Scented candles are everywhere. They’re becoming more ubiquitous in stores both for sale and, in smaller boutiques, to create an atmosphere that’s welcoming for shoppers. They’re a popular go-to for gifts, especially for people deemed “hard to shop for”, because who doesn’t love a fragrant candle? You’ll see them in spas, travel accommodations, dorm rooms, homes, parties and work settings. They create warmth and ambiance, and if a space smells a little stale or funky, a scented candle is the first thing a lot of people reach for to alleviate the problem. But the trouble with that is: a lot of scented candles on the market today contain chemicals and synthetic fragrances – many of which are unregulated – that are emitted into the air (and lungs) of anyone around.
The Daily Mail reports that “when U.S. researchers burnt a range of candles in a laboratory for a study published in 2009, the chemicals released in harmful amounts included human carcinogens and chemicals known to cause asthma attacks, such as toluene and benzene.”
In the article, Dr. Amid Hamidi of South Carolina University, who led the study, showed that “paraffin-based candles produced ‘clear sharp peaks’ for many chemicals, mainly because they do not reach high enough temperatures when being burned to destroy the hazardous molecules they emit.”
It was also asserted that while very high-quality, small-batch candles are much more likely to be scented with essential oils or natural perfumes, making those candles is much more costly. Mass-market candles, which are produced much more cheaply, often use less-expensive synthetic fragrances and dyes that can emit harmful contaminants when heated. And, they note, once a candle is lit it produces soot, with particles that can remain suspended in the air for several hours.
Those dyes, fragrances and chemicals can present real respiratory problems for people who have decreased lung function (like asthmatics). They can even bother healthy people, causing eyes to water or burn, or causing your nose to run.
Additionally, toxins can also be present in the wicks of candles. There are two basic types of wick: cored and non-cored. Non-cored wicks are safer to burn, but also less structurally sound, meaning the wick can go limp and fall into the candle, extinguishing itself. So many candle makers use the other option, a cored wick, in which cotton is wrapped around a metal or paper core for support. Trouble is, research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that cored candles release the dirtiest soot, which can sometimes contain particles of zinc, tin, lead and cadmium.
Even in the most reverent of settings, candles can still present a problem. Dutch researchers measured air quality at a small chapel and a large basilica in Maastricht and found that the air in both places contained particulate matter at levels up to 20 times higher than what is considered safe to breathe under European air pollution standards. The candles and incense regularly burned during religious services emit high levels of particulate matter, tiny airborne flecks considered to be one of the most harmful forms of air pollution, according to scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
If you love the warm glow of a candle, it’s not all bad news: the South Carolina study also found that vegetable-based candles didn’t produce any potentially harmful pollutants (as opposed to their paraffin-based counterparts). Beeswax and soy-based candles are also much better options. If it’s a mood you’re going for, opt for unscented candles — they produce less soot and air particles.
If you’re wanting to eliminate bad odors, candles really only cover up the source of the odor — and even then, the result is temporary and the odor returns when the candle is extinguished. High-quality air purifiers are a great way to remove contaminants and allergens from your home, including odors that come from cooking, pets or stale, uncirculated air.
The solution we love: The Beyond Guardian Air.
The Beyond Guardian Air air purifier is equipped with our proprietary, NASA-inspired ActivePure Technology that not only removes odors, smoke and VOCs from the air, but can also destroy bacteria, germs and viruses that are lurking on the surfaces in your home. Without the use of chemicals, ozone, or fragrance, the Beyond Guardian Air can freshens your home or office while actually improving your indoor air quality.