Are Your Candles Poisoning You?

Whether you enjoy the ambience, are dipping your toes in aromatherapy, or just want to cover up bad odors in your home, you need to know that paraffin candles are not the way to go. Paraffin produces toxic chemicals when burned, even if you are using unscented candles. Some wicks contain lead. Artificial and synthetic fragrances can add even more toxins and allergens to the mix. The good news is you don’t have to give up candles to avoid these dangers. Beeswax and vegetable-based candles do not produce the toxins created by paraffin.

Study Finds Toxic Chemicals Released by Paraffin Candles

A 2009 study by researchers at South Carolina State University found that paraffin-based candles emitted toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene, alkans and alkenes, which they said can contribute to the development of cancer, asthma and allergies. The vegetable-based candles tested did not produce harmful chemicals.

They tested the candles’ emissions by allowing them to burn for up to six hours in a specially constructed chamber which trapped the gases. Then a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) was performed to identify the substances in the gases.

Identifying Paraffin Candles

Paraffin is a petroleum byproduct. Common, inexpensive candles are usually paraffin-based, but it’s not just cheap candles. A lot of high-end candles are made from paraffin, too. So how do you know? You have to read the label, and you have to know what to look for. A paraffin candle will probably not say it’s a paraffin candle. Look for a label that says something like, “100% beeswax”. A candle can claim to be beeswax or soy while still containing a large percentage of paraffin as long as it contains at least some of the claimed substance.

Avatar About Sandra Dalton

With a background as a paralegal, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights, Sandra Dalton launched her freelance writing career in 2000 with a weekly column on Freedom for Suite 101 and pro bono projects for individuals and organizations supporting causes close to her heart. One of her first projects was for the Police Compliant Center writing about police misconduct. Sandra’s legal writing quickly expanded to include personal injury, animal welfare, criminal defense, disability discrimination, family law and much more.