The stresses of daily life are continuing to take their toll on many of us, so it’s little wonder that candles are as popular as ever. This week I even saw scented Christmas candles being advertised on prime time TV. There’s nothing like turning the lights out and breathing in the smell of vanilla and spice or gingerbread biscuits.
But while sniffing your favourite candle before bed often offers stress relief, many are made of nasty stuff, which can be really harmful. This is because they contribute to indoor air pollution (along with log fires, glue, paint, varnish, oil, flame retardants and dyes etc). The World Health Organisation say 4.3 million premature deaths were attributable to household air pollution in 2012. When indoor and outdoor air pollution are combined, WHO estimates that in 2012, some 14% of deaths were due to COPD or acute lower respiratory infections, and 14% of deaths were due to lung cancer.
Finding candles that are totally free of nasty chemicals can be tricky, especially as front labels often make it hard to distinguish what is and isn’t natural (a “blend” may mean a mixture of natural and synthetic ingredients, for example).
So what are most candles made from?
Paraffin. When burned, paraffin wax (made from the residue leftover from oil refining) creates toxic benzene and toluene chemicals, both of which are known carcinogens. They are classed as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s- which you see a percentage for on paint tins). They are linked to cancer and neurological damage. It means that breathing them in is as bad for your health as second-hand smoke. If you suffer from headaches when a candle is burning, it may well be down to the paraffin. Some candles even contain lead in the wick. Check with the candle’s manufacturer for a list of ingredients.
What’s better than paraffin?
As a renewable resource, soy candles are the real slow burners- more hours for your money! But while soy candles are certainly superior to the toxic fragrances and additives in conventional candles, it’s worth noting that most soy is genetically modified. Unless it boasts the certified organic label, it’s likely that your candle is made from GM soy. Is that a good or bad thing? Nobody knows!
The best of a bad bunch; beeswax is the only naturally occurring wax on earth, unless you count ear wax ….(Hmmm). Pure beeswax candles are non-toxic, non-polluting and may actually cleanse indoor air of odours and allergens. They also smell of yummy honey too so win win!
What about the scent?
Smells like… vanilla and cinnamon, nope its…
Phthalates? If you’re smelling fragrance, then there’s probably phthalates in your candle. These artificial scents and dyes often used can also release harmful chemicals when burned, possibly triggering asthma attacks and allergies. Do you sneeze or get wheezy with candles It is known that phthalates are widespread contaminants in both indoor and outdoor environments with the plastic industry being a major contributor. The toxicants can be delivered into the body via inhalation and other methods, then cause an inflammatory response, disrupt hormones and affect respiratory health.
If you want scented, I’m afraid you have to pay for pure essential oil fragrances. If you ever wondered why some candles are so expensive, it because they aren’t made out of cheap rubbish.
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