It’s that festive time of year- a time of cozying up by the warm glow of candlelight and exchanging gifts with loved ones. There’s a good chance scented candles are either on someone’s wish list or gift shopping list. After all, who doesn’t love a nicely lit, beautifully scented candle on a cold Winter night?
There’s just one problem- the candles you’ve been burning and shopping for this holiday season are likely toxic. Mass-produced candles are made in a way that can be significantly harmful to our bodies as well as the earth.
This week, we bring you a comprehensive guide of the red flags to look out for when candle shopping. Read on to discover the dangers of the conventional, store-bought candle and some great alternatives that smell amazing and will have you breathing easier (literally).
Most mass-produced candles on the market are made of paraffin wax, which is a petroleum byproduct that is chemically bleached. When burned, toxic volatile compounds (VOCs) are released into the air. These include highly toxic acetone, benzene, and toluene- highly carcinogenic and super harmful to our health. In fact, the petro-soot released from paraffin candles are the same as those found in diesel fuel fumes and can be as dangerous as second-hand smoke. They have been known to aggravate asthma, cause skin irritation, and allergies.
Besides the obvious endangerment to your health, soot from paraffin wax can cause significant damage to the interiors of your home (this includes, walls, ductwork, and electrical appliances). “Some families have reported so much soot damage that they have filed insurance claims, only to find such damages aren’t covered in their policies,” says natural living expert Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home (Tarcher Perigee Publishers, 1997) and six other books about safe and nontoxic products.
Instead, opt for a candle that will affect your air quality the least. 100% pure beeswax, soy, or vegetable-wax based candles are your best bet. Beeswax is typically six times the cost of paraffin wax, so a lot of manufacturers blend paraffin into the wax to cut cost- ensure the candle is 100% pure beeswax, soy, or vegetable-based wax. Finally, remember: just because paraffin candles are fragranced with essential oils, does not mean they are any better for you. “Burning an aromatherapy candle made of paraffin is similar to preparing a healthy drink of fresh-squeezed juice and adding a shot of gasoline,” says Eric Johnson of Candleworks, an Iowa City, Iowa-based company that specializes in wholesaling nontoxic aromatherapy candles.
Lead wicks are extremely harmful to both our health and the environment. Many manufacturers use lead to stand the wicks up, as fragrance oils tend to soften the wax. Although banned from the US since 2003, it is believed that many mass-produced candles with lead wicks are still being imported from Japan and China, where there are no strict regulations around candle-making. These wicks release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous to children. It also exceeds the EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. The scary part is, you don’t even need to light the candle to be exposed to harmful chemicals released by lead-core wicks. Simple evaporation from an uncovered candle can release pollutants into the air, and touching the candle can cause the chemicals to be absorbed through the skin!
Instead, opt for candles with wicks made of paper or 100% cotton. Some things to look out for when shopping for candles is a label that reads “lead-free”. To test a candle that has not yet been burned, rub the wick on a piece of paper- if it leaves a grey mark, like a pencil, the wick contains a lead core. If the candle has been burned, simply look at the tip of the wick to see if it has a metal core- if you can’t tell, peel back some of the cotton. Shop our collection of sustainable cotton-wick candles here.
As if all of this information on your favorite candles isn’t shocking enough, candles that are scented with synthetic oils release microscopic particles that can cause cancer and other health problems when inhaled. Don’t be lured in by those intoxicating scents- they contain phthalates which when released into the air, can be inhaled or absorbed into the skin. This aggravates allergy and asthma symptoms when entered into the bloodstream and have been found to alter hormone levels.
The good news is, you don’t have to give up fragranced candles! Simply look for candles scented with terpenes (natural fragrance compounds that offer numerous aromatherapy benefits). There are as many as 20,000 discovered terpenes in the world- this means a cornucopia of delicious fragrances and health benefits. To learn more about choosing the right terpene-based candle for you or a loved one, click here.
Unfortunately, there are no regulations or bans in the works for candles made of paraffin wax or fragranced with synthetic oils. However, you don’t have to stray far- Sarendipity candles offer a beautiful selection of non-toxic, 100% soy-based candles with cotton wicks and no synthetic fragrances. These candles are terpene-based and offer benefits to both the body and mind.
This holiday season, you definitely do not have to scratch candles off of Santa’s wish list- simply opt for a Sarendipity Candle instead!