Are You Buying Toxic Candles?


Kate and I were shopping at Whole Foods this afternoon and we came across some scented candles. I was looking at the ingredients. There were some that were soy candles scented with essential oils. The rest were “food-grade paraffin”.

I recently came across this post about how toxic candles are at the Nourishing Our Children blog. I always suspected that candles were bad for you, but I had no idea how bad.

Paraffin Candles: Petroleum Sludge

Most candles are made from petroleum, which is of course a limited resource. Environmental issues aside, the burning of paraffin wax contaminates the air with soot and carcinogenic particulate matter.

According to the NY Daily News:

Scientists from the South Carolina State University in Orangeburg lit candles made of paraffin — the most common and inexpensive candle wax — in a specially-built chamber and found that the smoke emits doses of pollutants, including benzene, toluene and ketones, that have been linked to cancer, asthma and birth defects. (Source)

How are paraffin candles made?

Paraffin candles begin at the bottom of an oil barrel; in fact they start as the grayish-black sludge that has been rejected by the oil and gas industry. This petroleum by-product is then bleached with 100% industrial strength bleach, creating toxic dioxins, and changing the colour to its pleasant whiteness (the bleach you use for laundry – even at full strength – is only at 10%). Acrolyn, a known carcinogenic chemical, is then added to form the white sludge into solid white blocks. Although the industry claims this substance is inert, once burned, paraffin releases carcinogenic toxins such as benzene and toluene into the air, where they loiter like a bad house guest. Other chemicals are added to make paraffin burn a little longer and look a little prettier. Paraffin blocks are then sold to companies who may add various other chemicals to texturize, artificial dyes for colour and/or synthetic fragrances to create those great candle smells. (Source)

Lead, Anyone?

If that isn’t enough, the candle industry uses metal core wicks to keep the wick standing straight while the surrounding wax melts. These metal cores were initially made of lead and lead wick cores have the potential to generate indoor airborne lead concentrations of health concern. In 1974 the US candle manufacturing industry recognized this potential health concern and voluntarily agreed to cease the production of lead contaminated candles (yay!). However, lead wicks are still found in the market, especially in imported candles — so it is possible for the consumer to unknowingly purchase candles containing lead wick cores and repeatedly expose themselves to harmful amounts of lead through candle burning. The EPA has stated that indoor air quality is 3 times more polluted than outdoor air quality and a 2000 study found that there is an increase in lead concentrations in our indoor air (Sobel et al., 2000b). (Source)

What’s Wrong with Synthetic Fragrance

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, synthetic fragrance poses a number of different health hazards:

Allergens and sensitizers: One in every 50 people may suffer immune system damage from fragrance and become sensitized, according to the EU’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-food Products. Once sensitized to an ingredient, a person can remain so for a lifetime, enduring allergic reactions with every subsequent exposure. Fragrances are considered to be among the top five known allergens and are known to both cause and trigger asthma attacks. Product tests conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in 2010 revealed an average of 10 sensitizers in each fragrance tested.

Phthalates: This class of chemicals has been linked to hormone disruption, which can affect development and fertility. Although some phthalates are being phased out of cosmetics under consumer pressure, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is still used in many products, including fragrance. In 2010, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found DEP in 12 of 17 fragrance products tested for our report, “Not So Sexy.” Product tests conducted by Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine in January 2007 found the phthalates DEP and DEHP (which is banned in Europe) in each of eight popular perfumes tested. DEP is a ubiquitous pollutant of the human body, found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent epidemiological studies have associated DEP with a range of health problems, including sperm damage in men. Most fragrances don’t list phthalates on the label, but hide them under the term, “fragrance.”

Neurotoxins: As far back as 1986, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences identified fragrance ingredients as one of six categories of neurotoxins (chemicals that are toxic to the brain) that should be thoroughly investigated for impacts on human health. However, this research has not been demanded or funded. The FDA has taken no action on a petition submitted to the agency in 1999 requesting fragrance components to be listed on labels.

Synthetic musks: A 2009 study of Austrian college students found that those who used the most perfume and scented lotion also had the highest levels of synthetic musks, including Galaxolide and Tonalide, in their blood. Research by the Environmental Working Group has even found synthetic musks in the umbilical cord blood of newborn U.S. infants. Preliminary research suggests that musks may disrupt hormones. Both Galaxolide and Tonalide can bind to and stimulate human estrogen receptors and have been shown to affect androgen and progesterone receptors. Tonalide has also been reported to increase the proliferation of estrogen-responsive human breast cancer cells. These musks have an environmental impact – they have been found to be toxic to aquatic life in numerous studies and can accumulate in the food chain. (Source)

Where to Find Non-Toxic Candles

The good news is, you can find safe candles. What you want is candles made from beeswax or soy. (Yes, this is a good use for soy!)

Some candles contain paraffin blends, so look for products that say 100% soy or 100% beeswax when you shop.

I ended up buying TruMelange Candles at Whole Foods. They are 100% soy candles scented only with essential oils.

Another good choice is beeswax candles.

Always look for candles scented with essential oils, not synthetic fragrance.

Another Good Solution: Essential Oils

Diffusing essential oils is another good option. This way you can have the nice scents in your home without disease-causing synthetic fragrance. If you still want the ambiance from a candle-lit dinner, you can burn unscented beeswax or soy candles.

I am giving away a set of essential oils this week in my weekly drawing. Hurry! The giveaway ends tonight at midnight. Click here to enter.

Do You Buy Non-Toxic Candles?

What kind of candles do you buy? Do you use essential oils in the home? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I always learn so much from you guys so I’m anxious to hear what you have to say!

Photo credit: christmas candles by don2g, on Flickr

Ann Marie Michaels

I have 25 years of experience in digital and online media & marketing. I started my career in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, working at some of the world’s top ad agencies. In 2007, after my first child was born, I started this little food blog which I grew to over 250K monthly unique website visitors and over 350K social media followers. For nearly 15 years, I've helped my audience of mostly moms and women 25-65 cook for their families and live a healthier lifestyle.

 The year after I started the blog, I founded a blog network in the health & wellness space called Village Green Network. I started the company on my coffee table and bootstrapped the business to over $1.3 million in annual revenue within 5 years. During that time, I helped a number of our bloggers become six figure earners. After being censored on almost every social media platform for telling the After being censored on almost every social media platform from Facebook and Instagram to Pinterest and Twitter, and being deplatformed on Google, I am now deployed as a digital soldier, writing almost exclusively about politics on my blog Because who can think about food when we are fighting the second revolutionary war and third world war? Don't worry, there will be more recipes one day. After the war is over.

72 thoughts on “Are You Buying Toxic Candles?

  1. Thanks for the credit and mention! – several sources are mentioned in the comments.

    I first stumbled upon this issue when going to the Kabuki Hot Springs here in San Francisco for a weekly for a heat challenge — whereby you soak in hot and then cold water alternating back and forth. There were signs around the spa that said, “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” placed next to the candles. Well, that certainly didn’t contribute to me having a spa-like, relaxed experience and I inquired. I learned it was the paraffin in the candles. That was over 10 years ago and I’ve never used paraffin candles since. I asked the Kabuki to consider changing their choice in candles — that burned all over the spa!

    They had already change to salt water as opposed to chlorine so, why poison us with paraffin while we soak?!

  2. What if the soy candles are made from GMO soybeans? How would this affect the air quality of soy candles?

    I’ve been wondering about this recently–thank you for this post!

    1. That is what I would like to know, also. My first thoughts on anything soy is being used in other than food products was – are the soybeans GMO??? and would that still have an effect?

        1. I agree, Christine. Since they don’t believe we have the right to know what’s in our food and are spending millions to NOT label GMOs, than I hope people will boycott any and all related products.

  3. I buy my candles from my daughter-in-law who has an online soap and candle business. The candles are soy based with cotton core wicks. They use a synthetic phylate-free and musk-free scent but they also make special orders of scent free and beeswax candles. The soap and shampoo bars they carry uses coconut oil and only pure essential oils. You can find and correspond with them at

      1. I think the answer to that could be very subjective. But for what it’s worth – I cannot tolerate perfume or strong scents. Essential oils, on the other hand, do not bother me. I went into a retail candle shop and left with a headache from all the chemically scented candles. All that to say that the scents in her candles do not bother me. The Balsam smells a little strong, but they all smell pretty true to their name. The Almond is my favorite.

    1. Not all phthalates are harmful…….I think this is a kneejerk reaction to phthalidamide?
      Musk free? Which musks are your referring to? Animal extracted?
      Nowadays all musks are synthetic.
      I think you will find that when a wax burns whether it is soy based and or paraffin based that toxins are released into the air because of combustion…no way around that.

  4. I have never used essential oils, but I have a couple of scented candles in my home that I burn on occasion. I have always suspected that the smoke is probably not good for me (or my cat) but since I don’t even burn them once a month, I wasn’t too concerned. lately, I have become very interested in natural fragrance options, especially essential oils. incense and candles are just too thick for me to handle anymore. I have some diffuser reeds hanging around my house, now I just need some oils to diffuse.

  5. The cost of soy versus beeswax causes me to stick with beeswax.
    I would imagine the process for making soy candles is time intensive and costly, and uses resources that could be used elsewhere.
    Beeswax candles are an all natural byproduct of the bee hive.

    We have gotten several locally, but we are looking at several retailers of beeswax sheets and blocks for making our own.
    On top of that, the scent of beeswax in the air is heavenly. Melting honey!

  6. I can’t stand toxic candles! We switched to beeswax many years ago. And, while I do like their sweet, natural scent and also the fact that they are usually dripless (unless you get a fan right on them)–I LOVE that beeswax burns as a negative ion–so when you burn your candles, they actually attract particulate matter in the air to them and clean the air!

  7. You got me thinking (and that’s scary sometimes :D)! When I go in for the rare pedicure I usually get a paraffin wrap. I’ve never really thought about what the wax is made of. Ewww! Even though it’s not being burned, it can’t be good to dip our feet into either.

  8. One time, when we were getting ready to sell our house, I was doing the “crazy cleaning” and wiping every surface that I could. I couldn’t understand why everything had what looked like a black smoke sludge on it. Because I used to be a smoker, I knew what tobacco leftovers looked like, but this was different. It was sticky, black and smelled sweet. I carried on with my cleaning and moved onto the next room, and as I did, I saw the culprit: My scented burning candle, which at that moment, was spewing black smoke all over.. I loved these things, bought them en masse and would have them going all over the house, especially if we were entertaining.

    In one fell swoop, I realized it was my candles that were leaving this sludge everywhere. I immediately took the candle outside and blew it out. Then I went to my storage closet where I had hundreds of dollars in candles, put them in a box and went out to my driveway where my neighbors swooped them up. I warned them about the sludge and how dangerous they are, but no one cared. The candles were gone in moments.

    I never burned one again. I knew if that was what it was doing to my walls and cabinets, what the heck was it doing to my body?

  9. How funny you just posted on this! I just ditched our old Advent candles for beautiful unscented ones from my Frontier catalog. I do a co op order every 2-3 months from my home. They are so pretty and have no scent. I love them! And I love not coughing every time we blow them out!

    1. Do you know if this applies to the paraffin blocks that you use for the paraffin heat treatments? I have a Paraffin Wax Treatment Unit For Hands And Feet and love it, but don’t want to use it if this applies to it too.

    1. Someone gave hubby and I a scentsy gift one time. Never even opened up the candles, They were making both of us woozy from inside their wrappers.
      Now I use the plug in for coconut oil for massage.

      1. I love and use coconut oil all the time, but I’ve not heard of a plug in?? Can you explain what it is or where you get it?

          1. Ahhh…that is good to know and I’ll check that out. Thanks, Paula. However, does anyone know if they Scentsy candles are harmful??

              1. Scentsy wax is not burned and does not dissipate into the air (or in your lungs, etc). The fragrance oils used are phthalate-free. As for beeswax, I avoid the overuse of animal based products. Scentsy warmers are lead free. No soot, etc as well of course. Soy…..I’d consider it if it was organic. I enjoy essential oils, but these have risks too as they have medicinal properties and should be used with this in mind.

            1. I went to a Scentsy party with a friend. You pass around boxes of all of their hundreds of scents. By the end of the party I was developing a huge chemical headache! I’ll stick with essential oils and beeswax!

  10. Wow, good information and a good reminder for me. “Fragrance” in various products is so prevalent it is difficult to constantly remember just how harmful it is.

  11. Now you’ve got me wondering what my chanukah candles are made of. It doesn’t say on the box, but it’s the cheap ones. Not good I guess.

  12. we make our own, from our beeswax πŸ™‚ we don’t use chemicals in our hives, so no residues to worry about, and the house smells like honey πŸ™‚

  13. I buy 100% soy candles from Posergy. A business that was started by my friend’s family. So yes a plug for them and and resource for those looking for safe candles. :o)

  14. Beeswax candles release negative ions into the air!!

    You can find the most negative ions near the ocean or in the mountains– the least in offices and some urban-area homes.

    Although I haven’t seen any hardcore science to back up this claim, I haven’t fully investigated it either. For me, it’s one more reason to support sustainable bee business (rather than putting my dollar towards the production of soy).

    I heart beeswax!

  15. True story: so about 20 years ago (I am THAT OLD), I met this man who owned a few candle stores. He had previously been a purchasing agent at a fortune 100 company and before leaving the biz to start his own, he’d done a lot of research on it, some of this related to stuff he did in his ‘big corp’ job. In his store, there was only one tiny box of ‘cheap candles’. Most the rest was beautiful glass things, beeswax, stuff like that. I asked why and he told me that nearly all the candles our country gets come from China, and that he knows from being there a lot and knowing people and business there, that they regularly use plastics, wax, and other products which have a liquid state at some point in manufacturing, to add in a little toxic waste. He said the country’s uber gigantic and has way too much of it and they export insane amounts of stuff, a little of it buried in a little of everything is useful on a mass scale. As a result he had no desire to have china-sourced candles in his shop, but that’s all the cheap, dollar-store-like kind of stuff. I haven’t bought cheap candles since.

  16. I like soy candles and that is what I usually buy……..I don’t like those cheap smelling candles. I love burning incense too. I wonder if they are toxic… I’ll have to google that.

  17. I recently bought palm wax candles through the Frontier Co-op. I’d never heard of candles made out of palm before. They’re great.

  18. I don’t use candles unless there is a power outage. I am super sensitive to fragrances and the use of candles triggers migraines for me.

    1. I don’t use flamed candles either unless of a power outage. Ever since becoming a mom, I got somewhat of a fire phobia. I got migraines as well from some scented things. Some triggers for me are those cheap grocery store plugins and some BBW lotion scents. Although I no longer burn Yankee Candles, their scents never bothered me and neither do Scentsy scents but of course everyone is different!

  19. I have severe allergies to soy anything. I can touch one or be in the same room with one burning and I get sick, as sick as if I had eaten soy. So, I use beeswax candles that I either buy or make when I have beeswax.

  20. Since you asked about essential oils, I wanted to tell you about our experience with them. I haven’t used them for making candles, but we do diffuse them a lot for their scent. We use therapeutic grade oils, so we use them for their health benefits as well. We use Young Living essential oils, because their purity standards are higher than anyone else’s, and because of the bladder cancer research that H. K. Linn at OU Medical Center did. We personally met and talked to him, and he told me and my husband that he tried his research with over a hundreds different kinds of frankincense from different companies and the only one that had positive results was the frankincense from Young Living…. it was because all the other brands had solvents, were diluted, etc. So, he’s a researcher and he only uses YL oils for his research. We’ve had tons of amazing things happen to our family with them. My sister’s spine was subluxated and she had a lot of pain, couldn’t stand straight (it was visibly crooked), etc. I put Valor on her back and within just a few minutes she straightened up and the pain went away. They’ve been great for first aid— antiseptic, etc., and they have pulled out glass and stickers from mine and my children’s feet (no more needles!) We’re most thankful in our family for the fact that after using them regularly my son has never had another case of pneumonia after having bout after bout of pnuemonia and spending lots of time in the ER… he had RSV as a newborn and it was a constant struggle until we started using the essential oils. Now his asthma is gone and he hasn’t been to the ER in years. My nephew was on nebulizers daily and steriods and after just a couple weeks of using RC daily he was able to completely get off all his asthma medication… and they still eat a SAD diet! (We eat WAPF) Anyway, we’re just really excited about what they’ve done for our children and nephew and friends. We’re going to start traveling around OK and surrounding states teaching classes about them and my husband is getting certified with CARE. If anyone would like for us to come teach a class to a group in your area about oils and WAPF diet, let us know.

    Rachel YL # 1119333

  21. I use YL oils. I put lemon in my yogurt with a little stevia or honey. I’ve been inhaling eucalyptus and putting lemon and orange in my water this week since I’ve been fighting a cold. The RC helps when hubby starts having lung problems. I also make my own spray air fresheners and cleaners with them.

  22. Raine, are you feeding your dog a raw food diet? That’s what we feed our dog since we got her as a pup and she smells clean as a whistle! The other thing that can help cut down on doggy odor is feeding your dog 1 tbs of coconut oil per day. Not sure if you are already doing any of those things, but they can help!

  23. I have MCS, so there is no way I can use artificially scented candles (and I lump paraffin in even when it’s unscented… unscented paraffin candles used to cause really bad reactions at a store I worked at and no one would believe me…). Even essential oils can sometimes set me off πŸ™ My MCS reactions range from throat closure, itchy skin with or without a rash, headache, burning eyes and nose, fatigue, fuzzy headedness, fuzzy vision, and depression. Since I can’t always tell what’s going to pop up, I try to avoid the things that set me off as much as possible!

    We use all beeswax around here because I know it’s safe for me. I really enjoy the honey smell of pure beeswax candles, and the air purifying that goes on with them.

  24. I’m curious as to what level of toxins we’re taking in by burning a paraffin candle (which is within our control) vs. the level of toxins we breath on a day basis by living in, let’s say, a large city (which is out of our control)?

  25. I buy Yankee Candle products. Would that be a harmful candle to use? Before, I would roast marshmallows over them, but after a friend told me it might be harmful, I’m concerned now because I didn’t know that they were. Please let me know! πŸ™‚

    1. A candle is basically a fuel source and a pump. ANYTHING burned improperly releases excessive hydrocarbons (soot). When a candle is made from a low grade parafin (not a food grade low oil content wax), with with addition of ‘petrolatum’ (excessive oil content, so the candle can be a ‘one pour’) combined with “Extra Fragrance” (additional contaminants) and poured into a jar (which causes improper combustion) causing the ENTIRE jar to be coated with SOOT, You Have a Yankee Candle. Lead in the wicks? About 15 years ago Candles were found imported into the USA with ‘lead cores’ in the wick. A well made candle does NOT have this, it may be a cotton or zinc core. THEN ‘all of a sudden’ candle companies started saying “Lead Free”? That is like posting “No Cholesterol” on corn flakes…. People are stupid and ill-informed. A well made parafin candle releases no more ‘soot’ than a veg-based candle. Jar candles produce MORE contaminants than a well made pillar/taper/small votive candle. PROPER Candle maintenance should be followed.

  26. Pingback: Managing Fibromyalgia (Part 4 Lifestyle) « Nature's Palace
  27. There is another safe alternative, even more stylish and completely non-toxic. Scentsy offers wickless wax burners. They plug in to the wall, and with the use of a small watt light bulb they melt wax that releases a frangrance with even more concentration than a candle. They are completely safe to be used 24/7 there’s no flame, soot, chemicals, or lead. In fact, the wax is produced by food grade petroleum, and would be completely safe if consumed. As the mother of a curious toddler that likes to climb and put everything in her mouth. I wouldn’t have anything but Scentsy in my home. I am a Scentsy independent consultant and you can check out my websites or feel free to contact me with questions.

    1. “is produced by food grade petroleum”,,,, what the????? This is a big part of the problem with chemicals in products on sale to the public, the manufacturers can say ridiculous things like this and most consumers just believe them. A typical example of this is a Planet Ark cleaner called Orange Power. The slogan on the on the label says “the greener cleaner…. That actually works”. Now this gives you the impression that it is totally chemical free,,,,, until you read the chemical data sheet and learn the truth.

  28. I recently started giving my dog sea kelp powder for pets with his food. His ‘doggy’ smell is almost completely gone.

  29. I’m allergic to soy. I fully promote using parafin candles. When people light soy candles, I have to leave the room or risk anaphylaxis. I wish the FDA / CPSC would hurry up and force allergen labelling requirements, as soy is a top 10 food allergy.

    1. My son has tested positive for moderate soy allergy (and corn). I was given a soy candle and have been wondering whether to burn it? Can you give me any more information about your allergy to soy and how burning a soy candle causes reaction? I am very interested. Thank you

  30. The subsequent time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I imply, I know it was my option to read, but I actually thought youd have one thing interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you can fix in case you werent too busy searching for attention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts