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)