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ELLE UK / APRIL 2021


Incense: The Zero-Waste Fragrance Trend Having An Eco Comeback

Incense is officially chic again.
By Elizabeth Bennett

The Ingredients List - Breaking down the what, where and why of natural and eco-friendly beauty.

Like our obsession with interiors and essential oil diffusers, incense has grown in popularity particularly over the last year. Working from home - or what can feel like living at the office - means we're all looking for ways to improve the environment we spend so much time in. 'People are craving multi-sensory environments, and scent is a means to reduce stress and change the ambience or mood of a room simply and quickly,' Jenni Middleton, Director of Beauty at trend forecasting agency WGSN, commented. 'This is particularly key when people are living and working in the same space all day, and want to shift the environment from work to social setting.'

Tap through Instagram stories of late and chances are you’ll spot a soothing clip of an incense stick satisfyingly burning into a trail of smoke. Once seen as a naff nineties trend (relegated to the same category as potpourri), incense has had a revival in recent years with luxury labels like Gucci and Tom Dixon, and indie brands such as Earl of East and Fenix, bringing it to a new audience. Even Emily Weiss, Glossier founder and general woman of good taste, is a fan... of Fenix Palo Santo.

With the majority of us starved of nature (a stomp around the local park barely cuts it), fragrance provides somewhat of a substitute. 'The simplicity of the plants, tree bark and resins used in the incense gives a feeling of grounding - almost like forest bathing indoors,' explains Imelda Burke, founder of Content Beauty. And she would know, with a 192% uplift in incense sales on the site in 2020 alone.

Incense also ticks the sustainability box. It’s what Burke calls a 'packaging lite' alternative to candles. As more of us are looking to cut back on our waste - in particular, single-use plastic - incense is growing in appeal. Easily packaged in paper, once burned it leaves nearly no trace which means it almost qualifies as zero waste.

Of course, simply being plastic-free isn’t enough to claim sustainable credentials and this new wave of incense brands are ensuring they are green across the board by prioritising ethical sourcing and ingredients.

Acknowledging the tradition of incense is also important. Use of incense dates back thousands of years and is synonymous with ritualism and spirituality. Working with the communities where incense began is key in terms of honouring its history. 'We always prioritise local co-operatives and small suppliers to ensure our standards are met,' says Ali, co-founder of handmade incense brand Fenix. 'Our incense is 100% natural and made in the most traditional way, no modern machines or equipment are used in the process,' she added.

Phool, a start-up based in India, empowers local women and tackles flower pollution. Millions of Hindu worshippers start every day with a ritual offering of flowers and these end up in the rivers with potentially harmful chemicals and pesticides. Phool, who has a female workforce, collect these flowers and turn them into handmade incense sticks.

It’s not just about the incense but the holder too. 'The tool for burning the incense is becoming as, if not more, important than the incense itself,' says Gemma Riberti, Head of Interiors at WSGN. 'Fragrance brands are becoming aware that the incense holder needs to double as both insta-worthy and a captivating piece of decor in its own right,' she added.

After spending more time than ever within our own four walls, the money and time we're investing in doing up our decor has increased.

Accessories are an aesthetically pleasing and accessible way to do so (just look at the trend for tablescaping and tall candles) and incense holders tick both boxes.