Why Does Incense Give Me A Headache?-Sea Witch Botanicals

Why Does Incense Give Me A Headache?


Do you get headaches or migraines around incense smoke? Are there certain shops, even certain aisles you can't stand to walk through? You're not alone! And it turns out you're not out of luck in the aroma department either, but we'll get to that after your headache's gone.

So, What Is It About Some Incense That Makes Me Feel Sick?

Swirling white/blue smoke over a dark purpleish background. photo by Hannah Gabrielson

What “Fragrance” Means on an Ingredient List

Unfortunately for everyone, when you see "fragrance" on a list of ingredients, it can mean basically anything. Despite the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967, corporations are not required to disclose any of their "trade secret" ingredients, which means they do not have to list out the chemical components of their fragrances for the consumers' awareness!

That's not great, because studies show that as many as one in three people experience adverse affects (headache, asthma, rashes) from exposure to synthetic fragrances. Worse, perhaps: the phthalates and parabens they contain are known endocrine-disruptors, and have been linked to hormone imbalance and infertility.

By avoiding products whose ingredients are a mystery, you may easily avoid some sneaky hidden allergens that have been bothering you. And by choosing products with transparent ingredient lists, you can make more informed decisions about what to bring into your home and put on your body.

Is Incense Smoke Bad For You?

A young adult lays back on a bed with their arm draped over their forehead, a haze of smoke obscures them slightly.

Intentionally inhaling the smoke of different organic materials is nothing new to humans. Throughout our history on this planet we have found many plants that smell pleasing when burned, that calm us or soothe us, and that have become deeply important to diverse cultures and their unique spiritual and medicinal practices.

But the fact is, all smoke is a potential irritant, no matter what's burning. All smoke contains carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as particulate matter (-the reason we can see it.) Inhaling those chemicals and superfine particles can definitely irritate our lungs and it can also worsen existing pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions. 

Basically, the thicker the smoke, the less oxygen we're getting, and the more particulate matter we're breathing into our delicate lungs. 

How Can I Avoid Incense Headaches?

Skip Synthetic Fragrances - Shop Essential Oil Incense

A stick of incense burns beside the package it came from, black and light purple with an illustration of a bee on some lavender. Smoke trails to the right from the tip and out of frame.

As we discussed above, when the product's label lists "fragrance", there's no way to know what you're getting. Switch to an incense brand that uses organic essential oils and hides NOTHING! That way, if you find out you're sensitive to certain essential oils, you can avoid them, easy peasy.

You'll also want to find a brand of incense that burns with minimal smoke. (Like us!)

Go Zero Smoke - Get Some Scented Candles

Limited Edition Litha essential oil soy wax candle in glass jar burns beside fresh slices of grapefruit.

Candles should produce no smoke while burning, and normally only a whisp after they have been snuffed. If you cannot stand a low-smoke incense, a synthetic-free and petroleum free candle could be the easy answer to your aroma dilemma if smoke has been your issue!

Keep in mind though - You Burn It, You Breathe It! Even if you can't see smoke. Whatever your candle is made of goes into the air and into your lungs as well, so stick to materials from nature and synthetic-free scents!

No Fire Required - Switch to Scented Veils With a green water scene out of focus in the background, a hand holding a bottle of Hermitage Scented Veil presses down on the mister

So maybe candles and incense are off the table for you. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy some good smells! With an all natural essential oil Scented Veil, you can indulge in your favorite aromas in liquid form.

Spritz yourself, your home, your linens, your car, or your simmer pot! Or, twist off the cap and add a teaspoon to a steamy bathtub for an instant escapist spa.

A person lays back in a milky bathtub with floating flowers

Breathe Plants, Not Plastics

It's not just a thing we say. 


JoAnn Peckham Currier
JoAnn Peckham Currier

I was sooo excited when I found you! Your team, your products, your mission. I tell as many people as I can about you. Bright Blessing to you all, and thank you for all you do.


great info, thank you!!


I just started using your Sea Witch incense in my yoga room and it is heavenly! It burns completely and the scent is light. It is additive to my practice and does not seem to be an irritant to my migraines or asthma.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.