Breaking Down Natural Candles
Candles have become staples in ceremonies, rituals, celebrations, and meditation practices. They have even made their way into the routines of our daily lives as a way for us to bring a feeling of warmth and wellness into our homes. Whether you’re lighting one while curling up with a cup of tea and a favourite book, or multiple around a luxurious bath, candles add an extra layer of relaxation and serenity to any space. With so many ways to enjoy the benefits of candles, it’s become even more important to understand their ingredients, how these affect air quality and subsequently, the impact these can have on our health.
There are three things that make up a candle; the jar, the wax, and the wick. We’ve broken down these three elements to help you understand the benefits of each and how they rate in terms of air quality, sustainability, and burn time. Understanding the options available will help you to make the right choice when you go to light your next candle.
What types of candle wax exist in the market?
Candles can be made using a variety of waxes.
Paraffin wax has traditionally been the most commonly used wax for candle making. A byproduct of the petrochemical industry, it is readily available, making it inexpensive compared to alternative waxes. Made from the residue of the oil refinement process, these can cause air quality issues that can negatively impact our health. Soot from paraffin candles can include carcinogens such as toluene and benzene which have both been linked to lung cancer, asthma, and skin rash (Blue, 2009).
Beeswax is a renewable all-natural wax produced by honey bees. It takes approximately 33 million visits to flowers for bees to create a single pound of beeswax. These are often the most expensive to create due to the fact that the wax is not readily available for production. Bees are not harmed in the collection of wax and many individuals feel beeswax has a stronger spiritual connection to the power and productivity of nature than other types of candles (Mayntz, n.d.). Beeswax, like its other natural counterparts, does not produce harmful byproducts and soot when burned. It can go one step further by neutralizing air pollutants because of the negative ions it produces. This can help eliminate dust, odors, and mold in the air, easing allergy and asthma symptoms.
Soy Wax is a vegetable wax derived from soybean oil. After soybeans are harvested, oil is extracted and hydrogenated. During this process, unsaturated fatty acids present in the oil are saturated, altering the oil’s melting point, allowing it to solidify at room temperature. The lower melting point of soy wax causes the candles to burn longer and cleaner than paraffin wax. Additionally, unlike paraffin which is derived from crude oil, soy is considered a renewable resource, making it a more sustainable choice.
Coconut Wax is produced from cold-pressed coconut flesh. Similar to soy, it is transformed from oil to wax in the hydrogenation process. Coconut wax candles are an eco-friendly alternative as they have a high yield and crop renewal per acre. They are non-toxic, burn cleaner, and are arguably the best at throwing scent. Coconut wax needs to be blended with another form of wax in order to help increase its melting point. On its own, coconut wax can be very soft, causing issues with maintaining its consistency in warmer temperatures. Because of this, it is typically combined with a harder wax such as soy, or paraffin. It is important to note that although a candle can be labeled as coconut wax, there is a high probability that it is mixed with another form of wax that is not labeled. Simply asking your candle manufacturer or purchasing from a trusted source is an easy way to understand the composition of your candle prior to purchase!
What about candle scents?
The scents that go into your candle are as important as the wax selected when it comes to air quality. There are a variety of scents available for candles today and while they can be the driving force behind your candle selection, the chemicals used to produce a candle's fragrance may be toxic and can contribute to air pollution.
Fragrance oils were introduced to the market as a low-cost alternative to essential oils. They are widely used today in the candle, soap, and cosmetic industries. In order to allow the oils to mix with the wax and throw a scent when heated, candle makers will use fragrances that contain stabilizers and fixatives. High-quality fine fragrance oils that are free from phthalates and parabens can be sourced in order to create beautifully scented candles. These are preferred by individuals who enjoy highly scented candles in addition to the visual impact candles have on our spaces.
Another way in which candles can be scented is through the use of essential oils. These are naturally-occurring oils that are extracted from botanical and other sources. They are more expensive than synthetic fragrances and the process of combining them with wax can be more challenging. Because of their volatility compared to synthetic fragrances, they produce a less aromatic scent. These natural scents are safe to inhale and can be less overwhelming for those who have sensitivities to fragrances.
What types of wicks are used?
There are a variety of wicks used in the candle making process. Wood is a great choice if you are looking for an ambient crackling sound while burning. They provide an even wax burn and are an eco-alternative when sourced sustainably, such as the wood from fruit trees.
When it comes to non-wood wicks, there are two main categories: cored and non-cored wicks. Non-cored wicks are usually made of cotton that is braided or twisted. These are considered safe to burn. Alternatively, cored wicks are usually made of cotton with a metallic core. Zinc, tin, and lead are compounds that can be found in their composition and have been linked to lead poisoning. It is equally as important to know the composition of your wick to ensure there are no harmful components that can negatively impact your health.
What about the jar?
Often, when a candle company is invested in cleaner, healthier burning candles, their choice of jars reflects their sustainability efforts. Look for companies who use recycled or upcycled jars, have recycling programs, or create candles with the purpose of having the jars repurposed when they burn out. It’s super easy to clean out your finished candle by placing it in a pot of boiling water and safely removing the excess wax. These beautifully crafted jars can now be used to hold your hair ties in your bathroom, jewelry in your bedroom, or even rubber bands in your kitchen.
Paying attention to the ingredients in your candles, how they are made, and the source of their ingredients is all part of being an educated consumer. Premium candles should be made from high-quality ingredients and to us, this means ones that are clean, safe, and eco-conscious as well! This way, you don’t need to think twice when lighting your next candle and enjoying its relaxing benefits.
To shop our assortment of natural candles click here.
Blue, Laura. “The Chemicals in Candles.” TIME, 2009, https://healthland.time.com/2009/08/19/chemicals_in_candles/?fbclid=IwAR2n6c63LmLvXMeS6FdP6gvEbdWArTQnrQRZTEBWiaz-brDv0moN9EjvaV0