Are Your Candles and Incense Safe?

Are Your Candles and Incense Safe?

For years now, I have gotten a morning newsfeed with all of the health studies published for that day as I look for studies that back to ancient wisdom (our mission at The most popular topic of research by far is research on the health risks associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution—a major health risk that doesn’t get enough attention.

In This Article

Indoor Air is the Most Important Air We Breathe

According to the World Health Organization, more than 90% of the European population is above their legal limit. With air pollution accounting for 7 million deaths per year, the United Nations declared it to be the world’s largest environmental threat in 2019. In America, the EPA reported that 70 million tons of toxic chemicals are put into our atmosphere each year. This filters down into the water we drink and the food we eat (even organic foods are susceptible). Air pollution is not only a concern for the lungs; studies have linked it to brain, heart, immunity, metabolic, fertility, and cellular replication issues.

Research suggests that the average American spends up to 93% of their time indoors. Therefore, the purity of indoor air is of great importance. While there are many offenders inside the home (such as radon, carbon monoxide, gas furnaces and stoves, mold, outgassing furniture, and much more), perhaps the most insidious is the delicate particulate matter that is released from scented candles and incense.

See also Air Pollution, Soil Pollution, and Toxic Heavy Metals

Health Risks of Scented Candles

Candles and their scents can change the mood in a home and help us relax, destress, and unwind, but the emotional lift may come at a price. There is a surprising amount of research on the safety of candles. While some candles have been found to cause no health concerns, others are made of numerous toxic chemicals that are linked to a host of health issues. Studies performed in environmental test chambers found that candles release carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide (not to be confused with nitric oxide, which is a beneficial substance). Nitrogen oxides are the toxic components of smog; they are also released in our homes by candles, gas and wood stoves, and gas furnaces. Make sure your home has multiple carbon monoxide and gas alarms to be alerted of high levels.

The wax, color dyes, and scents in candles are often made of known toxins that are released into the air at levels above the safe standard set by the WHO. Formaldehyde is a potentially cancer-causing substance that has a low boiling point and is commonly released into the air from burning scented candles.

Many scented candles use artificial fragrances that are derived from petroleum and include benzenes like toluene which have been linked to increased risk of urothelial and bladder cancers. Cancer-causing phthalates have also been found in the fumes of some, but not all, candles. It is difficult to know which candles are safe and which others are harmful.

The best candles are unscented and made from 100% beeswax. Unscented candles are not 100% safe, as unscented only means no added scent. They can still have chemicals in them that are unhealthy or added chemicals used to mask the smell of chemicals released as the candles burn. One such company that sells clean beeswax candles is Bluecorn Beeswax.

One study on college students who regularly burned candles found that scented candles significantly increased their risk of headaches, coughing, and wheezing. With air pollution already at an all-time high and fragile lung tissue akin to rice paper, intentionally breathing in more smoke is an action few would take if they knew the risks involved.

Another toxic chemical released by some scented candles (even while unlit) is volatile organic compounds or VOCs.  VOCs are found in industrial solvents like paint thinners, chloroform, petroleum fuel products, and others. The EPA has determined that exposure to VOCs is linked to both short-term and long-term negative health effects.

Health Risks of Incense

According to the EPA, burning incense indoors may strongly increase the risk of certain health concerns such as cancer, asthma, and contact dermatitis.

There are many studies that have linked regular incense use to an increased risk of asthma and other lung conditions. In a study of 3,700 seventh graders whose parents regularly burned incense in the home, researchers found that frequent incense burning was associated with an increased risk of asthma, medication use, lifetime wheezing, nocturnal wheeze, and exercise wheezing.

In another study, over 5,000 14-to-16-year-old kids in Taiwan were evaluated for asthma. Seventy percent of the kids came from homes that regularly burned incense as a part of their religion. After adjusting for numerous variables, the researchers concluded that the incense smoke significantly compromised lung function tests such as forced vital capacity and forced expiratory capacity. In another study with over 1,000 volunteers, when regular incense use was combined with cigarette smoking, the risk of lung cancer was significantly increased. Other studies have found that, even without cigarette use, long-term use of incense increases the risk of lung cancer.

In a 2013 study, two types of incense were burned in a chamber in order to simulate the burning of incense in the home. They found that the particulate matter in the air exceeded government safety levels set by cigarette smoke. They measured numerous toxic chemicals in the air such as formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and carbon monoxides. The study concluded that incense smoke was a significant contributor to indoor air pollution and could be hazardous to your health.

How Can I Lower These Risks?

If you love scented candles and incense, make an effort to enjoy them outside to mitigate the risks of polluting your indoor air. Ensure your carbon monoxide detectors are in proper working condition and open windows to help with ventilation. Choose unscented, 100% beeswax candles when you can. There are also a host of Ayurvedic herbs you can use to help support healthy lungs in the face of pollution.

In Allahabad, India (where the Taj Mahal is), the air pollution became so bad they decided to plant 10,000 tulsi plants to help absorb the toxins and purify the air. In addition to tulsi, turmeric, and amalaki are great Ayurvedic herbs that are well-studied to offer health support in times of pollution.

See also Air Pollution Protection with Ayurvedic Detox, Tulsi, Amalaki, and Turmeric

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Dr. John

3 thoughts on “Are Your Candles and Incense Safe?”

  1. Great information. I am curious about the type of incense used. I burn resins and natural incense in an electric heater. Is this dangerous as well?

  2. Burning candles and incense for a cozy atmosphere might come with some unintended health risks. 😷 Thanks for shedding light on this issue, Dr. John Douillard. The insights about indoor air pollution are eye-opening. The details about the toxins released by scented candles and incense are particularly concerning. Opting for unscented, 100% beeswax candles sounds like a safer choice, and I’m intrigued by the idea of using Ayurvedic herbs to support healthy lungs in polluted environments. 💨🌿 Safety first, indeed!


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