Letter to health food store regarding incense


Regarding incense…

I started shopping full time at health food stores because of the unhealthy indoor air in regular stores, and food that tasted like laundry products as a result. More recently, I decided to look up what incense is made of after buying food that tasted like incense from sitting on the store shelf in a store that sold incense, and found some disturbing information.

” A typical composition of stick incense consists of 21% (by weight) of herbal and wood powder, 35% of fragrance material, 11% of adhesive powder, and 33% of bamboo stick. Incense smoke (fumes) contains particulate matter (PM), gas products and many organic compounds. On average, incense burning produces particulates greater than 45 mg/g burned as compared to 10 mg/g burned for cigarettes. The gas products from burning incense include CO, CO2, NO2, SO2, and others. Incense burning also produces volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, as well as aldehydes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)….”

Additionally “In India, (and possibly elsewhere since it is such a common ingredient in fragrance chemistry) diethylphthalate is used extensively in the incense stick industry as a binder of perfumes. It can be emitted into the air during incense burning.”

Diethylphthalate (DEP), used as a plasticizer and a detergent base (and in many other fragranced consumer products), is a suspect carcinogen.

Like second hand smoke, pollutants emitted from incense burning in a close environment are harmful to human health. As mentioned above, particulate matters, and some of volatile organic compounds, musk ketones, musk xylenes, and musk ambrette, aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, diethylphthalate (DEP) are toxic to the lung and allergenic to the skin and eyes.

Read the full study at: http://www.clinicalmolecularallergy.com/content/6/1/3

I’m not sure what other kinds of fragranced products you carry, but hope that if you do, they’d be enclosed in glass cabinets, as they are also known to emit all kinds of health hazardous VOC’s.

see: INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3018511 /

Incense and other fragranced products are often unwrapped, or sold in flimsy plastic bags which do nothing to keep the VOCs  from migrating into other foods and products in the store.

I would love to be able to purchase a wide array of foods from you but I cannot, because everything that isn’t in glass or thick cellophane tastes like incense after being in the store for a while. Even those will emit incense VOCs because the labels are absorbent.

I have asked for and received some accommodation, like ordering cases of certain things, and trying to have them picked up as soon as possible to avoid cross-contamination, but since I don’t have a variety of people who can shop for me, this isn’t working out as a very effective solution. It would be much better if the foods you sold did not end up with  fragrance chemicals attached to them in the first place.

My main concern however isn’t just for myself, but for everyone who gets exposed, especially to burning incense, which might be more harmful that cigarette smoke, as the above research indicates.

I therefore believe that any store that wants to claim it is a “health” food store, should not be selling incense or any other fragranced products (that aren’t 100% certified organic).

I’m pretty sure that you’d agree after reading the research.

Please let me know if and when you can make your store a healthy incense and fragrance-free indoor environment, so that I and others will know the foods you sell have not been contaminated by harmful VOCs and are truly good for us to eat.

Kind regards,

(I’ll let you know what kind of responses I receive. Please let me know what kind of responses you receive if you use this letter as a template)


6 responses to “Letter to health food store regarding incense

  1. Linda, this is an excellent letter. Thank you very much for composing and posting it. People really must see this and be made aware.

    • Thanks Carolyn,
      Feel free to copy, modify, and share.
      I really hope it’s effective!
      Healthy food and environments are so important for everyone.

  2. Lisbeth Nook Arbour

    Thank you for the facts in what’s the matter with incense.

  3. New research:

    “Incense smoke was found to be mutagenic, meaning that it contains chemical properties that could potentially change genetic material such as DNA, and therefore cause mutations. It was also more cytotoxic and genotoxic than the cigarette used in the study. This means that incense smoke is potentially more toxic to a cell, and especially to its genetic contents. Mutagenics, genotoxins and cytotoxins have all been linked to the development of cancers.

    Smoke from the sampled incense was found to consist almost exclusively (99 percent) of ultrafine and fine particles, and is therefore likely to have adverse health effects. Taken together, the four incense smoke samples contained 64 compounds. While some of these are irritants or are only slightly harmful (hypotoxic), ingredients in two of the samples are known to be highly toxic.”


    Full study:

  4. Valerie Hammond

    I have just returned from a local shop selling food children’s sweets etc they ACTUALLY burn these in the shop if I go in there it makes me extremely unwell as I am intolerant to whatever is in it is this legal I only drop parcels off there and cannot stay if they have them burning under the counter

    • Maybe you could contact them and ask if they think smoking is ok, and if they don’t, then point out that there’s very little, if any difference in the adverse health effects caused by smoking and incense, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd hand, and as smoking and non-smoking sections pointed out, air does not stand still… and as apartment and hotel owners know, cleaning up after tenants who smoked is very hard to do.

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