Why are candles toxic? If you are using standard candles made from paraffin wax and artificial perfumes, then yes, these candles are known to be toxic when burned. I have been hearing from numerous sources that the conventional candle was a health culprit, and once I did, I wanted to research the topic and see what information I could find that would influence my future candle-burning habits.
Indeed, not all candles are created equal. In today’s market, you can find several different candles – from paraffin and soy to beeswax and many more. Likewise, you can find candles that are artificially scented to mimic air fresheners and ones that are scented with natural essential oils.
Knowing the candle ingredients and means of production can help you decide which candles to invest in for the health of your family, children, and pets. I am a firm believer that awareness and substitution for natural alternatives are key to alleviating most of our modern health issues caused by man-made toxic exposure.
The Evolution of Candle Production
Most conventional candles in the market today are made from paraffin wax, a byproduct of the petroleum industry and which is made from crude oil that is refined into gasoline. It is less expensive to make than any other wax, and by the 1850s, it replaced animal fat wax as the standard ingredient in most candles.
For example, most candles produced and utilized in the Victorian era before the 1850s usually came from animal fat or beeswax, but both had their disadvantages that the more durable inventions that followed could solve.
By the 1830s, stearic acid extracted from animal fat gave way to the production of stearin wax candles that burned cleaner, and as technology improved, paraffin wax became the most economical and clean-burning choice – a standard of candle production that still holds today.
But although paraffin candles proved to be resourceful and efficient, their chemical composition and release during high heat exposure have been of very little concern until recently.
Why Conventional Candles Are Toxic
When burned, paraffin releases soot that settles on household items, curtains, and walls. This soot is known to contain 11 toxins (nine-toxin exposure contributes to excess cancer risk), including naphthalene, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, benzene, and even lead.
Although most manufacturers had ceased using lead in the production of candles in the 1970s, by 2003, candles with lead wicks were still sold in the US. Since then, all production and sales of lead-containing candles have been banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). However, lead wicks are still sold and in use in many other countries.
Candles seem like such an ornate product we associate with joy, holidays, and gift-giving, that it is almost crushing to think that hiding behind the image of beautiful shapes and earthy fragrances lies a chemical warehouse ready to be unleashed!
In fact, a study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the ritual of paraffin lamp oil burning during Sabbath and other Jewish religious holidays exposed Orthodox Jewish children to a high risk of “aspiration with subsequent pneumonitis.”
You might be thinking to yourself: oh, come on! I light a few candles per year- big deal. But, this is akin to thinking that the few cheeseburgers, the few cigarettes, and the everyday use of chemical-filled cosmetics, and cleaning products will not put a cumulative strain on your immune system, liver, colon, and kidneys.
But while occasional exposure to toxins may be harmless, cumulative exposure to even small amounts of toxic levels daily may leave your body more vulnerable to inflammation and free radicals.
The extent of everyday chemical accumulation in our bodies can go beyond the body’s ability to keep up and constantly flush out acidity (with the help of other healthy habits). This is even more disturbing, given the fact that most babies born in the modern world inherit high levels of chemicals from their mothers through the umbilical cord – and most of these are the “harmless type” found in everyday products.
The Most Common Health Effects of Paraffin Candle Exposure
If you’re using candles properly in a well-ventilated space, they’re unlikely to have a significant impact on your health. However, as a natural health practitioner, I know that chemicals accumulate in our bodies over time and the accumulation (without detoxification) can cause significant health problems. Cancer takes about 8 years to turn into the diagnosable mass of malignant cells we know it to be.
When the body does all that it can to protect the vital organs and processes from damage and decay due to toxic and chemical accumulation, it then turns to compensation and self-protection.
Cancer is nothing but the body’s way of localizing acidic waste that cannot be expelled through the elimination organs and is hardened into a protective coat so that it cannot harm the body further.
However, if we don’t help the body properly flush it out due to the weakness of elimination organs and the stagnation of the lymphatic system (the body’s sewage system), the mass will grow until it causes irreversible and life-threatening damage.
This is exactly why I am very wary of scientific studies that point to no health damage when it comes to small amounts of chemical exposure. Not only do they study the health effects of exposure short-term (which is not within the time frame of how the body expresses disease), but they don’t understand how the body works and expresses this toxic build-up over time. All exposure matters and compounds!
Here are some of the most common health effects of paraffin candle exposure:
- Headaches and migraines
- Nausea and fatigue
- leukemia, lymphoma, and cancer
- kidney and liver damage
- Birth defects (using conventional candles is not safe during pregnancy)
- Damage to the bone marrow
- Lung irritation and respiratory problems
- Skin problems and rashes
- Chronic inflammation
- Body aches and pains
- Neurological damage (from candles with lead and other heavy metals)
Are Candles Bad for Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets?
Since paraffin candles are bad for our own well-being, they are absolutely worse for our pets (and children). Given that dogs, cats, and other pets have a heightened sense of smell, the soot, toxins, and artificial aromas found in conventional candles will irritate their nasal passages and cause mucosal irritation.
Our loved ones are also smaller and their nervous systems and sensitivity to toxins are more delicate. Because they are less accustomed genetically and epigenetically to thrive in domesticated, artificial settings like humans, their stress response and body adaptation to human man-made chemicals are more harmful and damaging.
Indoor air quality is essential for our pets’ well-being, and exposure to soot, smoke, and incense can easily damage their lungs. In fact, birds are the most sensitive to smoke and pollution, and you should abstain from any smoke/burning exposure around them to avoid serious health issues.
Although smoke and soot in themselves are very harmful to pets, so are the different smells, fragrances, and aromas found in scented candles, incense, essential oil diffusion, and artificial air fresheners. Generally, cats tend to be more sensitive to scents than dogs, and exposure to them can cause or exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions.
What Are the Best Eco-Friendly Candle Alternatives?
I am happy to report that there are two great alternatives to paraffin candles that are available in many health-food and indoor-product stores. These candles are made from either soy wax, beeswax, coconut wax and other plant wax, burn twice as long (or longer) and release very little soot and no toxins (or negligible) into the air. They are safe and made from nature’s best sources. Here is more about them:
Soy candles are biodegradable and made from soybeans. Most soy candles are made with lead-free wicks and from environmentally-friendly materials that are human-friendly too! Since soybean candles burn at a cooler temperature, the candles burn longer. It is also a wonderful, cruelty-free vegan alternative. Soy candles are probably the cheapest natural alternatives to paraffin candles, and are the most resourceful when buying in bulk.
Beeswax candles are an even more attractive choice because when burned, they clean the air by emitting negative ions into the atmosphere. For many spiritual healers and meditators, beeswax candles are the preferred candles for concentration and connection with the pure energy emitted by the honey-scented candle. Beeswax is produced in the glands of worker bees who secrete the substance- along with honey.
The only disadvantage of beeswax candles is that they are not vegan and their market demand can facilitate bee cruelty.
Coconut Wax Candles
are made from the cold-pressed meat of the coconut and are usually blended with other harder plant waxes to create soot-free and smoke-free candles. They are one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly options when it comes to candle making and burning, and are some of the best vegan-friendly candle alternatives available in the market today!
There are many household products that we use daily that we would not necessarily suspect could be harmful to our health. Unfortunately, given the state of business production in modern times that values efficiency and cheap resources for profit, we must be empowered as consumers to choose the best products for our health – supporting the missions of eco-friendly small businesses that care about the effects of their products on consumers and the environment.
Since we associate candles with stress relief, emotional balance, holidays, and spirituality/religion, it is easy to assume that they are “good for us” and serve our well-being. Unfortunately, cultural affiliations can often be misleading, and it inevitably falls on us to stay informed and be aware of what we consume, believe, and do unconsciously.
Paraffin candles have been around for a long time and continue to be widely used for many purposes. Unfortunately, their usage is associated with many respiratory problems, and prolonged exposure to their soot, toxins and artificial fragrances can cause more severe health issues over time, including cancer, kidney and liver damage, and birth defects.
Are you currently experiencing symptoms of inflammation and toxicity due to indoor household pollution and lifestyle? If so, detoxification is the process of safely and effectively removing toxins from the body and strengthening and regenerating all the tissues.
Here are just a few of my articles to help you learn more about natural detoxification and how you can start on your detox journey safely and effectively:
If you’d like to learn more about how to take your health back by understanding your body and the how-to of detoxification, I wrote this practical guide to help you do just that!