What are your candles made of?

Do you love the smell of candles burning throughout your home?  Who doesn’t love lighting a candle and instantly transforming the mood?  We love them, too.  We also love our health and the health of our family, pets, and guests.  If you do, too then keep reading.

Everything you inhale enters your body (or else no one would care about secondhand smoke, right?).  There are a lot of scary ingredients in candles and they are a non-food item so manufacturers aren’t required to list all of the ingredients on the label.  You may be inadvertently creating a toxic atmosphere in your home that can contribute to a host of health issues.  Compounding the issue is that once you start researching candles, you may become confused.  Many companies, particularly conglomerates with commercial interests, have engaged in smear campaigns.  What? Over candles? Yes.

For starters, paraffin, the wax used for most commercially available candles, is created during the process of refining crude oil into gasoline.  It is a petroleum byproduct that, when burned (candles), releases at least four different carcinogens into the air.  If you light a couple of those yummy candles to make your home smell good, you may have exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards set forth for indoor air pollution, creating a toxic environment for you and your family. This is critically important if you have kids since children are more sensitive to the effects and the soot alone can cause respiratory issues.

The fragrance oils that make those candles smell so good contain nasty ingredients that can wreak havoc on your health. Benzene, found in many synthetic fragrances, was specifically mentioned as causing cancer in the President’s Cancer Panel.  Frequent use of air fresheners and candles containing synthetic fragrances has been demonstrated to increase ear infections in babies and headaches in mothers. An EPA report cited links to allergies, birth defects, cancer, and disorders of the central nervous system. Worse?  The label only has to say “fragrance” or “parfume”.

Sound fun? No? There are alternatives.  Look for natural waxes.  The options are generally beeswax, palm wax, or soy.  You can even read about different waxes from candle making experts, CandleWic.  Look for candles that are scented with essential oils, not synthetic fragrance oils.  At the end of the day, candle-making is a science.  Artificial waxes need artificial fragrance to blend well and really “throw” the scent.  So you pay more for a better product but there really is no middle ground.  Candles are made from quality ingredients or they aren’t.

I use beeswax in my candles.  I recommend beeswax (check out my post all about beeswax), however, I also recognize that my vegan friends need better options.  In that case, I recommend palm wax candles. Here’s why I do not support soy candles.

You may not want to spend more money on beeswax (go organic) and essential oils (if you want scented candles) but it could save your health.  Some people make their own candles or wax melts.  If you don’t have that inclination (or time), read product labels and descriptions carefully.  Ask questions about how the product is made and where the ingredients come from.  Above all else, educate yourself.  You are the consumer and you deserve better.

EPA Home » Science Inventory » CANDLES AND INCENSE AS POTENTIAL SOURCES OF INDOOR AIR POLLUTION: MARKET ANALYSIS AND LITERATURE REVIEW (EPA/600/R-01/001)

My thoughts on soy

When I first began making products I considered using soy as an alternative to synthetic paraffin wax in our candles.  After all, I’m all about natural and strive to use only the best organic ingredients I can find.  I read some pretty scary articles about the soy industry but not being one to blindly accept anything, I decided to revisit the research.  I found this very informative article written by Small Footprint Family.  It essentially backed up my previous opinions on soy.*

* I do not expect everyone to share our beliefs, however the beliefs below are mine.

For starters, why soy?

Soy has been commercially manufactured since at least the 1950’s, probably longer but I wasn’t doing an essay on agricultural history.  Soy use wasn’t prolific during the 50’s and 60’s, despite commercial manufacturing, due to studies showing evidence of adverse effects such as sterility and cardiovascular disease in animals.  Brilliant marketing professionals decided that the only way to surmount this was to make the competition look even scarier.  In came the demonization of saturated fats in the 1980’s.  Saturated fat consumption was linked to heart disease and the American public began “low-fat” and “fat-free” diets.  Restaurants substituted vegetable oils, to include soybean oil, for the evil tropical oils (avocado, coconut, palm oil, etc).  Legitimate consumer interest groups participated in multi-million dollar campaigns to rid the U.S. food industry of saturated fats.  The soy industry, campaigning for the “health benefits” of soy, absolutely thrived.  Soy made up about 80% of the oils on the market. (Sidenote: If you haven’t heard, the vast majority of the info about saturated fat has been retracted or disproven.)

The only problem was that the evidence didn’t lie.  Not only was soy linked to a slew of health issues but so were many of the vegetable oils.  Hydrogenated vegetable oils are full of trans fat.  In 2002, the U.S. Institute of Medicine finally acknowledged that trans fat (key ingredient in hydrogenated vegetable oils) is not safe in any quantity.  It is linked to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disease.

With the U.S. food industry going back to the healthier (and ironically, better for the heart) saturated fats, the soy industry began to suffer.  The industry broadened their horizons and soy was offered as an alternative to almost any consumable product. This includes soy milk, oils, candles, baby formula.   This is very troubling when you realize that the majority of soy is genetically modified.  Think that GMOs are no big deal?  Then you should read this article about how they impact your organs.  Or how about this article from January that states that “In North America, approximately 75 to 89% of the soy beans grown are genetically modified (GM)…recent research found that GM soy is toxic to the kidneys, liver, and more.”  Read the full article here.

There are many who choose to ignore the research, find contradictory research (I fully acknowledge research on GMOs is very contradictory!), or just flat out don’t believe it.  Many claim there are not enough peer-reviewed studies full of empirical data to support these claims.  Dig deeper and you will see the that scientists have been silenced.  Even if you choose to question it, why are we feeding this to babies?

So why I insist that my company care about soy?  Simple. I care about my customers.  There are studies linking soy to allergies.  The links may be tenuous but if up to nearly 90% of soy in the U.S. is genetically modified and studies show that genetically modified foods contribute to or worsen allergies, then that is enough for me to avoid it in my candles and skin-care products.