Use of incense indoors may have detrimental health consequences according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters.

Burning incense releases particle matter into the air which can get trapped in the lungs causing an inflammatory reaction. The mutagenic particles have previously been linked to development of lung cancer, childhood leukemia, and brain tumors.

Researchers from South China University of Technology and the China Tobacco Guangdong Industrial Company evaluated the health hazards associated with using incense at home by comparing two types of incense with cigarette smoke. Both types of incense contained agarwood and sandalwood, the most common ingredients used in making incense. Tests measuring the effects of incense and cigarette smoke on Salmonella tester strains and ovary cells of Chinese hamsters were conducted.

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Results showed that incense smoke was mutagenic, and more cytotoxic and genotoxic than the cigarettes used in the study; mutagenics, genotoxins, and cytotoxins are all associated with cancer. Nearly all (99%) the smoke from the incense contained ultrafine and fine particles, most likely responsible for the adverse effects. In total, 64 compounds in total were found in the incense smoke.

Lead researcher, Rong Zhou stated, “There needs to be greater awareness and management of the health risks associated with burning incense in indoor environments.” However, Zhou added that a definitive conclusion that incense smoke is more toxic than cigarette smoke cannot be made.

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