Is burning candles really harmful to your health?
Over at Becca HQ we’ve been blindsided by some news stories lately about issues with vapour inhalation from lit candles. As you know we live and breathe candles at Becca so hearing such negativity for something we feel so passionately positive about is tough. But we very soon realized we were reading a load of half-truths and under-explained research. So, before you let headline grabbers about 'health-harming particle releases' put you off for good, we’ve got a few facts and stats to put your mind at rest…
What's the story?
These latest stories are based around fears that inhaling some kinds of wax (mainly paraffin) and synthetic scents produce toxins which might be bad for your health. But others argue that if any potential toxins would exist at such low levels they wouldn’t be harmful.
Let's not be fooled, we're exposed everyday to particulate matter and volatile organic compounds regularly in our daily lives. Burning almost anything could potentially release chemicals that may harm your health. However, by making the choice to buy candles made from natural resources limits the risk of harmful chemicals even more.
What should I look out for?
General consensus is that burning candles made right here in NZ isn’t harmful. But if you want to be on the safe side:
Lead in your candle wick. Back in the old days, lead was sometimes used in the middle of the wick. Due to lead poisoning fears, lead in wicks was banned by regulatory bodies in the US back in 2003. Candles made and sold in New Zealand aren’t allowed to contain lead, but if in doubt or your candle comes from an unregulated country, you can pull apart your wick to check for signs of lead.
Petroleum in your wax. One 2009 study that was never peer reviewed found that burning paraffin wax could release a chemical called toluene which has potential dangers if inhaled in large quantities. Regulatory adviser, The European Candle Association (ECMA) begged to differ. Its own study tested commonly used waxes for 300 different chemicals and any chemical presences detected were at far lower levels than what would cause human health issues.
Burning candles made of paraffin however does release soot which can be potentially damaging to your health.
Your best and safest option to minimise the amount of particulate matter you breathe in is by sticking to candles made from natural sources like coconut, beeswax or soy wax or a combination of either. Always light your candles in a well-ventilated area and away from drafts to minimise the amount of smoke they can potentially release.
The ECMA commissioned another study in 2015 that showed that ‘burning scented candles is not a significant source of hazardous air emissions’.
Explain the science behind this (in simple words)
Tiny particles of matter are all around us and we inhale these everywhere. Some of these include VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and can be harmful – traffic fumes, fossil fuel burning etc. Others are harmless: flower fragrance, salt air, food smells. This is where the confusion around scented candles has come in.
Every time you walk into a botanical garden or a forest, you are surrounded by VOCs from the plants. Many fragrance ingredients in a candle are identical to VOCs in nature. Other fragrance ingredients do not exist in nature, but are instead made in a laboratory.
When it comes to manufacturing candles, there are lots of companies out there that produce candle fragrances so it’s important to choose one that reviews their formulas against the safety standards established by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA). Each ingredient in the fragrance and the finished product is required to meet the specifications set down by IFRA to be compliant with the standard and therefore considered safe for human use. Fragrances imported into New Zealand pass the safety standards set by the IFRA and meet all HSNO requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency of New Zealand.
Again, there is no conclusive evidence that scented candles cause harm. A study in 2014 found the level of particulates released from burning scented candles was too low to cause health issues. Burning candles in a well ventilated room and minimising smoke by keeping your candle away from draughts is always a good idea.
Should I stop burning my Becca candle?
Definitely not. We know it’s frightening to see sensationalist headlines suggesting something you do to relax and feel better might actually be harming you, but the evidence shows otherwise. We also pride ourselves on using 100% all natural, organic ingredients and our essential oil combinations are selected specifically for their health and wellbeing properties when inhaled. So light up that gorgeous all-natural wooden wick, take a deep breath and enjoy, worry-free.
Take away Tips!
What you can do for Safe Candle Burning
- Peel apart the wick; if you see metal, find another candle. There are other metals (like zinc) that are used to strengthen wicks, but without proper labeling, there is no way for consumers to know if it is lead or another metal. Alternatively buy a wooden wick candle!!
- Choose candles made of natural waxes- such as coconut, soy or beeswax.
- Light your candles in a well-ventilated room, keeping them away from drafts, vents or air currents that can increase the amount of smoke they release. If a candle continually flickers or smokes, it is not burning properly and should be extinguished. Allow the candle to cool, trim the wick, make sure the area is draft free, then re-light.
- Always trim the wick before you light. Burning with long wicks increases the chances of your candle smoking.
- Instead of blowing out a candle, use a candle snuffer or dip the wick in wax.
- Try to buy NZ made rather than an imported candle!