The holiday season is a time of warmth, family, friends and love. Homes are beautifully decorated, from pumpkins and wreaths to stockings and trees. Creating festive holiday ambiance is truly an art. With so much effort put into crafting the perfect atmosphere for everyone to enjoy, it’s important to consider the quality of our cherished environments from every angle.
The idea of holidays and toxins may not seem to go together, yet fragrances and candles traditionally used to set the scene are often some of the biggest chemical culprits! (Check out my post "Fragrance" ~ What’s in a Name? to learn more).
The scent of a well-chosen candle can create a lasting impression and evoke strong memories for years to come. In fact, the sense of smell is the most perceptive of the senses and studies have shown that emotions are sparked by smell, which link up to pleasure centers in our brains. So when creating memories with loved ones this season, why not make sure they’re happy and healthy ones!
Scented candles can produce smoke with almost as many toxins as cigarettes!
In 2009, South Carolina State University researchers lead an experiment to test the toxin emissions from petroleum-based and vegetable-source candles. Candles are often lit in poorly ventilated rooms, so the researchers wanted to create an experimental environment that reflected this. The release of chemicals from candle smoke can cause indoor pollution in small areas strong enough to raise the risk of asthma, eczema and skin irritation. The researchers burned candles from several different brands for up to six hours in small boxes, and collected and analyzed the chemical emissions into the air.
It was found that paraffin-based candle smoke contained toxic chemicals such as toluene (a central nervous system toxin) and benzene (a cancer-causing toxin). Paraffin is a cheap sludge waste product produced by the petroleum industry and is often used as the main ingredient in most candles. Paraffin-based candles are dangerous because they do not reach high enough temperatures when lit to burn off or fully eliminate the hazardous molecules they emit into the air. While the occasional paraffin candle emission will most likely not pose a great threat to your health, higher rates of exposure to these emissions during the holiday season is certainly a significant health concern.
Beware ~ it’s not just the wax’s fault…
That wicked wick is also to blame! In 2003, legislation was passed in the U.S. banning metal wicks, but imported candles with such wicks are still being sold. Today, wicks are generally required to be made from pure paper and/or cotton. However, some candles have been found to contain other ingredients such as lead or lead cores, especially in older candles we may still have lying around the house. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shown that cored candles release the dirtiest soot of all, containing not only lead particles, but particles of tin and cadmium as well.
Candle color matters too.
While colors may help brighten a room, most candle colors are unnatural. When these synthetic colors are burned they release chemically laden toxins into the air, creating a doubly dangerous variety of indoor air pollution. Best to stick with mineral based, naturally earth-tone colors.
Now for the fun part!
Yes, it IS possible to enjoy beautiful candles and evocative fragrance while setting a joyous holiday scene. Simply avoid these common candle culprits and you’ll be good to glow:
- Very cheap, low quality candles.
- Imported candles. It’s best to purchase candles made in North America, as they’re more likely to follow the toxin-free candle legislation in place in the U.S.
- Candles that appear to have a metal-core wick.
- ANY fragranced or colored candles unless they are 100% naturally scented and pigmented (e.g., beware “aromatherapy” candles, “all natural” candles, etc.). Make sure they list every single ingredient, including what’s used to create the scent.
- Gel candles.
The 2009 studies that found paraffin-based candles emit toluene and benzene also found that soybean and beeswax candles did not. All-natural beeswax is made by bees and collected directly from their hives. Some beeswax candles are lightly and naturally scented with honey, but some are also scented with essential oils, too (Learn more about essential oils in my post Just The Essentials, Oils Of Course). Soybean and coconut oil candles are other excellent, clean, long-burning, toxin-free options.
Read the label, checking for 100% soybean, beeswax or coconut oil as the base.
Protect everyone’s health by selecting truly pure ingredients. Some companies will use only a portion of beeswax or soybean mixed with regular paraffin and still label the candle as beeswax or soybean.
What’s got me burning up with joy this season?
rareEARTH’s lineup of purely crafted candles and essential oil diffusers! The brand features completely natural, mineral pigmented candles with aromas made from pure essential oils. The non-GMO soy wax is sourced from domestic farms and wicks are lead-free, 100% cotton. A gorgeously healthy solution for creating toxin-free ambiance this holiday season!
Health and hugs,
Post based on the following articles:
- Holiday Scenting Secrets, The Good Blog, TrueGoods.com
- Tips for Healthy Holiday Entertaining, The Good Blog, TrueGoods.com
- Study: Some types of candles may pollute indoor air, CNN on CNNhealth.com, on August 21, 2009.
- Scented candles release as many harmful toxins as cigarettes, ANI on in.news.yahoo.com, on July 7, 2011.
- Toxins in Candles: Sad, But True, Keeper of the Home on keeperofthehome.org, on April 12, 2012.