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How Does Incense Work?

how does incense work

When burned or heated, certain woods and solidified resins give off a fragrant smoke. This aromatic biotic material is often employed for aesthetic reasons, religious worship, aromatherapy, meditation, and ceremony.

Incense has a powerful effect on people’s moods and wellbeing. Not only that, but its aroma also helps reduce stress and anxiety while providing them with an enveloping sense of serenity.

The Combustion Process

When an incense stick is lit on fire, it produces toxic fumes that can be hazardous for health. They may irritate the nose, throat and eyes while also triggering coughing, bronchial constriction and choking.

Burning incense produces toxic combustion products, such as aldehydes and ketones. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been linked to various health issues like respiratory problems, headaches, drowsiness and dermatitis.

The chemical composition of incense smoke differs depending on the type. For instance, sandalwood incense produces more aldehydes than frankincense incense does.

In some religious traditions, the smoke emitted by incense is used to purify objects and people. For instance, in the Chaldean rite of the Catholic Church, those preparing to receive Holy Communion must hold their hands in smoke just above a bowl of burning incense before receiving Holy Communion.

The Burning Process

Burning incense releases its fragrant oils, creating a pleasant atmosphere in your home or work space.

Incense can be made from a variety of materials, such as woods, resins, flowers and herbs. Common ingredients found in incense include frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood and mastic.

Incense has been used for centuries in certain cultures to mask unpleasant odors, drive away demons, demonstrate the presence of gods and appease spirits. It also plays an integral role in religious ceremonies, ancestor veneration, traditional Chinese medicine practices and daily life.

Incense is divided into two distinct types: direct-burning (also known as combustible incense) which burns directly over flame or embers and can be classified into cored stick, solid stick, dhoop, coil and rope varieties.

The Scent

Smell is one of the most powerful senses, and burning incense can create a calming atmosphere and restful environment. Additionally, burning incense purifies the air, eliminates negative energy and promotes health and wellbeing.

Lavender has a sweet, relaxing smell that helps relieve headaches and tension. It is also used by aromatherapists to promote relaxation and clear the mind.

Frankincense is an earthy-scented herb used in spiritual practice for centuries. It also makes an effective aromatherapy scent; studies have demonstrated its ability to reduce stress, promote relaxation, ease congestion and enhance memory.

Other options include sandalwood, cinnamon, lemon and orange incense. Cinnamon incense is said to boost energy levels and help alleviate depression while citrus scents are said to enhance mental focus.

The Health Effects

Incense has been used for thousands of years, but recent studies suggest it may present serious health risks. The smoke emitted when burning incense contains particulate matter and some chemical compounds which can be hazardous when inhaled.

Particles and chemicals in airborne particles and solutions can cause a range of respiratory issues, such as asthma and lung inflammation. Furthermore, they may lead to allergies or eye irritation.

In the UK, smoking incense has been linked to an increased risk of bronchitis and asthma. Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urges people to abstain from smoking incense if they suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions.

Additionally, certain types of incense emit higher levels of pollutants than others. These include carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and formaldehyde which may cause respiratory symptoms or heart disease in children and people with existing health conditions.


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