Are Candles Toxic? A Guide To Non Toxic Candles
Who doesn't love the smell of fresh sugar cookies right out of the oven? What smell is better than a pumpkin spiced latte from the local cafe? Now imagine you can have these scents without the trip to the cafe or baking of any kind. Let's say these scents are put into your candle and all you need to do is light it. Perfect right?
Not so fast. Did you know that many of the candles for sale today can contain chemicals that are not so good for you; and probably not something you want to burn or even have in your home.
There is no limit to the different types of candles, colors, shapes, and scents available. So how do you know which ones are safe to burn in your home and which candles are toxic?
We have created this blog as a guide to help you choose your next candle with confidence. First, we will cover the different types of candle wax options, and which types we recommend. Then we will discuss scent, and color, so you can know exactly what to look for. Once you are armed with the information, candle shopping will be a breeze, and everyone in your home will breathe easier when you burn your candles.
My Candles Were Mostly Toxic
After researching this article and writing everything we could find about the world of candles, ingredients, and things to watch out for, we walked around and collected a few candles from home. These photos were going to be samples of healthy candles to share with you, as it turns out, only a few of them were safe. Only a few of the candles in my home are candles I would ever burn, now that I've read this article.
Most of my candles were toxic blends that release chemicals into the air.
"When we know better, we do better" - Maya Angelou
Now I know, read on so you will too.
The Types of Candle Wax
Candles can be made of various types of wax; paraffin, soy, beeswax, coconut wax, rice wax, and vegetable wax. The type of wax matters when choosing a candle for your home; the most popular wax can also be the most dangerous.
Paraffin Wax Candles
Paraffin wax a.k.a. Petroleum wax is derived from petroleum. The burning of paraffin wax candles emits toxic fumes into the air. According to a study done by South Carolina State University, the undesired chemicals of the paraffin candles were emitted because the candles are by-products of oil refineries. According to this study, frequent use of the paraffin candles they tested, "the inhalation of these dangerous pollutants drifting in the air could contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, common allergies, and even asthma?
Paraffin wax candles release compounds and hydrocarbons including acetone, benzene, and toluene – all known carcinogens.
So why are paraffin candles so popular? Paraffin wax is the least expensive of our candle wax types and it is also a strong wax, which helps to hold shape for the other types of waxes when combined.
Final thoughts on paraffin wax, it's not worth the risk.
Soy Wax Candles
Did you know that 93% of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified? I was blown away by that too, some sources have that number even higher. The simple solution here would be to make candles out of organic soybeans. Unfortunately, in order for the liquid soybean oil to turn into a solid, there is a chemical process required. Once that chemical process happens, they are no longer organic.
You may be thinking... "I'm not eating the soybeans? So what's the big deal?"
The question isn't whether or not you are eating the soybeans, but why they are GMO, to begin with? The main reason, according to my research, is the herbicide and insecticide tolerance of the Genetically Modified seeds. This means these seeds can handle a large number of chemicals sprayed on them to kill the weeds and insects, but they still survive. Now, you may not be eating that chemical, but if you are burning a soy candle, you just might be inhaling those chemicals.
The other issue with purchasing soy candles is the support of genetically modified farming. Those insecticides and herbicides are harming our soil, our bees, and our waterways.
Soy wax is also a softer wax (when compared to beeswax) so votives and tapers cannot be made of soy wax. Soy wax has a lower melt point which makes shipping difficult (as it could melt.)
Final thoughts on soy, if you can find a responsible candle maker that uses soy that is non-GMO, not treated with pesticides/herbicides, and made thoughtfully, this is a good purchase. However, if you haven't done your research on the brand, keep looking.
There are too many benefits to beeswax candles to list them all so let me bullet this to simplify!
Benefits to Beeswax Candles
- Beeswax candles are non-toxic.
- Pure beeswax candles burn with almost no smoke or scent.
- There are websites that claim these candles actually help to clean the air inside of your home. We haven't done enough research yet to back up this claim, but we will let you know when we do.
- Beeswax candles are also hypoallergenic (which means they are relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.)
- These candles are safe to burn around people with asthma, allergies, and who are sensitivities to chemicals.
- Beeswax candles burn brighter and longer than other candles.
- High melt point, means you can ship these candles and not worry about melting during transit.
Concerns with Beeswax Candles
The main concern here is that our sweet honey bees are creating these beautiful candles (while pollinating our world, and feeding us all) so we want to be mindful of the care of these bees. Obviously beeswax candles are not vegan, so these candles are not an option for everyone. If you want to make the most mindful choice when purchasing a beeswax candle, look to purchase these from a local beekeeper or a company that explains where their beeswax comes from. We want a conscious beekeeper to provide the beeswax, not corporations exploiting our poor bees to make a profit. There are so many wonderful beekeepers around the world today that hopefully, this won't be too difficult of an extra step.
Beeswax candles are also the most expensive.
Final thoughts on beeswax candles, beeswax candles are currently the only candles we recommend burning in your home. As we mentioned, be sure to buy your candles from a company that purchases their beeswax from ethically raised bees.
Coconut wax is the newest to the market for me. I'm not overly familiar with it myself, but I've done some research. As it turns out, lots of people are loving this type of candle for various reasons:
Benefits of Coconut Wax Candles
- Coconut candles are nontoxic.
- Coconut candles carry a nice scent.
- Coconut wax burns slow and clean, not giving off soot like the paraffin candles.
- Coconut wax is naturally sourced and doesn't require chemical processing.
Concerns with Coconut Wax Candles
- Coconuts have become a cash crop industry, so fair wages to farmers is a concern.
- Coconut wax is the most expensive of the candle waxes on our list.
- Coconut wax is a softer wax than beeswax and doesn't hold the shape beeswax can hold.
This is supposedly the purest, most eco-friendly and luxurious wax used today (hence more expensive). It burns slowly and cleanly and throws scent very well.
Final thoughts on coconut wax candles, we would be sure to research where and how your coconut wax was harvested and how the farmers are paid. If you find an ethical company from which to purchase 100% coconut wax candles, you can rest assured you are using a non-toxic candle. This would be our second choice of candle simply because we do not live in an area with coconut trees (though we often wish we did) so the carbon footprint would probably be bigger to get them to us.
Concerns with Scented Candles
Although scented candles often smell great, it is very important to understand what is providing the scent. If it doesn't say where the scent is derived from, do not buy it. Look for candles that are scented with essential oils as these are plant-based. Synthetic scents in candles can be very dangerous and even cause asthma. In fact, here is a study that uses the NAQTS (National Air Quality Testing Services) to compare certain candles to breathing in the exhaust of diesel cars!
According to IQAir, Most scented candles use synthetic fragrances and dyes that give off dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds a.k.a. VOCs even at room temperature. Commonly emitted VOCs related to the scent in candles include formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, alcohol, and esters.
Types of Candle Dye
When purchasing candles with a variety of colors it's best to choose those without color or those made with eco-friendly dyes. As always, research the company or person making your candles. The method used for changing the color of your candle should be transparent.
One of our favorite candle companies is a company called Sunbeam Candles in Ithaca, NY. When we asked them what their candle dyes are made of this is what they had to say:
"Our dyes, they are derived from plant ingredients, do not contain any hazardous chemicals (like naptha or naphthalene), nothing in our dyes contain ingredients on the California Prop 65 list known to be cancer-causing, and they are not tested on animals."
Things to Look For When Purchasing Candles
To our knowledge, there are no current regulations requiring makers to include all ingredients on a candle. So please be sure to do your homework, or carefully read the jar or tag that comes with your candle.
- Be sure to check that your candle clearly states 100% beeswax. As we mentioned earlier, paraffin wax is much less expensive so blending paraffin and beeswax together to make a "beeswax candle" could still emit some toxic fumes.
- Avoid "blends." When candles say "soy blend" what is it blended with? Remember the least expensive candle wax is also the most toxic. We suggest erring on the side of caution.
- Ensure a lead-free wick. Since 2003 in the U.S.A. there are regulations in place to remove metal from candle wicks. However, this isn't the case in all countries around the world. Be sure to look for clear labels of what your wick contains.
- Is your candle scented? If you prefer scented candles, be sure to look for a list of ingredients. If your scents are coming from 100% essential oils, you are all set. Essential oils are plant-based, and thus, safe to be around (as long as you have no allergies to that particular scent/plant.) If there is not an ingredient list stating where the scent is coming from, it could be synthetic (chemical compounds) so it is recommended to stay away from these types of candles.
In conclusion, candles are an incredible way to add ambiance to your home, and they can certainly provide a nice scent and relaxing atmosphere. By spending your money on a candle (or 12) that are made with high standards in place, your health, and that of the planet will all be better off. Thank you for taking the time to join 4 The Greater Good in setting a higher standard.
Where Is an Ethical Place to Buy Beeswax Candles?
As we mentioned in the article, we fully support our beeswax candle vendor, Sunbeam Candles. We carry many of their products and believe in their mission. Please be sure to check out our 4 The Greater Good approved candles and choose which of these non-toxic and made in the USA beeswax candles are right for you!