The burning question: Are candles safe?

Many people love to burn aromatic candles to create an atmosphere in their home but could they be harmful?

According to researchers from South Carolina University, long-term exposure to emissions of certain types of candles could be hazardous to human health as well as cause poor indoor air quality. Researcher Dr. Ruhullah Massoudi tested various brands of paraffin wax candles for gas emissions and found some concerning results. The paraffin candles tested released undesirable chemicals such as alkanes, alkenes and toluene into the air. “For a person who lights a candle every day for years or just uses them frequently, inhalation of these dangerous pollutants drifting in the air could contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, common allergies and even asthma,” said Massoudi, chemistry professor in the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.

Research by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Lung Association found paraffin candles can emit a frightening range of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When paraffin candles are burned, they emit trace amounts of organic chemicals, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein and naphthalene. (Lau et al., 1997)

An alternative to paraffin candles is soy candles and soy melts. Unfortunately, around 96% of soy world-wide is sourced from genetically modified crops sprayed with toxic pesticides. (CCF) While many companies promote their soy candles and melts as renewable, biodegradable and environmentally friendly, according to Choose Cruelty Free, there is no such thing as a “natural soy wax”.  Soy wax is made from soya bean oil which is chemically bleached to remove aroma and colour and then hydrogenated with nickel. Even more concerning is that soy wax candles can be called ‘soy wax’ even if there is as little as 25% soy wax used. The remainder can be made up with paraffin wax.

Another health concern with candle emissions is lead exposure. Metal was originally put in wicks to keep the wick standing straight when the surrounding wax begins to melt. The metal prevents the wick from falling over and extinguishing itself as soon as the wax fails to support it.  Burning lead-wick candles results in increased lead concentrations in indoor air. (Sobel et al., 2000) When the body is exposed to lead through inhalation, it can have many toxic effects on our health. (Vella et al., 1998) While lead has been banned in some countries, unfortunately lead-wick candles can still be found on the market. (Knight et al, 2001)

An academic study was conducted on the emissions of lead from candles with metal-core wicks (Nriagu and Kim, 2000). Of the candles that contained lead-wicks the emission rates were above that recommended by EPA Outdoor Ambient Air Quality Standards: Required by the Clean Air Act, these standards were set for pollutants thought to harm public health and the environment, including the health of “sensitive” populations such as asthmatics, children and the elderly.

Soot from candles is also a health concern. When soot is airborne, it is subject to inhalation. The particles can potentially penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs, the lower respiratory tract and alveoli. (Krause, 1999).

Added to this is the fact that the fire service and insurance companies claim candles and tealights are among the leading cause of house fires in the UK. Therefore it may be time for our love affair with scented candles to flicker out.

6390520529_b39f52854e_oSo, what is a safer alternative? Therapeutic-grade essential oils are purely plant derived aromatics which can be cold air diffused to create a fragrant atmosphere in your home. Many diffusers also have ambient light functions.

We always recommended that you use pure, unadulterated, therapeutic-grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.

To order Young Living’s therapeutic-grade Essential Oils or to select from their range of Diffusers, please click the ORDER tab at the top right hand corner of the page.  Essential Oils We Trust is an independent distributor (#965508) for Young Living Essential Oils and may receive a commission on orders.

REFERENCES:

Choose Cruelty Free (CCF). 2015, Soy Wax, http://www.choosecrueltyfree.org.au/soy-wax/ , viewed 15th April, 2015.

Knight, L., Levin, A. & Mendenhall, C. 2001, Candles and Incense as potential sources of indoor air pollution: Market analysis and literature review, National Technical Information Service, Virginia.

Krause, D. 1999, Black soot and candles: new research and case studies, Indoor Environment ‘99 Proceedings, pp 157-164. IAQ Publications Inc., Bethesda, MD.

Lau, C., Fiedler, H., Hutzinger, O., Schwind, K.H. & Hosseinpour, J. 1997, Levels of selected organic compounds in materials for candle production and human exposure to candle Emissions, Chemosphere, 34(5-7):1623-1630

Massoudi, R. Dr., 2009, Frequent use of certain candles produces unwanted chemicals, http://www.scsu.edu/news_article.aspx?news_id=832 , viewed 15th April, 2015.

Nriagu, J.O. & Kim, M.J. 2000, Emissions of lead and zinc from candles with metal-core wicks, Science of the Total Environment, 250:37-31.

Sobel, H.L., Lurie, P. & Wolfe, S.M. 2000, Lead exposure from candles. Journal of the American Medical Association, 284(2):180

Vella, V., O’Brien, E., Idris, E. and others. 1998, Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning A Preliminary listing of the health effects & symptoms of lead poisoning, LEAD Action News, Vol 6 No 2.

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