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)

14 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.

  5. I go to three different health food stores they use infusers… and all they use in them are oils that are suppose to be good for you… they make me sick.. run in run out wearing my mask the smell seems to get into my skin. I keep water and baking soda and a towel with me to have a quick wipe down after going in.
    For some reason they seem assured that essential oils are non toxic and good for people… so they do not consider my complaints relevant. Still there are things I need that are only sold in health food stores so I suck it up.

    • It’s incredible how brainwashed everyone became over essential oils. We really need help with a campaign to get them out of public spaces where they are causing harm.

      I can’t eat the food from those stores, because the absorbed residues leave me too disabled to function… They have lost a lot of business that way from me. I will sometimes order a few things that are very well wrapped in foil or glass so the contents don’t absorb the oils or incense or whatever, but I have to transfer them to safe containers outside or drop them in old wax paper cereal bags (to transfer later) before I can bring them inside. If I can avoid doing that, avoid the exposures, I will even pay extra!

      In Ontario, we have the AODA, which means we can ask them to prepare our orders and bring them outside for us if they have accessibility barriers that prevent us from going in, or cause harm…

      Here’s an older post about it:

      Instead of cheques, I now call so they can get the order and pay with a credit card over the phone. One or 2 stores will deliver, the others I have to find someone to pick things up for me. If you have a local Buy Nothing or similar online fb group, you could ask if there’s anyone there who can pick things up and deliver them to you too.

      I am lucky that there is an organic produce delivery service in the area so I can get weekly produce and fruit and a couple of other essentials delivered. They have limited inventory, but there’s no other source for safe-for-me-to-eat food. I am still alive thanks to them… and they do try to order other things I need (sometimes I get the whole case to make it simpler).

      I hope you are able to advocate effectively for your rights with those stores, find some help, and that eventually we all have allies to clean up indoor air quality and stop the BS regarding the need for fragrances everywhere.

  6. Totally agree. One shouldnt be exposed or subjected to incense burning in ANY store especially a food store its infringing on customers expectations and right to a clean air shopping experience. All the foods will take on the smell especially the fresh produce even the packaged food will be tainted on the outside to be smelt in your cupboards where it is stored. The chemicals involved should not be in your lungs would the shop owner be ok with shoppers smoking in his store. Same contamination. It is unpleasant per se and bad business practice.
    When i visit a food store all i desire is the smell of food.

    • They don’t even have to burn it for the fragrance and other ingredients in incense to permeate the air, foods, and products.
      Now we also have to contend with essential oils and diffusers everywhere polluting the air, foods, and products.

      Foods should really be in separate air space from everything else. Separate supply chains too.

  7. I work in a grocery store, owners are Indian, and insist that incense be burned morning and evening. I realize it’s a cultural thing, but I have allergies.

    • Was incense being burned when you started working there?
      Did your allergies start before or while working there?
      Have you spoken with your employers?
      Not all allergies or sensitivities are disabling, and unlike with sensitivities (a misnomer) there are things people with allergies can do, like take meds (many people have cats and cat allergies for example, they just take meds to deal with it).
      Are your allergies disabling?
      If they are, I still think it would be hard to receive incense free accommodation in this case.
      It would likely be a case of competing human rights, as many Indians burn incense as a part of their religious practice.

  8. Jennifer Llewellyn

    I live in a social housing building most people are I’ll I have copd a security guard starting burning incense a month or two ago really bad goes up the elevator on clothes really effects people with lung disease and everyone is complaining now so he now claims it is religious and he just doing it to brother me because I complained about him not doing his job

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