April 3, 2008


by Jennifer Smith

Candles have been used for thousands of years to create ambiance, light, warmth, and fragrance. Most candles are made of paraffin wax due to their cost effectiveness in using a petroleum by-product.

The main health concern with traditional paraffin wax candles is that the properties of paraffin wax, a derivative of crude oil, as well as the metal core wicks traditionally used are polluting our homes.

The EPA states that indoor air quality is 3 times more polluted than outdoor air quality. Paraffin contributes substantially to the decline in indoor air quality and begs for a healthier alternative. Paraffin wax emits 11 toxins documented by the American Lung Association, 2 of which are known carcinogens–toluene and benzene.

Additionally, paraffin candles release petrol-carbon soot, which emanates from a burning candle damaging walls and furnishings. This soot penetrates not only furnishings, but air ducts as well, spreading fine particles of soot throughout the home.


There are two main types of materials used for aroma: essential oils/plant extracts and synthetic fragrant chemicals. In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences targeted synthetic fragrances as one of the six categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing. The report states that 95 percent of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. They include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxics and sensitizers, which are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace (Report by the Committee on Science and Technology. US House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986) [Report 99-827]

Chemicals Known to Cause Cancer in Fragrance Products

Methylene chloride, a known carcinogen that also causes autoimmune disease, is listed as one of the 20 most common chemicals found in fragrance products in the 1991 EPA study, even though the FDA banned the chemical in all cosmetic and fragrance products in 1989. Limonene, also listed as one of the 20 most common chemicals, is a known carcinogen. Benzaldehyde, one of the 20 most common chemicals in the EPA’s fragrance study, is a sensitizer. According to the Merck Index, it is also a narcotic.

Alternatives to synthetic fragrances and Paraffin candles

Vegetable wax and Beeswax candles have become the healthier alternative to paraffin candles. Both Beeswax and Soy wax come from natural, non-toxic, renewable resources. Beeswax is produced by the worker bees during the honey making process and naturally burns longer, brighter, and cleaner than traditional paraffin candles. Vegetable-based candles such as Soy, are biodegradable, water soluble, and will not damage carpets or furniture. They burn cooler, more uniformly, and last up to 50% longer than traditional candles It should be noted that one should look for ‘true’ soy wax candles. This is because many soy waxes are not what they seem to be. The law only mandates a small percentage of the wax to be soy-based in order to be called soywax. Therefore many soy waxes are still made mostly of paraffin. Be wary of any company that does not specify what percentage of the wax is soy-based.

Essential oils for fragrance

Essential oils have the longest history, being used for fragrance and medicine for thousands of years. Essential oils are extracted from trees, bushes, flowers, and shrubs from all over the world, and each oil has its own unique chemical makeup. The word ‘aromatherapy’ literally means ‘therapy through aroma or scent,’ without specifying the source of the scent. However, in practice, aromatherapy uses only essential oils, and no other form of scent. The oils can be used simply for their fragrance and its effects on mood and emotion, but in professional practice their physiological, or bio-chemical, effect is central.


Paraffin Candles

Paraffin candles are derived from petroleum, a limited resource.

Burning paraffin wax emits carcinogens and petro-chemicals.

Paraffin wax contains petroleum by-products and additives that inhibit biodegradability.

Paraffin wax residue is quite troublesome, often impossible, to remove.

Purchasing paraffin products support international oil companies.

Paraffin candles are usually made with petro-chemically derived fragrances

Beeswax Candles

Beeswax is the only naturally existing wax on earth. It is a pure, renewable resource.

100% beeswax burns clean and actually emits negative ions that clean the air.

It does not contain toxic petrochemicals and burns without soiling smoke or soot.

Long burning, virtually dripless flame.

Beeswax gets its color and aroma from the honey and pollen packed into each honeycomb cell. The color variation of beeswax candles depends highly on the floral source used for pollination.

Soy Candles

Soy wax burns much cleaner and is all natural, non-toxic, and nonhazardous.

Soy wax is completely biodegradable, made from natural, renewable resources.

Soy wax can be cleaned up with warm water and soap.

Candle Company Recommendations:

Bee Bright ( produces beeswax and hemp oil candles

BeeLite Candles ( produces beeswax and soy candles

Greenspace Candles ( makes soy wax candles

Hurd Beeswax Candles ( produces beeswax candles


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