The Scary Side of Scented Candles

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file000870543222Vanilla Bliss. Pumpkin Spice Delight. Crisp Winter Magic. 

If we’re able to glean anything from the names of scented candles, it’s that the fragrance industry has us wrapped around their fingers. After all, who doesn’t want the house to smell like sugar cookies or pecan pie?

It’s the time of year when candles become central to our dinner tables and hearths. Cozy tea lights add festive flair. Cheesy, holiday-themed air freshener commercials tug at our heartstrings. If only my guest bath smelled like pine trees, all would be well in my world.

But don’t go falling for that crap just yet.

Facts and Figures

A recent study from Emory University in Atlanta and the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic suggests that air fresheners are an allergy attack waiting to happen. The chemical additives can trigger asthma, cold symptoms, lung problems and reproductive complications. Most popular household air fresheners were found to contain formaldyhyde, phalates and even chemicals that were linked to impaired genital development. Seriously – get your kids away from the scented plug-ins.

Candle Magic

Feeling smug cause you already swore off air fresheners? Switching to scented candles isn’t any better, babe. Most commercial scented candles contain a laundry list of nasty stuff. Experts at the American Lung Association contend that these bad boys are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to indoor air quality and seasonal sickness.

So what’s the big deal with burning your Berries and Cream tealights?  Lead, among other things. Candles made with metal wicks can cause lead emissions, which are then deposited in your home for your continued enjoyment. Lead exposure can lead to serious health complications – cancer, autoimmune disorders and organ damage. Plus, your kiddies are picking it up and eating it when they touch the walls, carpet or furniture and then stick their hands in their mouths. Yum.

Labels Shmabels

Not all scented candles or air fresheners are going to kill you. But the labels aren’t going to tell you much, either. That’s why it’s important to use your head. With candles, avoid ones that have wicks with a shiny metal center. Opt for cotton or paper wicks instead. Also, be wary of slow-burning candles – these tend to have more additives. Another thing? If burning a candle creates a smoky film around the ring of the jar, toss the thing, as it could be an indication of lead dust.

Healthy Scents

Don’t worry. You don’t have to give up your favorite holiday scents. There are plenty of safe, non-toxic candles on the market. Look for ones that are soy-based and made with only natural ingredients. (Check out this list for some options.)

And what about your air fresheners? Get an oil diffuser instead. Blend a few drops of essential oils like peppermint, cinnamon or eucalyptus and you can create your own non-toxic, signature holiday scent.

Do you know of a good natural/vegan candle company? Tell us in the comments.

1000893_10151764140639529_1442045243_nMara Tyler, Managing Editor 

A  Bay Area health nut with a passion for holistic nutrition, Mara is a writer, PR pro and marketing consultant. Her work has been featured on sites like Redbook, SF Weekly, Livestrong, Healthline, Natural News and Passionate about women’s health, she shares vegan and gluten-free recipes, nutrition advice, and mind-body musings on her website, You can also snag a copy of her e-book, Cheap & Simple Vegan Everyday Cookbook. To make her day, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.



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2 Responses to “The Scary Side of Scented Candles”

  1. November 25, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Mr. B’s Luminaries are all natural, soy candles hand poured by a friend, Shem, using recycled glass as options too. They small amazing, and he just opened up s small shop in Del Mar, Ca. All about supporting local small businesses! I have them all over my house!

  2. November 28, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    I was hoping you would clarify “long burning” candles in your article. Some waxes burn longer not because of additives, but because of the nature of the wax. Having a burn test done by a lab is helpful in determining what your candles are putting out.

    The candles sold at are made with 100% vegewax – they are soot free and non-toxic – *As indicated by the results of the test performed by Cambridge Materials Testing on 5.10.01; no measurable quantity of soot and condensates were generated during the 3 hour burn test. Like beeswax, vegewax burns longer because of its density. Vegewax is a hard, non-oily, clean burning wax that burns slow and doesn’t stick to surfaces.

    I agree 100% with the fragrance problem. I usually only burn the NGS essential oil candles, but I don’t have a problem burning the fragrances either because they are all subtle and I know that they didn’t emit anything in the burn test so they’re safe.

    Thanks for letting me add this comment to your blog!

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