A Guide to Buying (and Burning) Incense

When it comes to burning incense, if you're not already a seasoned veteran, it can be hard to know where to start. The good news is that there's a better, wider variety of options available than ever before, so you're sure to find something you'll love. Here, we ask an expert to break down everything you need to know and everything you'll want to buy.

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Hall Newbegin, the founder of indie fragrance brand Juniper Ridge, believes that the appeal of burning incense is pretty much ingrained in all of mankind. "Campfires are one of those primitive things that our body and soul respond to in a deep way," he says. "That smell of real trees and plants burning taps into the instinctual, caveman part of our brains. I love incense for that reason—they remind us who we are and what we're made of."

Hall Newbegin, founder of Juniper Ridge, collects inspiration and ingredients from nature for his lineup of scents. Photograph courtesy of Juniper Ridge
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Here are a few selections from the Juniper Ridge incense line.

First, get acquainted with the types of incense you have to choose from. Here's a quick cheat sheet.

Sticks: These are the most common options out there. They are usually long and slender and can be made of wood or bamboo.

Cones: A cone, which looks like a small piece of coal, is usually burned while resting in the cap of its original container, which makes this option quick, efficient, and easily transportable.

Newbegin loves a good adventure (and a good sniff) in the great outdoors. Photograph courtesy of Juniper Ridge

Paper: To burn a paper laced with fragrance, you should fold it up and light it in a fireproof dish.

Resin: This dense material lends itself to carrying scent and holding heat for a long period of time. Resin pieces often look like small, jagged stones.

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Now, Newbegin gives us a quick lesson in everything you need to know to become an incense pro. Plus, get tips on finding your own favorite scents!

Tip No.1: Light Your Fire In the Right Spot

Whether it be the kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom, always be aware of the surface you're burning your incense on. "Fire is fire, so make sure the incense is in a fire-safe place—don't leave them unattended," Newbegin says. He suggests placing the wooden end of the incense in a holder (some incense include holders with purchase) or to burn them over your stove top. Just make sure you always have something to catch the ash with.

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Tip No. 2: Prep the Sticks

Before you sit back and enjoy the calming scent, be sure to prepare your incense to get the most out of it. "Run a lighter or match along the length of a stick before you get your flame on," Newbegin says. "Light the tip on fire and let it burn for a moment. Blow out the flame and place the wooden end in a holder to keep it elevated and away from surfaces." If your incense doesn't come in stick form, read the package's directions before use. Although the flame will be extinguished, keep an eye out for anything that could be damaged by the resulting smoke.

Tip No. 3: Trust Your Nose

Although Juniper Ridge prides itself on incorporating natural ingredients into its products, some companies don't prioritize that. "The incense market is poorly regulated, because just like perfume and cologne, the FDA has no rules about ingredient labeling," Newbegin says. Because of this, brands tend to use synthetic fragrances, but mark them as "all-natural."

Newbegin suggests sniffing your way to the right incense (or, better: doing your research). "Pick an incense that's 100-percent natural and very clearly labeled—good companies do this voluntarily," he says. "Trust your nose when looking for natural incense—if it smells really strong, gives you a headache, or bugs you in any way, it's synthetic. Don't burn those."

Tip No. 4: ~ Relax ~

While Newbegin recommends going outside and clearing your head in the presence of actual nature, he understands that's not always possible (especially when you live in a city). "Natural incense are such a great relaxation tool," he says. "Use them in the evening when you're unwinding or need to clear bad vibes from a room. Burn some while you're cleaning or taking a bath." Getting a whiff of natural scents such as clove, lavender, bergamot, and pine can help relieve mental stress and calm out-of-whack nerves—light one while meditating to really help you get in the zone.

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