Scented, paraffin candles can pollute a room with almost as many toxins as those produced by cigarette smoke, according to the UK’s Daily Mail.
Candles can be made with beeswax, soy or other plant waxes, such as palm, babyberry, but the majority of candles sold commercially are made from paraffin wax, a byproduct of petroleum refining. The American Chemical Society says paraffin can give off toluene, benzene, and a other toxins linked to asthma, eczema and lung cancer.
Lung cancer from a scented candle? Well, “an occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will probably not affect you,” said Amid Hamidi, a professor at South Carolina University who studied paraffin-based candles. “But lighting many of them every day for years, or lighting them frequently in an unventilated bathroom, for example, may cause problems.” I like Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel’s take:
If you’re constantly surrounding your bed with hundreds of votive candles like they do on soap operas, you may want to find another way to signal to your partner that sex is imminent (Display a painting of waves crashing on the beach, perhaps?) The rest of us should crack a window when we light a candle and stop inhaling fumes emitted by things we picked up at the dollar store. Let’s save the hysteria for another day, particularly because we have a sneaking suspicion that shampoo has been plotting against us.
Let’s leave the ramifications of imminent shampoo rebellion for another time, though; there are ways other than wax that many scented candles may be trying to kill you. Your average mulberry or french vanilla candle is made with synthetic fragrances and dyes that can release carcinogens and other sources of indoor air pollution. Research by the U.S. EPA has shown that scented candles give off more soot than unscented candles. And Dutch scientists, who measured the air particles in churches that burned candles for up to nine hours, found ten times as many damaging free radicals in the air inside the churches as they did in the air beside a highway. According to the Daily Mail, these soot particles can “penetrate the deepest parts of the lung.”
So what kind of candles won’t up your risk of respiratory ailments? Overall, unscented, undyed candles with non-cored wicks (made from braided or twisted fibre, instead of wrapping metal or paper in cotton) release the cleanest soot and least-toxic smoke, the EPA says. Wicks burn cleaner when they’re not too long (about 1/4 inch is best). If you are burning paraffin or synthetically-scented candles, do it in a room that;s well ventilated but also free of draft (draftiness can produce more soot).
Then again, you could just buy candles made with non-paraffin-based wax, essential oils and other natural ingredients. There are no shortage of natural candle options on Etsy. For cheap, natural beeswax candles, try your local farmer’s market.