Here’s Why You Should Think Twice About Burning Incense

Burning incense has been a common practice in China since 2000 BC, often used for religious practices. People from ancient China used various plants and herbs such as sandalwood and cinnamon as incense (via Heddels). The purpose for burning incense varies. Today, people use incense for prayer, worship, or simply for aromatic purposes to make any space smell fragrant. Some individuals also burn sage for cleansing and healing. Apart from Asia, countries in the Middle East utilized incense (via Healthline), as well as Greece and Egypt. 

Whether burning incense for religious use or relaxation, the practice can have a negative impact on your health. According to PubMed, “the health impact of indoor air pollution is a growing area of interest for public health professionals,” especially since “people typically spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, particularly women, young children and elders.”

“Clearly, there needs to be greater awareness and management of the health risks associated with burning incense in indoor environments,” said Rong Zhou, a lead researcher from the South China University of Technology. One might think burning incense would be less harmful than puffing cigarettes — but that may not be the case (via Times Now News).

Researchers linked incense smoke to respiratory problems. The smoke contains pollutants that can be harmful to people. Hence, inhaling it can cause inflammation in the lungs. Coughing and sneezing while breathing in air with incense smoke could mean that the harmful pollutants entered your body.

Burning incense may lead to respiratory problems and cancer

Asthmatic people are at higher risk when exposed to such pollutants. According to a study from the University of North Carolina, the smoke from burned incense has carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and formaldehyde (via Science Daily). Healthy people can develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or respiratory complications when exposed to incense smoke on a daily basis (via Times Now News). Researchers also discovered that longtime incense users in Singapore developed upper respiratory tract carcinomas (UPT) and lung carcinomas. The study revealed burning incense can cause higher risks of squamous cell carcinoma (via National Center for Biotechnology Information).

Compared to cigarette smoke, incense smoke contains more cytotoxic and genotoxic properties — which leads to cancer. Therefore, burning incense can be more dangerous than smoking cigarettes (via Science Daily). Other problems from burning incense include triggering allergies and irritating the eyes. The smoke can be too harsh for young children and the elderly. People with sensitive skin may experience skin conditions, such as dermatitis or hives. Some experts believe that incense smoke can also affect cognitive functions (via Nature). Considering the risks, you might want to think twice before lighting your favorite incense the next time you want to clear the air.

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