Who doesn’t love the soothing flicker and warm scent of a candle burning in their home? Unfortunately, for people with allergies or sensitivities, candles may trigger headaches, fatigue, nausea, itchy eyes, sneezing, and coughing. Even if you don’t have these reactions, you should be aware that the candles you use could be polluting your home with unsafe chemicals. The good news is that by selecting the right type of candle, you can enjoy this small luxury without any health risks.
What Types of Candles are Safe?
Most candles are made with paraffin, an ingredient that, when burned, may release noxious chemicals such as toluene and benzene into your home. The key to shopping for candles is reading labels and looking at price tags. Cheap candles are more likely to be made in China and could possibly contain lead in the wick. Look for candles made in the U.S., which are safer due to our strict environmental and health regulations.
The most health-friendly candles are those made with either 100% soy or 100% beeswax. These are more expensive, but much safer than paraffin candles because they burn clean. Of the two, beeswax candles are the best choice.
I stopped in at Bocage Bee and Honey Co., a shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, owned by a local beekeeper, to check out their selection of beeswax candles. The store owner explained that beeswax candles are the best choice because they burn cleaner, longer, and brighter than any other type of candle.
Scented or Unscented?
Keep in mind that even with the right type of candle, the wrong scent can still make you sick.
I have an aunt who is susceptible to severe migraines when exposed to certain smells. She advised that, when candle shopping, go for natural scents like citrus or essential oils such as lavender and warned against artificial scents (especially vanilla) or anything strong and perfume-y.
Again, beeswax candles seem to be the best option because they don’t require artificial aromas. They naturally give off a light, pleasant honey scent. “We don’t scent our candles,” said the owner of Bocage Bee and Honey. “Mother nature does that for us.”
Once you’ve found a candle that burns clean, smells nice, and doesn’t make you or guests sick, remember to enjoy it in moderation. A study done earlier this year in Copenhagen, Denmark looked at the amount of ultrafine particles (those small enough to get into lungs) in the homes of people who burned candles for a couple hours a day, versus those who did not. The researchers found that candles were responsible for more than half of the indoor pollution in the homes that used them. There is ongoing research on this, but a good rule of thumb is to crack a window to release the fumes from candles, and don’t burn candles for long periods of time.
Other Ways to Freshen Your Home
There are many alternatives to candles to freshen up the home. Unfortunately, air fresheners contain harmful chemicals and are usually strongly scented, making them a nightmare for people with sensitivities.
The following are cheap, easy, safe alternatives to air fresheners and candles (and make for fun DIY projects).
Olive oil lamps — These have been around since biblical times. All you need is a jar with a lid, a wick which you’ll place through a hole in the lid, and olive oil. A few optional drops of essential oil will give your olive oil lamp a pleasant aroma.
Reed diffusers — You’ll find these in the candle aisle of most stores. You place reeds into a jar of oil to absorb and diffuse fragrance into a room. Just be sure to read the labels and buy only those made with natural oils.
Essential oil mist — You can make your own by purchasing pure essential oil(s) and mixing several drops with water in a spray bottle. Mist onto your linens, sofa, and blankets.
Coffee beans — If you’re like me and delight in the smell of a coffee shop, try placing out a small bowl of coffee beans to bring a delightful aroma to a room.
Baking soda — Place a bowl of baking soda on the counter to absorb bad odors; it’s much cheaper and cleaner than air fresheners.
Purchasing locally made and naturally scented soy or beeswax candles will allow you to enjoy the simple luxury of a candle without compromising your well-being. Whether you want to eliminate odors or add a lovely fragrance to your home, steer clear of paraffin candles, air fresheners, and strong artificial scents.
Photo credits: author, lindsay.dee.bunny, and author.