The Problem With Scented Candles

Whether you're creating a spa sanctuary at home or enjoying dinner by candlelight, candles make for an inviting atmosphere. But did you know that scented candles emit a host of dangerous chemicals that may have a negative impact on your health over time?

December 21, 2015
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Scented candles have always been associated with all things positive. During the winter holiday months, they provide warmth and a festive atmosphere. When you’re stressed, there’s nothing more relaxing than lighting some candles and drawing a hot bath at home. Whether you’re enjoying an evening yoga class or a romantic meal with your significant other, scented candles help set the mood. That’s why I was sad to learn that many candles can have a toxic impact on indoor air quality, which over time may even cause a number of health problems. But not to worry, you can choose safe alternatives.

What’s in a candle?

Most candles are made with paraffin, the same wax used to soften your hands and feet when you get a manicure and pedicure. But what you might not know is that it’s basically a petroleum waste product created when crude oil is refined into gasoline. Yuck. What’s more, paraffin wax also produces black soot, which can penetrate the deep areas of your most vulnerable lung tissue when it is inhaled.

Then there’s the wick. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most U.S. manufacturers have said that they won’t use wicks made with lead, but they aren’t mandated to do so. If the candles are imported from other countries (and more than a third are), there’s no telling whether a seemingly innocent wick is laced with lead. As you can imagine, lead doesn’t improve your indoor air quality but actually hurts it. Breathing in even low amounts of lead can do damage to your nervous system. The side effects from lead exposure include hypertension, depression, kidney disease, anxiety, irritability, learning difficulties, problems with concentration, and the list goes on.

What about the scent?

Scented candles often contain phthalates, chemical ingredients that are used to spread scent throughout the air. Phthalates–also found in air fresheners, perfume, plastics, and other personal care products–are known endocrine disruptors that can cause hormone abnormalities, negatively affecting reproduction and even causing birth defects. Artificial scents may appear to be derived from pine needles, pumpkin pie, and sour apple, but often these scents are made from a laundry list of chemicals that in no way come from nature. Many scented candles emit dangerous chemicals like benzene and toluene, two known carcinogens.

Choosing a safe alternative

Finding alternatives to paraffin candles with toxic fragrances is actually pretty easy, you just have to know what to look for. Choose unscented candles that use cotton wicks. Beeswax and soy candles are a popular alternative, but you still have to be aware of how much and how long you’re burning candles in a room. And if you care about whether your products are made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), soy candles may not be right for you (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a certified organic soy candle). Another great alternative is supporting local handmade candle manufacturers that use safe, nontoxic ingredients.

Essential oils can purify indoor air safely

If you really just want to freshen stale indoor air, diffusing pure essential oils is a great alternative to scented candles or air fresheners (which are toxic). They don’t require you to burn anything and can have great therapeutic effects (they are what is used in most fancy spas). There are a number of methods of diffusing essential oils, but my favorites are a nebulizer or ultrasonic diffusers, which seem to work much better at dispersing fragrance. To further clean the air, if it’s warm enough, open the windows daily to freshen up your air. Or consider adding plants to your home that purify the air, such as aloe vera, spider plants, and Gerber daisies. You can also add a Moso Natural Air Purifying Bag to each room in the house.

Most scented candles have no place in the home because they emit dangerous chemicals. That delicious scent may seem like it comes from Mother Nature, but in reality, it’s an artificial scent created in a chemical laboratory. Fortunately, if you educate yourself, you can choose safe alternatives. Beeswax candles add that same romantic glow to your home without known carcinogens like lead, benzene, phthalates, and toluene. Essential oils can freshen stale air in your home and even make it smell like a spa. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, creating a spa retreat at home, or enjoying a candlelit dinner, choose a safer way to enhance the mood.

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