Different Types of Incense: The Complete Guide

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Incense has been around for about 6000 years and was mostly utilized for spiritual pursuits, religious events, and rituals. But because of increased awareness of the benefits of incense, more individuals are interested in using it regularly, even if they do not follow any spiritual rituals. Furthermore, incense has progressed to the point where there are numerous varieties of incense with various fragrances ideal for home usage. This fragrance is now known as aromatherapy.

Different Types of Incense The Complete Guide

The distinctive smell of each incense brings a different mood and offers different effects to the user. For example, frankincense has a welcoming aroma suitable for a living room, while myrrh gives a calming effect ideal for meditation. If you’re considering using incense in your home, learn the different types to help you decide the best incense to buy.

Two Main Types of Incense

We can divide the various types of incense found at temples, spiritual sites, and spas into two categories: direct burning and indirect burning. These two types of incense govern how and why it is created. Furthermore, depending on its intensity and the materials utilized, various incense will emit distinct odors and effects in their surroundings.

Direct Burning Incense

When using this type of incense, you need to light up the incense and let it die by itself, or you can put out the flame by blowing or fanning it. Then, the incense will release smoke that will spread into your surroundings. The smoke has the aroma of the materials infused in the incense. You can commonly find four forms of direct burning incense: stick incense, coil incense, cone incense, and powder incense. 

1. Stick Incense

Stick incense is the most popular among all direct burning incense, and it would help if you had a holder for the stick and a lighter to burn it. The regular bamboo sticks are usually made of bamboo core, sawdust, or charcoal dust and then infused with essential oils for the aroma.

The stick-shaped incense makes it easier for you to light it up anywhere around your area. It is also suitable for a small room as you can choose to light up how many sticks you want. The formula is – the more sticks you burn, you will get the more potent aroma and more smoke. However, the burning time will depend on the stick length. Thus, you must be careful when handling incense sticks to avoid breaking them. It is because the sticks are usually thin and fragile. There are a few types of incense sticks aside from bamboo sticks, such as log-shaped sticks, joss sticks, resin incense sticks, and masala sticks.

Log-Shaped Sticks:

The log-shaped sticks do not contain essential oils or use bamboo as the core. Instead, they consist of dried paste of incense materials in log or cylinder shapes. The making process is straightforward, and there were no heavy processing procedures in making this incense.

Joss Sticks:

The joss sticks incense originally came from China, where the name means something that holds a religious spirit. These days, joss sticks are more versatile and have different forms. For example, Indian joss sticks with bamboo cores and Japanese joss sticks without support in the center.

Resin Incense Sticks:

A resin incense stick is the more accessible version of resin incense. It contains resin, herbs, spices, essential oils, and other ingredients to give the aroma and shape of the sticks. Resin incense sticks are easier to use than traditional resin incense. This incense stick exists to cater to people who don’t have enough time to prepare resin incense but still want to enjoy the intense aroma of the incense.

Masala Sticks:

Masala sticks are most famous for rituals such as the Diwali ceremony. They consist of a blend of various traditional and natural oils that produce a woody and earthy aroma. Many believe this incense gives a calming and relaxing effect to the surroundings.

2. Coil Incense

As the name goes, coil incense has a spiral shape with various lengths. It contains only incense materials in a coil shape, and you need a holder and a dish to collect the coil ash. It is mainly known for its long burning time. However, like the stick incense, the burning span depends on the coil size or diameter. It usually produces more intense smoke, making it more suitable for use in a larger area. In addition, coil incense diffuses a consistent light aroma throughout the burning time. Thus, the temple mostly uses it for a spiritual ceremony or some people use it as home aromatherapy.

3. Cone Incense

A cone-shaped incense is harder to burn compared to the other variations. It’s because it is made from a mixture of incense powder and essential oils and has a smaller size. There are a few crucial steps to take before burning the incense cones. Fill a dish with sand or uncooked rice to hold the cones and maintain consistent airflow without overheating the burner. Then, carefully light the tip of the cone to burn it and immediately blow out the flame until it produces a spiral smoke. As cone incense has a thin smoke, you can use it in a small room for meditation or yoga practices.

4. Incense Powder

To burn the incense powder as a trail, shape it into various trail forms using molds on tamped charcoal ash. It may take a longer preparation time, but it produces a beautiful incense shape and a strong aroma. Take a mold and put it on flat ash, then fill the mold with powder incense evenly. Remove excess powder, lift the mold carefully, and see the beautiful incense shape. Burn one of the trail ends and leave it to release the aroma.

Indirect Burning Incense

This incense does not use direct heat to release the aroma, meaning you need to place it on another material, such as charcoal or a burner. Then, you need to burn the material to heat the incense and release the aroma through the smoke. There are a few forms of indirect burning incense, such as kneaded incense, in-koh (pressed incense tablets), resin incense, and powder incense.

1. Kneaded Incense

Kneaded incense consists of blended and kneaded incense materials. You can usually find this incense in small balls. They are put in an earthenware jar, buried underground, and left to mature for three to five years. This incense has a sweet and creamy aroma, and the Japanese usually use it for Japanese tea ceremonies. You need a burner or charcoal to burn this incense. Put the small balls on a burner dish and heat the burner from below, or put the incense directly on hot charcoal in a container.

2. In-Koh (Pressed Incense Tablets)

The incense tablets consist of a blend of incense materials with various beautiful shapes, such as the moon, flower, and plum. It is almost similar to kneaded incense, where you need to burn it on charcoal or a burner. The beautiful shapes will enhance the aesthetic interior of your space.

3. Resin Incense

Resin incense is the most natural form of incense, where it consists of woods, plants, and tree sap. It has rough and uneven shapes, almost similar to rock sugar. You can heat a charcoal disk in a dish before putting the resin incense to burn it. Always use tongs to handle the charcoal, and never leave it unattended. Put out the incense after you finish using it.

4. Powder Incense

Aside from directly heating trail-shaped powder incense, you can also use it with a charcoal disk. The method is similar to resin powder; you can put the powder on a heated charcoal disk and let the smoke release the aroma.

Different Types of Incense Scents

You have learned the different types of incense; now, let’s look at the different scents available. These scents set different moods and give different effects from each smell’s characteristics.


This scent is one of the popular incense scents for meditation. It usually comes in incense sticks and is widely known for its calming effect.


This scent sets a welcoming mood with its sweet and subtle aroma. Therefore, it is perfect for the living room to welcome your guests.


The citrus scent brings a bright mood to the surroundings and may also boost the body’s energy. Choose a pure citrus oil such as lemon essential oil incense over a synthetic fragrance to maximize the effect.


This scent is famous for its properties to heal headaches and set the mood for sleeping. Some people also mention it may help with insomnia and stress.


Cinnamon has a spicy and sweet smell that is suitable for boosting your energy and passion. It is also often related to lust and desires. Thus, you can use the cinnamon scent in your bedroom to spice up the mood with your partner or use it for a strong spiritual ceremony.


Citronella incense contains sacred flowers and helps to remove sadness and relieve stress. This scent is suitable to be used outdoors for your leisure time, and it can give a pleasant aroma while acting as an insect repellent at the same time.


Incense burning is no longer limited to rituals or spiritual ceremonies. Many individuals are interested in incense because of its numerous benefits for relaxation, meditation, and mental wellness. There are different types of incense, and you’re not restricted to using only one of many forms. You can always get multiple of them and use them according to your needs. Remember to take precautionary measures when burning incense. Keep them out of flammable items and put out the incense after use.