March 2, 2014

Tips for Healthier Incense Use. ~ Einar Olsen


This article is a response to ‘Listen Up, Yogis: Incense is not Yogic‘ by Michele Marchildon.


Incense is not necessarily unhealthy.

Ms. Marchildon’s article doesn’t mention what type of incense was burned or studied. There’s a big difference between very high quality incense and low quality; did the studies control for this?

American punk-dipped incense is generally low quality and smokier. Much of it, especially the more widely distributed brands, are thick in synthetic ingredients that many people find unpleasant and even noxious. This dipped incense, which is often called ‘hand-dipped’ or ‘hand-made’ (in contrast to ‘hand-rolled, or made in Japan’) is what is usually mass-marketed through large department stores and other conventional markets.

Indian hand-rolled incense and Japanese mold-made incense, on the other hand, is of generally much higher quality. However, there is a wide variety of quality in these also, and one needs to know what one is buying. In general, Japanese incense has fewer synthetic ingredients than Indian, but high quality Indian incense will have much fewer synthetics than low quality Japanese.

In the face of inflation and desire for higher profits, Indian incense makers tend to lower quality to maintain price, while  Japanese tend to increase price to maintain quality. One of several reasons is that the Japanese tradition of incense-making is much older than the tradition of Indian stick incense, although the tradition of incense in general may be about the same age in India and the Orient.

Some tips on healthier incense use:

1. Buy high quality, low smoke incense (see below for suggestions )
2. Keep the windows open, at least a little
3. Don’t burn too much
4. Especially in a small room
5. Just burn part of a stick (can put a paper clip on the stick part way down to stop the burn)

Some suggestions for cleaner Incense Brands:

Indian Incense

There is one company and one other branded line of Indian incense that have claimed to be entirely free of synthetic ingredients: Mere Cie (Mothers) (company) and Auromere Ayurvedic (line).

Mere Cie 

Mere Cie offers three lines of incense: Mother’s Fragrances (their original line); Mother’s Golden Line; and Mother’s Nag Champa Line. There are about 51 fragrances in all. Mother’s incense is distinctly different from other incenses, and has far less smoke than almost all other incense lines. No scientific study on incense smoke should be done that does not include Mother’s incense. The smoke is often so light that it is not even possible to see it unless one looks at the stick while it is burning in just the right angle of light. It is more just a glowing ember on the stick tip, with no smoke even visible. Or the smoke is very faint.

The quality of Mother’s is overall extremely refined, delicate, and subtle. Quality varies from medium to the finest incense available anywhere in the world at this time, with most of Mother’s fragrance tending to very very high quality. Mother’s hand-crafted packaging is also exquisite and unmatched, including beautiful gift packs of mini-sticks that retail for only five or six dollars.

Mother’s incense is made in Auroville, outside Pondicherry on the Coromandel (SE) coast of India. Mother’s USA has been around for a relatively long time and is based in California. Mother’s has offered a simple but sophisticated listing of which spiritual qualities are associated with each aroma, which I feel are the most accurate I have ever come across.

Auromere Ayurvedic Incense  

Auromere, well known for its natural soaps and toothpastes, and other natural (Ayurvedic) personal health care products, has three lines of incense. One of those three is or has been claimed to be entirely natural – their original Ayurvedic line. This line is developed more for health reasons than burning just for enjoyment or spiritual reasons (of course health, pleasure and enjoyment converge). Most scents of this line are resin incenses from different trees, and the health qualities supposed to be associated with each are listed.

The line is only eight scents, some of which are obviously burned more for health than pleasure and might be acquired tastes. However this line has some very interesting, unique, and wonderful fragrances. Auromere Ayurvedic Sandalwood is one of the very few authentic sandalwoods left on the Indian incense market (with the sandal coming from a Govt.-approved source). Their ‘Resin’ incense is unique and can be considered ‘Ayurveda on a stick’—this incense is the closest I have ever experienced to smelling like the eternal natural Vedic and Ayurvedic tradition of India. Auromere’s hand-crafted packaging is also very modest and charming.

Japanese Incense

In general, Japanese incense is more consistently delicate and light than Indian incense. Japanese incense means Shoyeido and Nippon Kodo – the two primary lines of Japanese incense distributed in N. America. Both are quite high quality and match Mother’s in refinement, delicacy, and subtlety. Both Shoyeido and Nippon Kodo specialize in natural ingredients and have fewer synthetics than most incense from India. In Japan, Nippon Kodo is the incense industry giant, while Shoyeido has done much more in the U.S.


Nippon Kodo  

In addition to these branded lines from India and Japan, there are about two dozen other lines of high quality Indian incense, several of which are quite high quality. And, hundreds of individual incenses, usually in the original Indian or Japanese packaging, that are very pure and high quality as well.

A search for ‘incense’ will give several online companies that sell incense. You can ask them which incense is most pure and high quality and they may be able to help you. Here are some:

Probably the largest online seller of incense is Incense Guru.

Other recommendations are the Incense Warehouse and Anna’s Incense

The Wikipedia article on incense is okay.

The Wikipedia article on Indian incense is very informative.

Please do not buy on the basis of sales and marketing claims on packaging, websites, and other literature. In India, just about anything can be on an incense package or website.

With some exceptions, avoid any incense made outside India and Japan, especially any incense made in the U.S. (Ask). Make sure it is “hand-rolled in India’ or made in Japan. This alone is not a guarantee of quality and lightness but is a good starting requirement.

If an incense pack says ‘Sandal,’ it almost certainly will have little or no sandal, as sandal is mostly off the market due to being endangered.

Try the new resin incenses: Mountain Naturals from incenseguru.com, and Auroshikha Natural Resin. They are almost free of synthetics and very true and authentic fragrances.

Regards and Good Wishes.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: michael-day at Flickr 

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