Be Aware of These Toxic Candle Compounds
Are candles toxic? As with other products, it all depends on the ingredients. If you love the aroma of scented candles or the warm glow of flickering candlelight in your home, shop smart to make sure you aren't impacting environmental air quality. Use this guide to identify hazardous candle ingredients and learn about choosing safe, toxin-free candles.
These common candles are made of a petroleum byproduct called paraffin, which results from the gasoline manufacturing process. According to the Missouri Poison Center, burning paraffin wax candles releases toxins such as petroleum and acetone, which can cause lung irritation and breathing problems for those who have allergies, asthma, and other pre-existing lung issues. In addition, bleach added to paraffin during the candle manufacturing process can result in similar health problems when released into the air.
Limited research has revealed concerns about potential environmental toxins released by burning paraffin wax candles, but a 2007 study funded by the European Candle Association found that more than 300 different candle materials including paraffin wax do not release toxins at a level that could affect humans.
If you're wary of paraffin, alternatives abound. Shop for candles made completely of beeswax, soy, or coconut oil. Avoid blends that contain a percentage of paraffin, and look for 100% cotton wicks to further maintain good air quality. While lead wicks have been banned for many years, candle manufacturers still use zinc and tin wicks that can release trace heavy metals.
Volatile Organic Compounds and Particulate Matter
Burning candles releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter into the air. Some have concerns that the minuscule particles and liquid drops that make up particulate matter can cause respiratory and cardiac problems if we inhale them.
VOCs are common carbon compounds that come from pollution, exhaust, and other sources including burning candles. Some VOCs, including benzene and formaldehyde, are carcinogenic substances that are associated with increased cancer risk.
Fortunately, many brands do make all-natural, VOC-free candles. Opening the windows when you burn candles can reduce exposure to potentially harmful compounds and particulate matter.
Fragrance and Color
Candles that have artificial fragrances can also release carcinogens into the air you breathe. By the same token, dyes made from synthetic ingredients reduce air quality compared to those made from natural and plant-based compounds. Some artificial colors and fragrances even contain thousands of different chemicals, each with potential health effects.
If you're interested in the atmosphere rather than the fragrance, you can simply select unscented candles. Otherwise, look for brands that scent their candles with essential oils instead of harmful additives and use natural dye or none at all.
Safe Candle Alternatives
Some people have an allergy to one or more of the ingredients in candles. Stop burning any type of candle if someone in your home experiences hives, rashes, runny nose, congestion, sneezing, coughing, sinus problems, headache, or eye irritation when you light it.
Instead of burning candles if you experience irritation or have concerns about air quality, look for electric candles that provide a similar experience without combustion. Aromatherapy products that warm essential oils with a diffuser are another safe alternative to reduce exposure to candle toxins.
If you decide to burn candles, consider running an air purifier in addition to opening the windows. This device uses a high-efficiency filter to remove contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, mold spores, and other toxins. Trim the wick of the candle to no more than 15 millimeters to reduce the amount of smoke it releases and use a snuffer rather than blowing the candle out to extinguish it.
Following these strategies can help you enjoy candles safely.