Candles have been used for centuries to provide light and create a warm and inviting atmosphere. This article will explore the composition of candles, their specific chemicals, and the health risks associated with their use. We will also provide safe alternatives to toxic candles and tips for safe candle use.
Composition of Candles
Candles are made from various materials, including paraffin wax, beeswax, soy wax, and other vegetable wax.1 The wax is combined with a wick and sometimes fragrance oils and dyes to create a candle.
Paraffin wax is the most common type of wax used in candles. It is derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. The production of paraffin wax involves using various chemicals, including solvents and bleaching agents, which can release harmful chemicals during burning.2
Fragrance oils and dyes are often added to candles to enhance their appeal. These additives can emit harmful chemicals when burned, especially synthetic ones.3
Chemicals Found in Candles
Paraffin wax, the most common wax used in candles, is a petroleum byproduct. When paraffin wax is burned, it releases harmful chemicals into the air, including toluene and benzene. Lead wicks can release lead into the air when burned.1,2
Fragrance oils can also contain harmful chemicals, including phthalates, linked to various health problems, including reproductive and developmental issues.3 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also released when burning candles. VOCs can cause various health problems, including respiratory problems, headaches, and other health issues.4
Health Risks of Candles
When candles are burned, they emit a variety of harmful chemicals that can negatively impact our health. The most significant risks associated with candle use include inhalation of toxic chemicals, air pollution, and fire hazards.
Inhalation of Toxic Chemicals
Inhaling the chemicals released by burning candles can cause respiratory problems, including asthma attacks, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses. VOC exposure can also cause headaches, dizziness, and other health issues.4
Burning candles can release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, affecting indoor air quality. Inhaling VOCs can cause respiratory problems, headaches, and other health issues.4
Leaving candles unattended or placing them near flammable objects can present a significant fire hazard.
Health Effects of Candle Toxicity
Exposure to the chemicals found in candles can have various negative health effects. The most significant health risks associated with candle use include respiratory problems, allergies, skin irritation, increased cancer risk, and other health risks.
Safe Alternatives to Toxic Candles
If you love the ambiance of burning candles but are concerned about the health risks associated with traditional candles, there are several safe alternatives to consider.
Beeswax candles are a great alternative to traditional candles. It is a natural, renewable resource that is free from harmful chemicals. Beeswax candles also burn cleanly without releasing toxic chemicals into the air.7
Soy candles are another alternative to traditional candles. A natural and renewable resource, soy wax derives from soybeans. However, soy wax requires processing to turn it into a wax form suitable for candle use. Firstly, to create the solid form of soy wax, the soybean oil undergoes hydrogenation, a process that employs high heat and hydrogen gas. This heavy processing means soy wax is unnatural and can still contain harmful chemicals.1
Himalayan Salt Lamps
Himalayan salt lamps are also a popular alternative to traditional candles. Natural salt crystals make up Himalayan salt lamps and emit a warm, relaxing glow when lit. Furthermore, people believe that Himalayan salt lamps have air-purifying properties that enhance indoor air quality.8
Tips for Safe Candle Use
If you choose to burn traditional candles, there are several safety tips to keep in mind:
- Burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
- Keep candles away from flammable objects, such as curtains, bedding, and furniture.
- Never leave candles unattended while they are burning.
- Always trim the wick before lighting a candle to prevent excessive soot and smoke.
- Finally, use a candle snuffer to extinguish candles rather than blowing them out.
Candles can add warmth and ambiance to any space, but it’s important to know the potential health risks of burning traditional candles. By choosing safe alternatives, such as beeswax candles, soy candles, or Himalayan salt lamps, and practicing safe candle use, you can enjoy the ambiance of candles without the health risks.
- Gonsior M, Hertkorn N, Schmitt-Kopplin P, et al. Airborne emissions from burning candles with different composition of candle wax. Environmental Science & Technology. 2011;45(5):1792-1798.
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Ban of lead-containing candle wicks; final rule. Federal Register. 2003;68(167):52111-52114.
- Blomberg A, Lazaridis M, Jensen S, et al. Health effects of synthetic fragrance oils. Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal. 1999;54(5):347-356.
- California Environmental Protection Agency. Indoor air pollution: volatile organic compounds.
- Scheman R. The hidden dangers of scented candles. Huffington Post. February 14, 2015.
- Cho SH, Reponen T, LeMasters G, Levin L, Huang J, Ho SM. Microbial-induced volatile organic compounds and mold exposure in schools: a cohort study. Environmental Health. 2016;15:78.
- Natural Resources Defense Council. Beeswax candles. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/beeswax-candles. Accessed April 26, 2023.
- Harvard Health Publishing. The health benefits of Himalayan salt lamps. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-health-benefits-of-himalayan-salt-lamps-2019082117682. Accessed April 26, 2023.