Many of us don’t think about what goes into our candles. We light them to fill our homes with the wonderful seasonal scents of apple pie or balsam fir or lavender. We enjoy softly lit romantic dinners beneath their light. We let them flicker wildly as we sink into a warm salt bath. Candles are a relaxing and comforting luxury for many of us. But, depending on what you buy, your candle may be doing more harm than good.
Your average taper or jar candle has some pretty nasty stuff in it. Petroleum-based stuff. When you burn these candles, tiny amounts of toxic byproducts and imperceptible soot particles are released into the air, causing a little bit of indoor pollution. That may not seem like a big deal—it’s just one tiny candle, after all. But, if you are burning these toxic candles week after week, it is possible for the toxins to begin accumulating, particularly in your endocrine and respiratory systems. Ew.
But not all candles are toxic. Some actually cleanse the air. So what should you look for when buying a candle? Ask yourself these things when shopping for a new candle:
What kind of wax is in it?
Most classic candles are made of paraffin wax—a petroleum derived product. Anything derived from fossil fuels is not clean at all, but paraffin became popular in the mid 1800s because it produces a white, odorless and strong-burning wax from otherwise useless oil sludge. But, when you are burning a paraffin candle, you are releasing those petroleum toxins into your home. Instead, look for cleaner, more natural waxes.
I prefer beeswax candles, especially since buying bee products from sustainable keepersgoes a long way towards saving the endangered honeybee. Plus, beeswax actually acts as an air purifier. That’s right, it’s the anti-paraffin. Soy or coconut-based waxes are good choices, too. Just be on high alert for wax blends. Some companies blend beeswax or soy wax with paraffin, but will market the candles as “beeswax” or “soy candle”. Don’t get fooled. Do your due diligence and read your labels.
What is the wick made of?
There is a whole science to candle wicks. Too wide a wick, the candle will burn too hot and fast. Too narrow, the candle won’t burn properly and there will be walls of unmelted wax. Use the wrong material, the candle will burn unevenly. While most commercial candles have worked out the wick science, many of them ignore the potential toxicity of the wick material. Believe it or not, lead was only banned in candle wicks as recently as 2003! I look for wicks that are 100 percent cotton, hemp or even wood.
How about the fragrance?
I know many people who are very conscious of everything they put in and on their bodies, but seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to candles with artificial fragrances. As a person with sensitivity to chemical fragrances, I find this a tough thing to ignore. Unfortunately, according to the FDA, fragrances need not be divulged on the label. The ingredients are protected as ‘trade secrets’.
So, who knows what potential allergens, toxins or endocrine disruptors lurk inside. And these unnatural chemicals can cause real harm by messing with the nervous system, causing imbalanced hormones and potentially causing cancer. For this reason, try to purchase candles that are only specifically scented with 100 percent essential oils or natural scents. The petrochemicals in artificial fragrances aren’t something to mess around with.
So what candles are safe?
Naturally, the safest candles are the ones you make yourself. And it is not that difficult. One could simply buy a few pounds of bulk beeswax and some wicks, melt the wax down, sprinkle in some of your favorite essential oils, and pour into a mason jar with the affixed wick. Boom, a 30-hour candle.
Not a DIY type? I prefer to buy naturally dyed beeswax tapers when I can from suppliers like Honey Candles. For jar candles, brands like Ethic Supply Co, Keap and Credo Beautyare good places to start. A little effort goes a long way in terms of your health and home.