Did you know that most candles are toxic?
I’m here to tell you why and what you should be looking for.
My own research into this topic started when I was young. Candles were a big part of my childhood. Growing up in New England, my mom was BIG into “Yankee Candles” which is a large candle company on the East Coast. They make these really big candles in cool glass containers of all different flavors, and you can burn them for hours.
We started to reevaluate our use of candles when they would leave “soot” on the ceiling, and when scents would give us headaches. We thought — this can’t be right… if it’s making soot, then we are obviously breathing it in right?
My mom and I were on the right track and I started to learn how horrible traditional scented candles are for you.
The good news is that you can still enjoy candles, because they can be made healthfully!
Here’s what you want to avoid:
- synthetic paraffin candles, and soy wax sometimes isn’t any better*
- scented candles of all kinds
- pretty much any traditional candles you see in the store because of their fragrances, dyes,
- they release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are widely known for their toxicity, PMID: 25588193
- candles can release chemicals whether they are being lit or NOT, PMID: 25588193
- they release formaldehyde, PMID: 26495830
- lead is commonly used as a stiffening agent for wicks, and when burned release lead into the air, PMID: 12398334, PMID: 10811249
- ever heard of airborne contact dermatitis? it’s thing, and breathing in fragrances and chemicals helps cause it
Here’s what you want to purchase:
- 100% beeswax candles
- 100% natural cotton wick
- naturally saturated fat candles, like palm or coconut oil
- candles naturally scented with essential oils and other botanicals
So what about incense? It doesn’t look like incense is any safer or a good alternative, PMID: 26614451. The burning of fragrances plus wood? Exposure to wood smoke is actually a recognize cause of respiratory disease, PMID: 27382275.
If you look this subject of scented candles on on PubMed, you’ll get a variety of opinions. Even one study said that typical use of scented candles doesn’t pose health risk, PMID: 24582651, but I have no idea how they can say that when we know these candles release VOCs and other chemicals like formaldehyde, and we have multiple studies that demonstrate with multiple testing methods the hazards of chemicals released by scented candles being over the acceptable limits.
The thing about looking at the literature vs thinking critically is that scientifically if they cannot make a positive correlation, then the jury is still out. The way I choose to see some of these controversial topics is thinking back to basic human physiology. If we know a substance releases toxin X, and toxin X is a known carcinogen or xyz, then I am not going to recommend anything or any product that contains the substance that releases or contains toxin X. Simple right?
*It’s important to note, that just like olive oil, the candles can be marketed as a “soy candle” and contain 51% soy wax and 49% cheap paraffin wax. Soy wax candles ARE better than paraffin candles, but because of this, that’s why I said they aren’t much better. You’d need to look for 100% soy wax on the label, and buy from a company that you trust.
Paraffin is a problem because it’s a by-product of the petroleum industry. The way that paraffin is created involves a significant refining and bleaching process to get the “wax” you and me know today. There is no way to ever fully get rid of those chemicals use in the refining process – so when a paraffin candle is burned, some of those chemicals remain and are burned into the air you are breathing.
The candle industry will say there is no issue with “sooting.” But you and I know better. The microscopic particles that are left behind can cause health effects.
So if candles are so bad… what did they use back before electricity? They used BEESWAX candles. Beeswax candles actually release negative ions into the air which are beneficial for human health. Beeswax candles have natural color and do not need to be dyed. They are often scented with natural essential oils and botanicals, which are safe. Beeswax candles do not aggravate asthma, allergies, and most people who are sensitive to fragrances can use beeswax candles comfortably.
One of my favorite companies is a local company in Seattle, WA, where I went to medical school. Big Dipper Wax Works https://www.bigdipperwaxworks.com/ But there are MANY other companies out there at are safe. Take the list above, and do your research. Let me know if you find any hidden gems!
Now, go switch out your candles! 🙂