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Incense Basics: How to Choose & Use Incense

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Last Updated Jun 21, 2021

Incense Basics: How to Choose & Use Incense

Contents

  1. Different Types of Incense
    1. Incense sticks
    2. Incense cones & backflow cones
  2. Incense Scents & Their Uses
  3. How to Choose Incense
  4. Incense Use Precautions

It is said that incense has been widely used for roughly four to six thousand years. History shows that incense has been used in ancient Egypt and during the first Christmas, myrrh and frankincense were offered by the three wise men to the baby Jesus as gifts. Incense has always been a traditional part of Hindu and Buddhist religions, with different scents being identified for every ritual. The term aromatherapy was not invented until the 20th century, the art and science of the use of scents for therapeutic purposes predate that of incense and probably even further. 


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Different Types of Incense

How you burn incense depends on what type you use. Incense is split into two forms: Direct burning incense and indirect burning incense. As the name suggests, the first one has to be ignited, and then the flame is extinguished, leaving behind a rosy ember to burn it slowly and disperse a pleasant odour into the air. Some examples of direct burning incense include incense sticks, coil incense, incense cones and backflow cones.

Indirect burning incense requires a separate source of heat and more preparation. In addition to an incense burner, you will need a piece of charcoal, a small dish wherein you can place the charcoal and loose incense, and some sand or pebbles to spread the heat out and keep the burner from getting too hot. Here are some types of incense designed for indirect burning:

  • Frankincense
  • Myrrh 
  • Powdered incense
  • Dried fruit peelings mixed with honey

Incense sticks

Incense sticks are the most common direct burning incense. They are made of bamboo sticks, essential oils and sawdust or charcoal dust. Burning incense sticks helps reduce stress, prevents depression and promotes positive thoughts and feelings.

Incense sticks

Incense cones & backflow cones

Besides relaxing the mind and body, incense cones double as tabletop accents because of their aesthetic features. Backflow cones are similar to incense cones, except that the smoke flows downwards instead of upwards because they come with a hole at the base. Made of dried herbs, incense cones and backflow cones are ideally used in larger rooms and have a burn rate that is relatively faster than other types of incense.

Incense Scents & Their Uses

Incense burning is a holistic way of improving your health and wellbeing. Scents have a profound psychological effect, so your choice of incense should be based on the mood you wish to create. Some possible choices for incense include:

  • Sandalwood is one of the most popular scents for incense. It is used for meditation because of its calming effect, but it is also great for producing a tranquil atmosphere.
  • Aloeswood is recommended for meditation only. It is said that the inhalation of aloeswood is equivalent to a half-hour session of meditation. Expensive and quite hard to find, this type of incense can also be found in some blends.
  • Patchouli is a popular incense. It is extensively used in the perfume industry (especially in fragrances for men). It is said to have aphrodisiac properties. Patchouli incense is recommended for lifting the mood and relieving tension or anxiety. An added bonus is that it has also been used historically as a mosquito repellant.
  • Lavender incense has a calming effect. Aromatherapists use lavender oils and essences to help relieve headaches, tension, and other stress-related conditions.
  • Rose is a romantic, soothing fragrance. Caution should be used when selecting a rose incense. Several cheap imitations of rose incense sticks are available that are made from synthetic ingredients. Aromatherapists and purists always recommend only selecting pure, natural ingredients for best results.
  • Lemon, orange, and other citrus scents are great energy boosters. As with rose and other fragrances, try to choose incense that uses essential, and not synthetic ingredients.
  • Cinnamon incense has a sweet and spicy odour. In addition to raising energy levels and alleviating depression, it is believed to be a magnet for power and passion.
  • Vanilla is a pleasant scent that promotes relaxation and calms the mind. It is very useful during meditation as it improves mental focus, relieves stress and eases muscle tension.  

Incense scents & their uses

With the possible exception of aloeswood, any of these incense choices can be used at any given time. While sandalwood, for example, may be associated with meditation, various cultures also associate it with joyous family gatherings and other celebrations because they so often occur at significant times of the year when sandalwood incense is burned at home altars.

If you are having an adverse or allergic reaction to incense, it is probably because you chose a brand that has artificial ingredients. Try selecting a brand sold by a reputable incense and candle dealer such as those listed on the Natural Therapy Pages. If you have any questions, use their contact form and they may be able to help you make your choice.

How to Choose Incense 

When choosing an incense, you must first consider the features and benefits of each type of incense. Suppose you've decided to go for incense sticks or a particular kind of powdered incense mixture, check its quality straight away. Don't hesitate to ask the seller about its burning time as well as the distribution rate of its fragrance.

While you can find a wide variety of cheap incense on the internet, you don't want to end up with one that doesn't burn long enough or emit the aroma you want to fill your home with. And because the intensity of the aroma depends on the area in which the incense is placed, see to it that the kind you buy corresponds with the size of your house.   

Another thing to consider when shopping for incense is the ingredients used in making it. Authentic incense is made of dried herbs, flowers, resins and other plant-derived ingredients. If it doesn't say "100% natural ingredients" in the label, then chances are the materials used for making the product weren't sourced from plants and are chemically infused. 

The preparation time should also be factored into your selection process. Direct burning incense does not require much time to prepare. You only need an incense holder to burn away an incense stick, coil incense, cone incense or backflow cone. In contrast, an indirect burning incense requires more preparation time and paraphernalia like sand, stones, incense burners and dishes.

To guide you in your search for the best incense for your home, you may refer to the following pieces of information:

  • The oldest form of incense is incense powder. Originally, powdered flowers, leaves and other scented parts of plants were thrown on a fire. Now, they are being sprinkled onto a burning charcoal.
  • Resin incense is being burned on a charcoal base. Although a fairly difficult way of burning incense, it is believed that the extra effort is worth it. The aroma it produces is superior and has a more pronounced psychological effect.
  • Incense cones are being put in special containers. They are very long-lasting, but some say that they are best used in outdoor spaces or in well ventilated areas because they produce more smoke. 
  • Incense sticks are the most popular type of incense. There are two types of incense sticks: those that are entirely made of incense and those with bamboo cores.
  • When selecting an incense, quality is just as important as the scent. Some cheaper brands are using artificial scents and cutting agents. Incense purists recommend avoiding scents with names like "Pina Colada" or others that are not linked with natural scents.

Using incense at home

Incense Use Precautions

Incense burning doesn't only purify the air in your house but also eliminates negative energy that affects different aspects of your life, including health, relationships, career, finances and spirituality. The fragrance it emits relieves stress, induces relaxation and improves mental clarity.

However, because it comes with smoke, incense isn't suitable for everyone, especially those who have respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and lung cancer, among others. People with heart conditions can also suffer from high carbon monoxide levels from burning incense.

The good news is that there are alternatives to incense that won't put your health and your family's at risk. You may opt for an oil diffuser, a bowl of potpourri or fragrant indoor plants like spearmint, lemon balm and rosemary.

However, if you really want to burn incense to clear the air in your home and support your overall wellbeing, make sure that the room in which you're burning it is properly ventilated. You also want to go for a plant-based incense as opposed to a chemical one.

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Originally published on Jun 04, 2012

FAQs About Incense & Candles

Which incense is best for cleansing?

Sage, frankincense and sandalwood are considered the best incense for purifying the air in your space and cleansing your body's energy field.

What incense is good for studying?

Burning aloeswood or other types of incense with a citrusy scent enhances focus. If you need to get your head down and concentrate on your upcoming exams, this will do the trick.

Should I burn incense in my room?

Yes, you can burn incense in your room if it is well ventilated to avoid inhaling smoke. If there are children or pets around, keep it out of their reach to prevent injuries or accidents.

How long does incense smell last?

The smell of incense may linger for an hour or a day, depending on the type you use and your environmental conditions. Incense cones and coils are ideal for large rooms, while incense sticks are best for smaller areas.

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