We all love candles for their relaxing soft, warm glow and luscious scents. They seem like a harmless and beautiful addition to any home, right?

Well, there are candles and there are candles and it’s really important to overcome the seeming innocence of the typical candle and be consciously aware of the difference!

The potential hazards of candles

I know this may make it sound like candles are on a secret undercover mission to ruin the world and you might well find the above sub title humorous, but there is a serious side effect of candle usage and one that could be having a negative impact on the air quality of your home and your health also!

“Candles are fast becoming one of the most common unrecognized causes of poor indoor air quality,” says Diane Walsh Astry, Executive Director of the Health House Project, an American Lung Association education project in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Problems with some candles include the type of wax used, addition of synthetic fragrances and toxic chemicals and the potential for the wick to contain toxic heavy metals.

Dangerous wicks

Once upon a time, many scented candles contained lead-core wicks. Fragranced oils have the effect of softening the wax, so the manufacturers used lead to make the wicks stand firm. The problem is of course that when these particular wicks are burnt they can release toxic heavy metal particles including lead into the atmosphere where they can be inhaled or deposited on surfaces.

Exposure to high amounts of lead has been linked to hormone disruption, behavioural problems, learning disabilities, and numerous health problems. (source)

In Australia and the US, the use of metal wicks has been banned since the early 2000s, however regulations in countries such as China are not as stringent and studies have found that as many as 30% of candles still contain heavy metals in the wicks.

Poisionous wax

Candles made of paraffin wax, the final byproduct in the petroleum refining chain, release carcinogenic soot when burned. The soot can cause respiratory problems and will aggravate the conditions of those who already have asthma, lung, or heart problems. Paraffin candles can also leave your house with nasty soot residue damaging your interiors and electrical appliances.

“Petro-soot from paraffin candles gives off the same soot as the exhaust of a diesel engine, and is considered just as dangerous as second hand smoke, causing problems from headaches to lung cancer. Paraffin fumes have been found to cause tumours in the kidneys and liver of lab animals.” (source)

Chemical cocktail

Some candles when burnt leave a sooty residue that may contain two particularly toxic chemicals, benzene and toluene. Benzene is cancer-causing and toluene affects the central nervous system.

Other toxic chemicals that may be present in candle wax and released through burning include:

  • Acetone
  • Trichlorofluoromethane
  • Carbon Disulfide
  • 2-Butanone
  • Trichloroethane
  • Trichloroethene
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Tetrachloroethene
  • Chlorobenzene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Styrene
  • Xylene
  • Phenol
  • Cresol
  • Cyclopentene (source)

Some of the above toxins are found in other products such as paint, lacquer and varnish removers. Scary I know!

Noxious fragrances

“Fragrance” is a blanket term which can encompass 3,000+ unidentified (as they are usually closely guarded company trade secrets) mixture of ingredients including:

  • Carcinogens
  • Allergens
  • Respiratory irritants
  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Neurotoxic chemicals
  • Environmental Toxicants (source)

A recent study by the University of Melbourne, found that one in three Australians report adverse health effects from fragranced products, including breathing problems, migraine headaches, skin irritation and asthma attacks.

But wait… there’s more!

Many candles contain phthalates. Phthalates (pronounced “THAL ates”) are solvents with a wide variety of applications, but in the candle industry they are sometimes used because they help fragrances last longer.

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? Unfortunately however, they are also known endocrine disruptors that have been linked to:

  • Birth defects
  • Breast cancer (possibly)
  • Infertility
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Autism and ADHD from exposure in the womb (source)

So can you have your candle and burn it too?

Thankfully, yes.

Generally non-scented beeswax candles are safe and emit negative ions as a bonus!

There are also a few candle manufacturers who consciously produce clean candles using non-GM natural soy with no added chemicals or stabilisers, pure organic paper/cotton wicks and only use 100% pure essential oils as fragrance.

We love the Aroma range of Conscious Candles hand produced in Australia from all natural, non-toxic ingredients. Their combinations of oils are simply divine and environmentally friendly packaging makes them our top candle picks.