Is Your Scented Candle Toxic?

The truth is many people aren’t aware of what they’re actually burning (and inhaling!) when they light those pretty scented candles. That’s why I’ve put together a list of toxins to avoid when buying and burning scented candles:

1. The Wax

Most candles are made from paraffin wax. Paraffin wax starts literally at the “bottom of the barrel”—the bottom of an oil barrel. After petroleum is processed into diesel gasoline, motor oil, kerosene, and other “saleable” fuels, the rejected oil is separated through crystallization, heated, and mixed with one or moresolvents, such as a ketone, and then cooled. The soot created by burning a paraffin wax candle in your home contains the same toxins found in diesel fuel. Stanford University’s aeronautics and astronautics department launched a rocket into space with paraffin as rocket fuel. (This is the same paraffin wax found in nail salons!)

The American Lung Association issued a warning in 2005 that paraffin candles can emit a dizzying array of known carcinogens, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acetone, benzene, 2-butanone, carbon disulfide, carbon tetrachloride, creosol, chlorobenzene carbon monoxide, cyclopentene, ethylbenzene, phenol, styrene tetrachloroethene, toluene, and xylene. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that candles made from paraffin wax give off emissions that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for outdoor air quality.

Instead: Look for coconut- or beeswax-based candles, preferably from organic, non-GMO sources. They can be more costly than paraffin, but either kind burns longer and cleaner than paraffin.

2. The Scent

Synthetic fragrances are primarily derived from petrochemicals. A 1986 report by the National Academy of Sciences explains that 95 percent of the chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum and include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and other known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions. Manufacturers are allowed to legally hide their “trade secret” synthetic fragrance concoctions, many of which contain phthalates—known endocrine/hormone disruptors (EDCs). The World Health Organization recently called EDCs a global threat to fertility.

Instead: Look for candles scented with pure essential oils.

3. The Color

Many dyes are made from crude coal tar. This tar is the by-product created during the destructive distillation of bituminous coal. Benzene and toluene are just a few of the toxic by-products of coal tar dyes. Blue #1 and #2, Green #3, Red #3 and #40, and Yellow #5 and #6 are some of the most common synthetic dyes made from coal tar. The safety of added colors used to tint candles depends on the ingredients of the dye. However, most synthetic dyes will give off unsafe particles while burning.
Instead: Pass on the pretty colors and stick to chemical-dye-free candles.

4. The Wick

Candlewicks are typically made from either “non-cored” (twisted fibers, look for cotton) or “cored” with metal wire inside the fiber for rigid support. Metal cores are most often made of cadmium, lead, zinc, or tin. Lead and cadmium bio-accumulate in the body, and lead can adversely affect the central nervous system, heart, and kidneys. Chronic exposure in adults is associated with endocrine and reproductive problems. Children are at higher risk, as lead exposure has also been linked with depressed intelligence and behavior problems in children. According to the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), cadmium inhalation is carcinogenic to humans. Cadmium is also known to be toxic to the liver, kidneys, bones, and immune and endocrine system.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (published in 2000) indicated that candles with wicks containing lead were available at 12 different stores in the Washington-Baltimore area. Testing showed that the candle with the least lead would still produce enough lead concentration in the air in just 45 minutes to exceed the recommended daily lead limit for a normally active 6-year-old.

The researchers concluded that there is no reliable method to distinguish lead-containing wicks from other metal-cored wicks.

Instead: Look for candles with cotton wicks.

Article Credit: Ava Anderson, safe products advocate