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Science Behind Incense Sticks: How Agarbatti Affects Mood & Well-Being

Time and again, you must have heard from your elders during a puja or aarti, “agarbatti jalao” (burn incense sticks) or “agarbatti jalaye bina puja nahi hogi” (you can’t worship God without burning incense sticks).

The reason that they gave you must be something along the lines of “bhagvaan tak prarthana pahuchti hai” (prayer reaches the God) or “mann ko shanti milti hai” (mind relaxes).

Now, when they said, “mann ko shanti milti hai” (mind relaxes), they were onto something, even though they didn’t know any scientific basis to back up their statement. All they knew was how they felt when the incense stick was burned. 

So, in this blog, let’s explore the science behind incense and how it actually affects our mood and well-being.    

The Science Behind Incense

The science behind incense involves several aspects, including chemistry, physics, and psychology. So, let’s first begin with the making of incense sticks or agarbattis.

HelpUsGreen’s 100% natural incense sticks are hand-rolled from sustainable and biodegradable materials. These materials used for making the agarbattis are a blend of flower waste, aromatic herbs, oils, gums, powders, resins, and aromatic substances. This sustainable craftsmanship, carbon-conscious composition, and responsible sourcing practices work well to reduce a negative impact on the environment in comparison to the making and burning of a traditional incense stick with a bamboo core.

Related: Bambooless Agarbatti vs. Traditional Incense Sticks

Now, let’s move on to the chemical composition of the incense sticks. 

As the incense stick burns, tiny particles are suspended in the air. These tiny particles are present in the smoke that we see when the incense stick is burned. They also carry aroma or fragrance, which is dispersed in the environment easily. This easy dispersion only happens at room temperature, and it is all due to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained in the smoke. VOCs are chemicals made by humans, and when released into the air, they impact indoor air quality and human health.

As the smell wafts through the air and reaches your nostrils, the compounds present in it have physiological and psychological effects. However, its effect depends on the fragrance that you inhale. For instance, the scent of sandalwood or Chandan serves as a natural remedy for depression and anxiety; on the other hand, citrus scent is known to boost cognitive function and memory. The reason behind these effects lies in the working of the olfactory receptors and limbic system in your brain.

What actually happens is that when you smell something, the olfactory bulb, which is in front of the limbic system, it translates the compounds in your nose to the cells in your brain. This is when an emotion is triggered inside you, which affects your mood and well-being.

Now, let’s explore the effect of incense on your mood and well-being one by one. 

How Incense Affects Mood

Incense has long been associated with influencing mood, and there is evidence to support this connection. Different fragrances emitted by incense can evoke different emotional responses due to their impact on the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, memories, and arousal. 

It is so powerful that it can even make you remember childhood memories! This is called the Proustian memory effect. The thing is that the sense of scent is one of the most primal ones out of all the other senses, so when you inhale a fragrance, you create an involuntary memory linked to the scent. And when you inhale the aroma again, you are transferred back to that moment in time. But this is just one-way incense can sway your mood;

Here are some other ways incense can impact your mood:

  1. Reduce stress and anxiety:

    Studies have shown that certain scents, such as lavender, rajnigandh, eucalyptus, nagchampa, and chamomile, have calming properties that can help reduce stress and anxiety. Inhaling these fragrances triggers the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are known to promote feelings of relaxation.

  2. Create a peaceful atmosphere:

    The ritual of burning agarbattis can improve your mood by creating a peaceful atmosphere for meditation and introspection. The smell of natural mogra, sandalwood, rose, lavender, and tulsi can help you find an escape from the chaotic world.

  3. Make you feel energised:

    Lighting an incense stick can even energise you if you are feeling tired or sluggish. Scents like peppermint and lemongrass are known for their energising effects and can give you that much-needed boost to start your day or to get you through your day.

  4. Helps to fall asleep:

    There are some fragrances that can help you in better night sleep too and even improve your sleep quality. It is true! Fragrances like lavender, cedarwood, vetiver, and eucalyptus promote a state of relaxation and make you feel drowsy.

Incense And Well-Being

Beyond influencing mood, incense can also contribute to overall well-being by fostering a sense of harmony and balance. In traditional healing practices like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, certain incense ingredients are believed to possess therapeutic properties that support physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Here’s how it can impact your overall well-being:

  1. Align your mind, body, and spirit:
    Sandalwood incense is renowned for its purifying and grounding effects, patchouli helps to balance emotions, and frankincense and rosemary are known to boost focus and clarity. By using agarbattis in your daily routine, you can align your mind, body, and spirit for optimal well-being.
  2. Promote a deeper connection with oneself and the surrounding environment:
    The act of engaging with incense, whether along with mindfulness practices, meditation, or spiritual ceremonies, can promote a deeper connection to oneself and the surrounding environment. This sense of connectedness is crucial for improving your overall well-being.

Fragrant Healing: The Power of Aromatherapy 

Aromatherapy, the practice of using aromatic compounds for therapeutic purposes, plays a significant role in understanding the science behind incense and its effects on mood and well-being. As mentioned earlier, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by burning incense interact with olfactory receptors in the nose, triggering physiological and psychological responses in the brain.

Certain fragrances have been found to stimulate specific brain regions associated with mood regulation, stress reduction, and cognitive function. For instance, the scent of citrus fruits like lemon is known to promote alertness, making it a popular choice for boosting productivity and concentration. 

In contrast, floral scents such as rose and jasmine are valued for their calming and mood-improving properties, making them ideal for relaxation and stress relief. You can harness the power of aromatherapy by burning incense sticks and creating personalised environments that support your emotional well-being and improve your overall quality of life.

Related: Spa Aromatherapy: Choosing the Perfect Relaxing Fragrance for Your Spa


The science behind incense reveals its profound impact on mood and well-being through the interplay of fragrance, physiology, and psychology. Whether used for spiritual rituals, relaxation practices, or therapeutic purposes, incense sticks serve as a powerful tool for promoting emotional balance, mental clarity, and spiritual connection. By understanding the mechanisms through which incense affects our emotional and psychological states, we can integrate it into our daily routines mindfully and intentionally.