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Health

Are your scented candles polluting your home - and your health?

August 16th 2017 / 2 comments

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As research reveals we’re turning to home fragrance more than ever, we ask if by burning scented candles we’re bringing the pollution problem indoors

Chances are you’ve never given much thought to the candles dotted around your living room to any more of an extent than what they look and smell like; but with pollution concerns on the rise and new research from Mintel finding the scented candle market is booming, should we be looking a little more closely at what we’re burning in our homes?

Air quality has been at the forefront of the news in 2017, with Mayor Sadiq Kahn issuing his first ‘very high’ pollution alert for London in January; meanwhile anti-pollution skincare is a trend that’s showing no signs of burning out and now a new Mintel report reveals that 45 per cent of those in the capital are concerned about the air in their homes. But could we be part of the problem?

So far this year, two in five of all air care launches have been candles, and according to Mintel 81 per cent of us Brits use air care products (be it a candle, air freshener or reed diffuser) to ‘freshen’ the air at home. Richard Hopping, Household and Brand Analyst at Mintel, puts it down to pollution worries as we close our windows and look for other solutions to a better-smelling home:

“That Londoners are the most likely to be concerned about the quality of outdoor air where they live and the air in their home is a contributing factor towards their greater use of air care products. Awareness of air pollution has been on the increase in recent years and this has impacted the way that people live their lives. For those looking to freshen their homes in built-up areas, the option to open a window for extended periods of time may be diminished because of pollution concerns, increasing the need for air care products to do the job for them.”

But how healthy are your candles? We may actually be making the air around us even more toxic thanks to the scented home fragrances we’re burning in our homes. As eco candle brand Ecoya explains, not all candles are created equal. "Paraffin wax is the predominant wax used in the candle industry. It’s also the final by-product in the petroleum refining chain. It has been described as the “bottom of the barrel” even after asphalt is extracted.”

Previous studies have found that paraffin candles release chemicals and known carcinogens including toluene and benzene, which can cause problems in asthma sufferers as well as affecting your skin and health. What’s more, the fragrances used to scent your beloved bath time burners could be seen as just as dangerous if they’re not of the natural kind; synthetic fragrances or even dyes used in some products can give off particles when heated which are bad for your health. The wick is just as important; some brands use a ‘cored’ wick, meaning the cotton is wrapped around another material such as metal, producing a soot which is even worse for your lungs (Just check out Sam Cam's sooty walls).

So what should you look for? Natural wax candles which use beeswax or soy are the cleanest way to scent your home - candles made from soy wax produce approximately a tenth of the soot produced by a paraffin candle - while the wick should be short (longer wicks produce more smoke and pollution) and thin, ideally made of cotton and without a core. Ventilation is of course key - though a draft will make any sootiness worse; ultimately, if you’re an occasional candle burner you’re unlikely to run into trouble, but if you’re lighting up for long periods of time you could be adding to your pollution footprint.

It’s not simply a case of getting what you pay for, either. While mass market candles may be the main culprits here, even some of the most luxurious home fragrance brands are using paraffin wax in their products, so if you’re keen to keep up your candle habit you’ll need to start reading the labels. Independent, handmade brands also tend to have a far better approach, too.

The cleanest candle experience? Opt for paraffin-free wax formulas scented with natural essential oils - just don’t hold the flame for too long and be sure to limit your burning time. Here’s our pick of the healthiest candles around…

Neom

Neom candles are all made with 100 per cent natural vegetable wax, 100 per cent natural fragrances and the purest possible essential oils, and with 100 per cent natural cotton wicks. From £16, buy online

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Ecoya

This Australian eco brand’s soy candles burn at a lower temperature and for 30 per cent longer than a paraffin candle, with lead-free cotton wicks; plus they’re pretty stylish too. From £15, buy online

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Voya

This Soil Association-certified brand is used in spas around the world and is one of the most luxurious in the organic scene. This uplifting African Lime and Clove candle launched in July 2017; the wax is pure, natural soybean oil and rapeseed, with no petroleum and only natural fragrances. £25, buy online

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Made by Coopers

These beautiful handcrafted candles are paraffin free, with a soy wax formula, lead-free wicks and no synthetic fragrances; only natural, clean ingredients. From £20, buy online

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Bramley

These 100 per cent natural candles are made from a blend of beeswax, soy and rapeseed wax, with a wick made of unbleached cotton, and essential oils to add fragrance. £26, buy online

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Malin + Goetz

These handmade candles are made from natural beeswax, vegetable and soy, and the founders say it’s such a clean burn that you can use the glass afterwards. From £16, buy online

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Bamford

With a cotton wick, these natural candles are made of soy wax and infused with essential oils for a clean, organic scent. From £35, buy online

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What are your favourite natural candle brands? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Andrew
  • August 17th 2017

Do you have any sources that you can link to the research mentioned in this post please? I have worked in both Oil & Gas and latterly the Renewable Energy industry. I have spent a long time working with and researching organic compounds; this article doesn't seem to add up. I for one, would like people to know the facts and to feel safe in their home as much as anyone else. There have been numerous studies into wax emissions to answer the very same question posed in this article, but the answer is the opposite. All waxes, although they may burn with slightly different GCMS profiles, burn in a very similar fashion. Physical properties vary, but out of soy, beeswax, paraffin, coconut etc... none can be said to be any less harmful than the other. It's also accurate to say that NO waxes burn with emissions that exceed threshold values. Not even 2% of the way to the limit. This means that, whichever candle you prefer to buy, you can be safe in the knowledge that (as long as it is well made and is maintained correctly) it will cause you no harm. I'm a long time lurker and my wife loves this website but this post touched a nerve and I had to say something. This website is supposed to debunk the myths and help people who might not know otherwise, I would like to help in any way I can.

  • patricia
  • August 16th 2017

Such a brilliant article! Thanks so much for sharing. Another brilliant option for soy candles is Malée's Soy Candles available at Harvey Nichols. They are DIVINE! Disclaimer: I don't work for them, just think they're brilliant and just another one to add to this fantastic list of better candle options.

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