Whether it’s accompanying a relaxing soak in the tub, a Netflix binge on the sofa or a session working from home, there’s not many situations that can’t be improved by a scented candle. With its flickering flame and transporting scent, there’s something instantly calming about lighting a candle.
However, could our much-loved candles pose hidden dangers? According to many scaremongering headlines, it seems so. The most concerning culprit? Paraffin wax. ‘Inhaling paraffin wax fumes may cause irritation to the respiratory tract, coughing and shortness of breath. The fumes may also irritate the eyes or cause nausea’, argues Kershen Teo, perfumer and founder of Prosody London. ‘You will breathe in any chemicals your candles emit unless your house is very well ventilated’, he added.
Dr Nick Hopkinson, Medical Director at the British Lung Foundation, supports Teo’s concerns. ‘Indoor air pollution from anything burnt inside the home, including candles, can have a serious impact on our health. Smoke particles linger in the air and can be inhaled’, Dr Hopkinson explained. ‘This can worsen symptoms for people living with lung conditions like asthma or COPD, especially for children.’
While a 2009 study from South Carolina State University found that burning paraffin wax produced carcinogenic emissions of benzene and toluene, the jury’s still out, and the NHS website questioned the validity of these findings considering the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed or published. In fact, others argue that the amount of fumes burned from a candle couldn’t cause health damage. ‘The recommended maximum exposure to burning paraffin wax is 2mg/m3 over an eight hour working day and most people are unlikely to exceed this from burning candles, unless they use them very regularly in a confined area,’ GP Clare Morrison pointed out.
Whether you are convinced by the argument or not, one thing is for sure, paraffin wax is bad news for the environment. A petroleum by-product of crude oil, it’s an unsustainable non-renewable source of energy and it’s known to emit huge amounts of pollution. Although it seems like avoiding paraffin is a no brainer for our planet, this doesn’t mean ditching your candles completely.
As a reaction to the growing worries around the health and environmental implications of paraffin wax, there’s been a rise in candle companies using alternative waxes. Soya wax is by far the most popular substitute, and luckily it ticks the eco-friendly box as it’s a renewable source of energy. It also tends to burn longer and doesn’t leave that dreaded black residue that can stain both your walls and the candle jar itself.
Not all soya candles are made equal though and if you want a 100% natural and sustainable candle choice, it’s worth checking the soy wax hasn’t been chemically processed. Beyond soya, there’s also beeswax and coconut wax or companies that use a blend of the three.
In terms of other claims against candles, the argument about lead wicks falls short considering lead hasn’t been used in candle production since the 1970s. Synthetic fragrance, used across the perfumery industry and within the majority of candle production, are shunned by some but the evidence around health issues is inconclusive. It comes down to personal preference and if you eschew non-natural ingredients across your beauty routine it would make sense to follow suit when candle shopping.
If candles still concern you, there are other alternatives to scenting your home. Essential oil diffusers (check out Neom or Neal’s Yard) offer a burn-free aroma while fresh flowers or old-fashioned potpourri offer a purely natural option.
And, when it comes to clean candles (ones that use non-paraffin wax and often natural fragrance), we’re truly spoilt for choice. Shop our favourites below:
This article first appeared on ELLE UK.