Back in the day, I couldn’t stand candles. It’s not that I hated them; they were just boring. Who cares about a tub of wax you can light a flame on? And they were everywhere. Every store, kiosk, mall had candles in this scent and that scent. Big and small, square and round. There were literally candles for every nook and cranny possible in a home. Why?
Then I grew up (and grew into my mother, apparently. Hi Mom!). Lighting candles became a relaxing ritual at the end of each day. The scents that filled my bedroom brought calmness and clarity. They were a dimension of comfort that I sought while trying to deal with the stress of the chaos in my life. It happened. I fell in love. Candles in every color and scent began to speak to my soul.
THE CULPRIT AND THE VICTIMS
Being that they could be purchased everywhere, my mom and I acquired quite a little collection. We would light one or two occasionally, but Mom prefers to use a lot of her candles as decorations. But as I was hanging out at home one night, catching up with the family, something happened:
The electricity went out.
In our town, we have the kind of service where a monsoon can hit and we’re doing great. But as soon as the wind blows, or we get a little sprinkle of rain, bam! There goes the electricity. Well, that’s just what happened one evening. No problem, we thought, as my mom pulled out six or seven candles to light and placed them on the tables to illuminate the living room. The patio door was open, the sound of the rain was relaxing, but boy…
Did I not feel well.
Occasionally, I get headaches. Not any more or less than the average person, but it happens sometimes. Ok, so I’m sure this is just a random headache…
Until my mom stopped talking and laid down on the couch. When I asked her what was wrong, she said that she was getting nauseous. What the heck was going on? Eventually, the lights kicked back on and the candles were blown out, but my mom lay sick for the rest of the night. It wasn’t until my dad mentioned it to someone at work that we discovered the probable cause: the candles. It sparked my investigation.
Candles are most commonly made of paraffin wax. Paraffin is basically refined gasoline. It’s a chemical concoction made from the petroleum remnants found at the bottom of crude oil barrels. And you know what? It stinks. To cover up the smell (and to appeal to the preferences of different people), synthetic fragrances and oils are added to the candles. But what are synthetic fragrances? They’re combinations of potentially hazardous chemicals meant to trick your brain and your sense of smell, including, but not limited to, acetone, benzyl acetate, camphor, ethanol, and methylene chloride. These chemicals affect your central nervous system by inducing nausea, dizziness (which explained the situation with my mom), drowsiness, headaches, fatigue, and throat, skin, lungs, and eye irritation. Research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency compares the toxins that paraffin candles give off to those of breathing diesel fumes or from inhaling second hand cigarette smoke. Personally, I’m not too keen on either of those, especially knowing that a lot of the pollutants in those candles have been linked to cancer.
In addition to releasing a plethora of toxins, paraffin wax candles release soot and smoke that stick to walls and cycle throughout household ventilation systems, exposing you to the toxins even after you blow out the flame. Have you ever noticed that black soot film inside a candle glass? The American Lung Association even says “Refrain from burning scented or slow-burning candles that have additives.” Slowly, light is being shed on this issue.
Go 100% natural with your candles. But what does that mean? The two best options are to purchase 100% beeswax candles or 100% soy candles — keep your eyes peeled, though, and always read labels. To technically be labeled “beeswax,” a candle only needs to contain 51% of that product. To be labeled “soy,” a candle only needs to be 25%! The rest of it is oftentimes a paraffin blend, so make sure you check those ingredient lists and look for 100% pure quality. Beeswax and soy candles also burn more slowly, so you end up getting a better deal for your money.
I personally prefer soy candles. They burn clean, last longer, smell better and stronger, and they support American soybean agriculture.
[Although, that is another discussion in and of itself. Monsanto, a villain in the fight for greener living, is a company that controls 90% of US soybean production. That 90% is genetically modified, a method that is unhealthy, permanently contaminates, and has dangerous side effects. It's important to only consume organic soy products when going the soy route.]
There aren’t any particular cons to beeswax candles; I just tend to find prettier colored and more interesting ones in soy. Soy candles are all natural and toxic chemical free. I like that I can feel good about lighting candles daily because of that!
Here are a couple places to purchase 100% soy and beeswax candles. My favorites are the soy candles by Swan Creek Candle Company.
Swan Creek Candle Co. (Soy)
Caterpillars Candles (Soy)
Beelite Candles (Beeswax & Soy)
Santa Fe Beeswax Candle Co. (Beeswax)
Sheer Balance – Are Scented Candles Bad for You?
UK Daily Mail – Candle-lit Cancer and Scented Candles
Benefits of Soy Candles