a mixture of natural and unnatural ingredients that create small, inhalable particulate matter. A study in 2009Trusted Source confirmed some of this particulate matter was carcinogenic, meaning it could cause cancer.

This study also found an association between higher cancer risk and incense use. Most of these cancers were upper respiratory tract carcinomas or lung carcinomas.

Another study found inhalation of incense could be more cancerous than smoking a cigarette. This study was performed only on animal cells in vitro, however.

Many toxic and irritant compounds were detected in the smoke alongside its aromatic compounds, meaning that it could create other health effects, too. These compounds include:

  • polyaromatic hydrocarbons
  • benzene
  • carbonyls

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