Are candles harmful to your health?
Are candles harmful to your health?
FYI, don’t judge a candle by its scent.
We all want our homes to smell inviting, especially if you want to impress your guests (aka the in-laws).
But before you go out and stock up on candles based on their scent, author of A to Z of D-Toxing and founder of Practical Nontoxic Living, Sophia Gushée, suggests you might want to take a closer look and find out what’s in it before lighting the wick.
Gushée explains that many candles on the market today are made from the petroleum byproduct, paraffin, which is a repeat offender among toxic chemicals.
“Aside from accidental fires, the process of burning anything always runs the risk of emitting unhealthy fumes or particles,’ Gushée says.
And once you light that candle, you’re immediately exposing yourself to those toxic fumes – benzene and toluene, to be specific.
So what are the health risks?
“Chronic exposure can contribute to damaging the brain, lungs and central nervous system,” Gushée explains.
“It can also lead to developmental difficulties such as cancer, allergies and asthma.”
Yep, dangerous AF.
While the healthiest option would be to avoid candles entirely, it’s a pretty difficult task to say goodbye to our odour-masking BFF. Instead, Gushée shares her top three strategies to choosing healthier candles.
How to choose a healthier candle
1. Examine the wax ingredients
While some candles may mention just one ingredient (most commonly, soy), Gushée warns that it may be blended with other ingredients such as petroleum. “Additional ingredients are often added for colour, fragrance, stability, or to modify the burning characteristics,” she says.
To ensure you’re not opting for a toxic candle, choose a vegetable-based one that is non-scented, non-pigmented, and contains no dyes.
2. Inspect candle wicks
Ever wonder how that wick manages to stand straight even when the wax around it is melting? It’s because they’re often made with metal, cotton, or a blend of both. And if you look a little closer and see a silvery or dark core in the fabric of the wick, it unfortunately contains lead. Lead poisoning is associated with detrimental health effects, especially for unborn babies, small children and pregnant women. These include:
- Impaired growth
- Behaviour and respiratory problems
- Impaired short term memory or complete memory loss
- Hearing loss
- Reproductive disorders
- Nerve disorders
While it’s illegal to sell candles that contain more than 0.06 per cent lead in Australia, opting for one completely free of lead will ensure you avoid all health risks.
3. Avoid fragrance
Scent is the deciding point when it comes to choosing a candle (let’s face it, no one likes the ones that smell like a public toilet). But Gushée strongly believes that fragrance is a big fat red flag.
“The concern is that most scents can be concocted from any combination of thousands of chemicals that companies use,” she explains.
“Most ingredients are not disclosed, not proven safe, and made of petrochemicals.”
Your healthy candle checklist
While it may sound like the humble candle is now the most dangerous creature on earth, don’t stress, because there are a range of candles out there that still provide the same calming sensation, sans any hidden nasties. Just keep this checklist in mind to choose a healthier candle:
- Choose 100% pure beeswax with no artificial colours
- Make sure the wick is made using 100% cotton
- Choose a fragrance-free candle, or one that uses 100% pure essential oils
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