Are your favorite candles bad for you? Scented candles are a great way to add to the ambiance and aesthetic of your home. However, the candles you are burning might be doing damage to your health. Let’s take a look at what the science says.
Are candles bad for you? Candles are not bad for you if you are using candles in a normal way in a well-ventilated area, they are unlikely to affect your health. However, some candles can release particulates that include toxins and carcinogens. These can impact those with breathing disorders such as asthma and other respiratory disorders.
The European Candle Association conducted a study in 2007 that examined over 300 toxic chemicals that can potentially be released by candles and found that the levels were below what could be harmful to humans. However, they can be harmful to your pets. Find out more about that in our article titled Are Candles Bad For Pets.
These toxins and carcinogens are linked to the burning of paraffin wax. You can avoid them buy only buying and burning candles made of beeswax and plant-based waxes such as soy, palm, and coconut wax.
Candle Wax Impact On Health
Let’s look at the health risks associated with different candle types.
Is paraffin wax toxic? Paraffin wax releases toxins and carcinogens when it burns. It is generally considered to be the least healthy wax option and is losing popularity to plant-based alternatives.
Plant Based Waxes
Are plant-based waxes toxic? Plant-based waxes such as soy wax and palm oil wax are not considered harmful or toxic in any way. They are made with all-natural ingredients and burn cleanly.
Are beeswax candles toxic? Beeswax is all-natural and clean burning. The only drawback to beeswax candles is that they are not vegan and harvesting beeswax puts stress on the beehives.
Are scented candles toxic? Scented candles can be toxic. While many scented candles contain harmless natural fragrances, some include man-made fragrances made with chemicals. Avoid this by closely examining the label on your candle to make sure it is all-natural.
Candle Health Risks
Let’s take a look at some of the risks associated with burning candles.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Do candles contain volatile organic compounds? Candles do contain volatile organic compounds. Some of these compounds are quite similar to VOCs that occur in nature and give flowers their natural fragrances. However, some candles also release VOCs such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
The VOCs released from your candle typically depend on the type of candle you are burning. Candles made of paraffin wax and candles that contain man-made fragrances can release more toxic VOCs than other types of candles.
The impact of VOCs on your health will depend on the duration and level of exposure. They can in some cases cause irritation, allergic reactions and asthma attacks.
Petroleum Based Products
Are candles made from petroleum-based products safe? Paraffin wax candles can release toxins and are not as safe as vegetable-based candle waxes. A study by South Carolina State University stated that paraffin wax candles release toluene and benzene. Vegetable-based candle waxes did not release these toxins.
Paraffin wax is one of the most popular types of wax but natural alternatives such as soy and palm oil wax candles are quickly gaining popularity.
Can scented candles cause an asthma attack? Scented candles can irritate the airways and trigger an asthma attack. In one poll, 65% of those with asthma reported that scented candles can trigger asthma symptoms.
The Asthma Society of Canada suggests you read the label on your candle carefully and make sure you are buying an all-natural, organic candle, and not one that contains paraffin wax or artificial scents.
Which candles have lead free wicks? All candles in the United States have been lead-free since it was banned in candles in 2003. Before that, American candle producers stopped using lead in 1974. However, imported candles may still contain lead.
While lead wicks are now banned in the United States you still do not know what you are getting in low cost imported candles. Make sure you choose a reputable brand and consider its country of origin.
Is candle soot harmful? Candle soot is normally not harmful. It is produced in such low quantities that it generally not considered harmful. Keep your candle out of drafty areas and keep the wick trimmed to avoid a candle that produces soot.
When the wick gets too long and builds up carbon it can produce soot. Additionally, if the candle is near a fan or an open window that can cause the flame to flicker, which will also produce soot.
However, the soot produced by candles is not comparable to the soot produced from the burning of other materials, fuels, and petroleum products. Candle soot is considered much safer in most cases.
If you have asthma and think candles might not be right for you, here are some alternatives.
What is an oil diffuser? An oil diffuser breaks down essential oils into smaller molecules, releasing them into the air creating a pleasant fragrance.
Oil diffusers let you have the benefit of the fragrance that you can get from a scented candle without the actual burning of wax and the release of toxins found in paraffin wax.
Oil diffusers are a great option for situations where candles are not allowed such as staying in a dorm.
Electric candles in the right containers can create a similar ambiance to that of a normal candle. They are safe and you can leave them on unattended without burning your house down.
There are some great crafts that you can do with electric candles that you can not do with real candles. So if your primary reason for getting into candles is for decoration then electric candles are still a good option.
An electric tealight is just a variation of the electric candle. They are great for doing centerpiece candle displays, floating candle displays, and craft related displays. They run on batteries and will stay lit literally for days.
I found some floating, electric tealights really cheap on Amazon and they burn for days at a time. I gave my son one to use for a “night light” and he has left it on 3 days in a row and it is still going.
You can use them underwater and cover them in glass gems for a great visual effect or let them float on the top. Although, I find they are more visually appealing underwater.
While an air purifier is not directly an alternative to candles, it might let you keep burning the candles that you enjoy.
Air purifiers help collect dust before it has a chance to settle around your home and get a chance to breathe it in. They can also collect the particulates that are dispersed from burning candles.
In addition, they can remove bacteria, mold and pollen. All of which will be helpful to you if you have any breathing related issues.
In conclusion, candles have their pros and cons and the type of candle you choose to buy and burn has a big impact on how healthy your candle burning experience is.
Stick to the natural and organic waxes and avoid petroleum-based waxes such as paraffin. Paraffin wax can release toxins and carcinogens.
If for whatever reason candles are not going to work out for you, you still have some options to get that great scent and ambiance going in your home. Oil diffusers and electric candles might be the key.
Just do your research and make sure you consider all options before making a decision. You will find something great!
Credible Sources Used
European Candle Association 2007 Study