Article Archive - candles, toxins

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Illuminating Thoughts – Toxic Candles

Paraffin candles are as dangerous to the lungs as second-hand smoke and even more so if you are in the habit of burning many at the same time.  It is also a non-renewable resource.  Ever smell one?  They stink. (info)


I enjoy using candles.  Don’t you?  Candles are warming, romantic, inspiring.  Relaxing, comforting, symbolic.  Burning them conjure different emotional responses for everyone who delights in them.  Consumer reports indicate that candles are ‘in’ once again.  Perhaps a 70’s revival or a nesting desire in increasingly troubled times.

Yet do we ever think about what it really is that we are burning or inhaling?


Paraffin candles are the most commonly burned candles worldwide. And are the most dangerous to our health.


Paraffin is an inexpensive sludge waste product of the petroleum industry that has been bleached then texturised with acrolyn, a known carcinogenic product.  Supposedly an inert substance, if you have much faith in government/industry released information. However, once burned it releases toxins that are known carcinogens such as benzene and toluene which are inhaled and linger in the areas they are burned in. Not to mention the soot that leaves its residue on walls, eventually greying fabrics and ceilings.  Soot from paraffin candles contains many of the same toxins found in diesel fuel. 


Paraffin candles are as dangerous to the lungs as second-hand smoke and even more so if you are in the habit of burning many at the same time.  It is also a non-renewable resource.  Ever smell one?  They stink.


Supposedly, paraffin for candles is ‘food grade’ – clearly a lie.  The problem appears when we burn them. It is no longer recommended to be used in contact with food – remember grandmother sealing the jams with a layer of paraffin?  Yes, we survived that era but life was simpler and cleaner then.  Today we have to deal with cumulative factors detrimental to our health that never existed before.


Then there is the problem with lead in the wicks.  Though lead has not been used since the 70’s in most of Central Europe and the USA, cheaper candles from other countries such as Asia or South America can still be seen on the market.  Burning only a few with leaded wicks for 3 hours will increase levels 9 to 11 times over acceptable lead levels.


Gel candles though pretty because of the crystal clearness are likewise petroleum based or made from synthetic hydrocarbons.  Think of them as petroleum turned into jelly with a few more added toxins thrown in such as butylated hydroxyl toluene. Pretty, but absolutely not a good idea.


Soy candles are relatively new on the selection palate and began appearing early 90’s.  Invented in the USA and made from hydrogenated soy, palm and coconut oils, soy candles burn slower and last about 50% longer than paraffin candles. They burn cooler and have very little soot, and drips are easily cleaned up however, the flame is not considered a ‘warm’ flame.  Some feel the ‘magic’ is missing with soy candles.  By purchasing soy candles, you are supporting the omnipresent American soy industry which farms mostly genetically manipulated soy.  Soy candles lay in price between the cheaper paraffin candles and beeswax candles.  Soy tapers may bend at warm room temperatures and are often blended with stearin (stearic acid)  a substance derived from animal or vegetable sources to harden them.


Beeswax candles.  Ahh…my absolute favourite.  Warm and sweet smelling, they symbolize for me a connection to the Earth.  Beeswax is a by-product of honey and is made from the ‘caps’ of the honeycomb. These are the most expensive candles, but are price effective as they last up to three times longer than paraffin and twice as long as soy candles. Unlike paraffin, they are from a sustainable source – originating from flowers, fuelled by the sun and processed by bees. 


They burn cleanly, don’t drip when properly used and give off negative ions that help concentration and clear the air.  They are also non-allergenic and can help soothe the symptoms of hay fever, asthma and allergy sufferers.  Natural beeswax candles are commonly golden to amber but can also be found almost black.  Ivory coloured candles have gone through a special process to lighten them, which unfortunately weakens the natural honey scent.  When purchasing, be certain that the label states 100% beeswax – some countries allow as little as 10% beeswax to still be labelled ‘beeswax’.  A ‘blended’ beeswax candle most assuredly has paraffin or stearin. 


Natural beeswax candles are a healthy, soothing comfort for us too.  They  feel warm to the touch, and are simply magical! 


related article:  A Burning Question - Are aromatic candles safe?


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  The Epicurean Table   www.epicureantable.com © 2006

Patricia Conant,  columnist and food writer   

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