For many people, home decor wouldn’t be complete without scented candles. But these ubiquitous home items have a darker side. In January of 2019, in their Clean Air 2019 Report, the UK government – whose citizens spend a combined £90million on them every year – cited scented candles as a threat to public health. Why? Because those scented candles might produce a pleasant scent; but they also come with very real health risks.
The Harmful Toxins in Scented Candles
Though they seem safe, regular scented candles put off carcinogenic chemicals that are considered just as dangerous as second-hand smoke. Most candles are made of paraffin wax (a petroleum waste product that is chemically bleached), which when burned creates highly toxic benzene and toluene (both known carcinogens). In fact, the petro-soot released from paraffin candles are the same as those found in diesel fuel fumes and can be as dangerous at second hand smoke. In 2001, the EPA concluded that burning paraffin candles emits harmful toxins and increase health risks with multiple exposures.
Candle wicks can also be a source of toxins. In the US, candle wicks are supposed to be made of cotton or paper, but heavy metals in wicks still occurs, especially in products manufactured in China or Taiwan. A candle with a lead-core wick releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. But you don’t need to light the candle to be exposed to chemicals; simple evaporation from an uncovered candle can release pollutants into the air and touching a candle can cause absorption of chemicals through the skin.
The synthetic fragrances that create candle scents usually contain phthalates. As candles burn, phthalates are released into the air where they may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Once they enter the bloodstream, they can aggravate allergic symptoms and asthma and alter hormone levels.
The Healthy Alternative
But don’t despair. You can get the warm glow of candlelight without the health hazards. The best alternatives are unscented candles made of 100% beeswax or 100% organic soy with cotton or paper wicks.
Finally, scented candles are often used for more than their pleasant aroma. A frequent use is to cover up or mask troublesome odors in the house that haven’t been successfully removed. Unfortunately, the masking of house odors can also mask health effects. If there is a scent in your home that you find unpleasant, track down the source of the odor so you can remedy the problem and minimize the risk of any health impacts!
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