Incense Vs. Essential Oils: Which One Is Right for You?

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If you engage in routine spiritual practices, your rituals may involve the use of incense. Conversely, you might keep an essential oil diffuser on your work desk or next to your bed to emit scents that energize or relax your senses.  

Both substances can make your surroundings smell heavenly, but there are decided differences. When it comes down to incense vs essential oils, which one is right for you? 

Incense Benefits 

Incense has been used for thousands of years in religious and spiritual rituals. In modern times, its powerful olfactory punch is used to mask other aromas and add a pleasant scent to your indoor air. It offers the following benefits. 

1. Increase Concentration and Focus 

Certain aromas activate scent receptors in your brain, encouraging alertness and facilitating cognitive processes. Your mind has ion channels called transient receptor potential vanilloids, and research in mice shows the antidepressant effects of activating this pathway through the use of Boswellia resin, used to make frankincense. Could this phenomenon partially explain the mystic ecstasy experienced by some meditators? 

2. Get in Touch With Your Spiritual Side

Incense has a long history of use in religious rites. Visit a Catholic church to get your Easter meal blessed, and you’ll witness — and smell — the priest walk by with a censer. Those who follow pagan faiths often incorporate this aroma-rich substance into their rituals. For example, sage is often used to dispel evil spirits.

3. Improve Your Sex Drive

Several incense aromas, like bergamot, rose and vanilla, activate receptors in your brain that make you feel more amorous. Ylang ylang is particularly useful for increasing attraction and libido among lovers. 

Incense Drawbacks 

Burning incense releases particulate matter into your indoor air. Therefore, you could suffer the following adverse health effects, particularly if you are sensitive. 

1. Respiratory Issues

If you have asthma, you may wish to avoid incense. One evaluation of 3,000 schoolchildren found an increase in symptoms like wheezing among youth exposed to incense smoke. 

2. Heart Disease

If you keep an eye on your heart health, you may wish to avoid incense, too. One study of over 60,000 Singapore residents found a link to increased cardiovascular deaths

3. Cancer 

Finally, exposure to the chemicals and particulates released by incense can increase your risk of certain cancers, especially of the respiratory tract. While there was no overall effect on lung cancer rates, there was a significant uptick in upper respiratory tract carcinomas. 

Therefore, essential oils may be your better bet if you have heart or lung conditions. Using incense in brick form on a special burner instead of lighting sticks reduces particulate matter but doesn’t eliminate risks. 

Essential Oil Benefits 

Fortunately, you can also use essential oils to improve your indoor air and add humidity to your room. You can pick up inexpensive diffusers at nearly any department store for $20 or less. They help keep your skin moist while offering the following additional benefits. 

1. Improve Your Mood 

Essential oils also activate scent receptors in your brain. Fragrances like citrus help energize you and improve your focus, while others like lavender ease stress and relax you. 

2. Boost Immune Function 

Research on forest bathers indicates that inhaling chemicals called phytoncides helps kick the human immune system into high gear. It’s reasonable to assume some fragrances might also activate pathways that increase your resistance to germs. One 2008 study found that eucalyptus essential oil lowered levels of inflammatory cytokines while increasing numbers of innate immune cells in rats. 

3. Ease Anxiety and Increase Mindfulness

Mindfulness entails getting into the present, breaking the negative thought cycle that has you ruminating on past mistakes or future fears. One way you can increase your ability to remain in the moment is concentrating on your five senses — including scent. Some people successfully use lavender essential oil to quell panic attacks. 

Essential Oil Drawbacks

Like incense, essential oils do have a few drawbacks. Please consider the following before use. 

1. Irritated Eyes or Skin Allergies

Skin or eye irritation can happen from direct exposure to essential oils. However, some sensitive individuals also have problems with the diluted mist exuded by diffusers. 

2. May Impact Hormones

Researchers from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences found a link between excessive use of lavender and early breast development in girls. Lavender and tea tree oil contain compounds that affect your estrogen and androgen receptors, possibly causing endocrine dysregulation. 

3. Potentially Unsafe Around Children and Pets 

Please never leave your essential oils unattended around small children — they should never be taken internally. Contact your poison control center if you suspect ingestion. They are likewise toxic to pets. 

Incense Vs. Essential Oils: Which One Do You Prefer?

When it comes to incense vs essential oils, which one is best for your needs? You might use both for different purposes or stick to one for bolstering your health and making your home smell divine. 

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