Are Scented Candles Toxic?
Who doesn’t love the warmth and aroma of a beautifully scented candle? The warm soft glow and the soothing scent make you feel better instantly. And how lovely it is to come home to a warm, calming, and beautifully scented candle after a stressful day at work – the simple pleasures of life, isn’t it?
Scented candles are in a way just perfect, whether you are looking for a birthday gift for your loved one or creating a relaxed ambience to unwind and cosy up. They are even the go-to for most people to mask unpleasant odours at home (you can also read our other article if you are still deciding among candles, diffusers, or incense).
But do we really know what is in those warm, fuzzy scented candles? Are the fragrances or wax in these scented candles safe? Unfortunately, the seemingly innocent candle that you light up so frequently might be doing more damage than relaxing your body. Are scented candles toxic? Does this mean you have to give up on your beloved scented candles? Are there environmentally-friendly scented candles that can work as alternatives?
Let’s find out what makes your candles hazardous and what can you do or use instead to help yourself as well as the environment.
What Makes Scented Candles Dangerous?
There are many research and studies that narrow down the problems with scented candles into 3 major things. To know whether are scented candles toxic, we’d have to look into the following:
- Lead core wicks
- Paraffin wax
- Synthetic fragrances
Lead Core Wicks
The wicks in candles can be a major source of toxins. In the US, lead-based candle wicks have been banned for over two decades. These wicks are supposed to be made of cotton or paper, which are neither toxic nor release any harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, lead-core wicks can still be found in the market. In fact, multiple studies have found that as much as 30% of the candles still contain heavy metals in the wicks.
How do scented candles work: the wick
The problem with scented candles with a lead wick is that it releases 5 times more than the amount of lead that is considered hazardous for children. What makes it scary is that you don’t even need to light the candles to release these chemicals. If you’re wondering, are scented candles toxic? Get this: an uncovered candle can release pollutants in the air simply by evaporation. And when you touch a lead-wick candle, you can absorb some of these chemicals through the skin.
In fact, exposure to very high amounts of lead has been linked to health issues like learning disabilities in children, hormonal disruption, and behavioural problems.
So, how do you know if the candle you bought has a cotton/paper wick or a lead wick? It’s quite simple. First of all, you can always check the ingredients on the label. But if you want to be doubly sure then you can test it yourself.
Simply take a white paper, rub it on the wick of an un-burnt candle, and if the wick leaves behind a grey mark, something like you get from a pencil, then there is lead in it. If the paper remains white with no grey marks, then you are good to go!
Most candles in the market are made using paraffin wax, which is a chemically bleached, petroleum waste product. Paraffin wax when burnt releases benzene and toluene, both highly toxic carcinogens. In addition to these toxins, the petro-soot released from paraffin candles are the same as what is found in diesel fumes and are in fact, as bad as second-hand smoke. Scary, right? This answer to the question — are scented candles toxic, is indeed scary because inhaling these toxins can cause health problems like headaches to even lung cancer (with prolonged use).
Despite the risks and issues with paraffin, brands do tend to use it simply because paraffin is cheaper as compared to natural waxes like coconut wax, beeswax, or soy wax.
The various fragrance notes that fill up your room when you burn your favourite candle can actually be causing breathing problems, aggravating allergies and asthma with prolonged use. This is because most of the candles in the market are filled with synthetic fragrances.
Synthetic fragrances that are used in scented candles contain phthalates, which are chemical compounds, referred to as plasticizers. Phthalates are used as solvents that help enhance the fragrance in a range of products like skincare, cosmetics, nail polishes, and even candles under the disguise of “fragrance”.
How do scented candles work with synthetic fragrances
When these types of candles are burnt, phthalates are released in the air from where they can be either inhaled or absorbed through the skin. There are studies, which reveal that when phthalates enter the bloodstream, they can aggravate conditions like asthma and also disrupt hormonal levels.
Apart from the above 3 problems, burning scented candles releases volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and particulate matter in the air. This is also important to note when answering the question are scented candles toxic? While formaldehyde is known to increase the risk of cancer, particulate matter is nothing but a mixture of particles and extremely small liquid droplets that can enter our lungs.
Environmentally Friendly Scented Candles
With so many harmful effects that we listed above, you might be thinking that you would have to say goodbye to your warm, fuzzy, and aromatic candles. But fret not! There are many natural and chemical-free alternatives that you can opt for.
1. Unscented Natural-Wax Candles
If you are just looking for that warm glow that candles add to your room/house then go for unscented candles made from natural wax-like coconut wax.
2. Natural-wax Candles
Go for all-natural candles that are made from renewable resources like, coconut wax, beeswax, soy wax, or vegetable wax. Research shows that natural plant-based wax candles release the lowest number of chemical pollutants.
Candles made from coconut wax are completely environmentally friendly and sustainable. They are in fact slow-burning and have a superior scent throw. They can hold fragrances very well and ensure that you have your favourite scent lingering in your room for long.
You can even opt for beeswax candles that help clean indoor air. Although there are no concrete studies to support this claim, it is said that they emit negative ions, which help clear bacteria, pollen, and more. They also tend to burn longer than soy and paraffin candles.
3. Cotton or Paper Wick Candles
Cotton or paper-wick candles are safe to burn and don’t release any particles or contain any lead in them. Always check the label and look for candles with cotton or paper wicks.
4. Natural Fragrances and Essential Oils Candles
Buy candles that have natural fragrances created from essential oils. Essential oils are nothing but oils derived from plants and flowers – absolutely natural and with added benefits. Natural fragrances when inhaled into the body do not have any harmful effects as compared to synthetic fragrances.
Are Scented Candles Toxic?
We understand that most of you love burning your scented candles and it might not be so easy to give up on them, especially if you’ve found the scented candles that actually work for you. So, until you get your hands on those natural and healthier alternatives, you can follow these simple steps:
- Make sure that the room is well-ventilated when burning a scented candle. This will ensure that the soot or particulate matter does not linger in the room for too long.
- Always make sure that you trim the wicks to 1/8 inch before lighting a candle. This will help reduce the amount of soot released when burning scented candles.
- Additionally, reduce the amount of time you burn the candles. Because the longer they burn, the more the amount of pollution they will be creating.
Hopefully, this article has helped you with everything you needed to know to determine whether are scented candles toxic? By knowing what to look out for, and understanding how do scented candles work, you’ll be able to choose scented candles that you will enjoy without any health risks to you and those around you. So, go ahead, choose your environmentally-friendly scented candles, and escape in the warmth and aromas of your favourite scented candle!