Is there anything that adds a nicer ambiance to the home than burning a scented candle? It really can be a one-way ticket to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind (and a delightful smelling home).
But could the wrong candle be doing more harm than good? Many conventional candles are still made with questionable ingredients, synthetic fragrances and dyes, and can house a range of problematic volatile organic compounds, which can be released into the air while a candle burns.
Like anything that we use in our homes consistently, this raises the question about their negative health effects over time.
If you’re like us, a little digging about the ingredients in the average candle might give you a reason to think twice about which type of candle to use.
Here’s three areas we discovered are worth looking out for when choosing your candle:
Fragrance and dyes
As we’ve talked about in previous blogs, many cosmetic and other consumer products and candles can legally use the catchall term “fragrance” on an ingredient list but what many people don’t know is that the word ‘fragrance’ is unregulated and can potentially refer to thousands of chemicals used to make up a complex aroma.
The reality is that many of the chemicals used to create fragrances and dyes today are synthetic petrochemicals that carry carcinogens and other potential toxicity warnings.
Because of this, it’s best to opt for candles from companies committed to transparency, quality, and sustainability. And although we all love an amazing smelling candle, it’s not enough just to follow your nose. Instead, check the label, scour the website, or ask a company directly to learn more about what’s actually in the candle. Any synthetic ingredients used should be certified nontoxic (because ‘synthetic’ does not automatically mean toxic, just like ‘natural’ does not automatically mean healthy).
To be on the safe side, look for phthalate-free candles that are derived from 100 percent essential oils in safe quantities. This might mean that your candle doesn't necessarily have the same intensity of scent as an artificially fragranced one, but the upside is that you know it's natural, safer and has aromatherapeutic benefits.
Bottom line is, transparency is key, so prioritize brands that are willing to list ingredients in full.
Most candles today are made of paraffin wax which is a petroleum waste product and has to be deodorized and chemically bleached before it can be made into wax. In recent years, there have been concerns raised about the potential toxicity of paraffin wax candles. That’s largely based on a 2009 study that found burning paraffin wax released potentially dangerous chemicals, like benzene and toluene (both are known carcinogens).
You'll often find that paraffin-based candles are on the cheaper side and if the candle doesn't actually state the type of wax used? Probably paraffin too.
All these things considered, there are other far safer options such as plant-based or natural waxes, including soy, beeswax and coconut which can offer a more natural, sustainable approach.
But, as always, we need to shop smart! Reading the labels might not be enough because candle makers are not required to disclose the ingredients they use in their candles – there are no laws or regulations make it a requirement for them. Because the industry is largely unregulated, a candle can have a small percentage of soy and still be labeled as ‘soy-based’ or ‘soy-blend’. This is when it becomes important to know the brand.
Look for a candle that says it’s made of 100 percent natural wax so you’re not getting a paraffin blend without meaning to.
Lead wicks were banned in 2003 because of their toxicity, but it’s still a good idea to make sure the candle wicks you choose are made of cotton or wood. Some wicks have a metal core for support, which may not be readily visible.
To be on the safe side, look for 100 percent cotton, hemp, or wood wicks.