Just as I have always been a self-proclaimed-beauty-product-junkie, I have also always coveted candles. Yankee Candle was one of my stops on my outlet shopping trips...or even just a quick pitstop in the mall to take a sniff and see what was new. Candles were also a big part of my Christmas decor and part of the beautiful sights and smells of the holidays. You can imagine my shock and severe disappointment when I discovered how unhealthy candles are! This time it wasn't just mommy-research...when I first got really sick I could not stand any sort of artificial scents, so my nose was trying to tell me something - system overburdened!
Here I go again, ruining all the fun! You might be wondering, "What could be SO BAD about candles?"...sooooo, here is the quick and DIRTY rundown:
1. Paraffins = A waste product of petroleum and a known carcinogen (think diesel engine), with an impact as high as second-hand cig smoke. Has been linked to asthma and cancer.
2. Benzene & Toluene = Found in candle soot. Has been linked to cancer and nervous system issues.
3. Lead = According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission candles containing lead release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children. Thankfully lead wicks were banned in the U.S., but many candles still contain lead, especially those imported (China, etc.). Lead is never something you want in your home!
There is an endless list of other toxic chemicals that sometimes end up in candles - some of the same ingredients that are found in paints! Of course artificial fragrances alone can cause a bunch of issues for some people as well. A "Time" article stated the following, "Burning everyday paraffin-wax candles can emit a storm of toxic chemicals, including toluene and benzene, according to a study presented today to the American Chemical Society. To be sure, it’s nowhere near as harmful to light an occasional candle as it would be, say, to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. But the researchers say that frequent candle burning in tight unventilated areas has been implicated in lung cancer, asthma and skin rash. So make sure there’s somewhere for the smoke to escape from your romantic candlelit dinner. Or, if you can afford to part with an extra buck or two, you may want to splurge on bee’s wax or soybean candles instead. They both burn a lot cleaner." (Resource)
So what's a candle-lover to do?! First of all, NEVER NEVER NEVER buy gel candles or the air-freshener-type (like Glade) candles. If you have them, throw them out…NOW! If you want to enjoy candles in your home be willing to spend a little more money to get higher quality. As suggested above, bee's wax and soy candles are a healthier alternative. Since soy is typically GMO-tainted, I make sure to research the purity of the ingredients used by companies before I make a purchase. (Some feel that all soy has been affected in some way, so if you are very concerned stick with bee's wax.)
Here are some of my personal favorites and suggestions:
1. Eco Candle Company - Check out their "About Us" section to learn more about their awesome values and standards. I absolutely adore their holiday candles! They gave me back such an enjoyable part of the season, which I thought I had to give up forever! If you like your house to smell like a REAL Christmas Tree I highly suggest the "Winter Wonderland" and "Joy" scents. "Sleigh Ride" is similar, but with a hint of orange. We have also enjoyed the warm and sweet "Eggnog," the wintery floral "Snowflake" (which can be enjoyed all winter), and the very comforting and spiritual "Noel" essence of frankincense and myrrh. I burn the "Peace" candle year 'round, because I love mint and lavender together, and find it very relaxing. These candles are soy-based and come in beautiful glass jars (some clear and some frosted). RUN to their website NOW, because all of their holiday candles are around 50%-off! Stock up!
2. Way Out Wax - An AMAZING Vermont company (which makes me proud and happy) that I first learned about during my good ol' UVM days! I love their "Aromatherapy Blends," because they are very therapeutic. I am really drawn to Eucalyptus (especially when I am tired or getting sick), so I really like the "Clear Head" candle. Just like its name, "Cozy Home" is very warming and makes a house smell like a home, so I like it in the kitchen area. "Sweet Dreams" is a unique, relaxing blend and is perfect for meditation and winding down at the end of the day. Of course I adore "Northern Forest" at Christmastime, too! It literally smells like walking through the woods. (I have spotted these at Whole Foods and other health food stores.)
3. Big Dipper Wax Works - My Seattle-based-sis-in-law gifted me with these little gems, because they are something she enjoys (sharing is caring)! I love that these are bee's wax (save the bees!), and I really appreciate the fact that they give so much information on their website. They are another company I am happy to support! They clearly state that even their wicks are primed with bee's wax and NOT paraffin, which you have to be aware of even when purchasing what you might think is a "pure" candle. I also love all of the varieties…shapes, sizes, colors…number birthday candles! The artistry is incredible - check out the ornament candles (by now you are picking up on a holiday-candle-obsession theme). I don't think I could pick a favorite scent, because I have actually tried them all throughout the years. "Rejuvenation" (Sweet Orange & Clove Bud) sits in my kitchen, "Clarity" (Lime & May Chang) is so fresh and universal that it moves around, but usually likes to hang out in the bathroom, and "Harmony" (Lavender & Geranium) keeps the bedroom more peaceful and restful. Since Ylang Ylang is my all-time favorite essential oil, though, "Radiance" (Tangerine & Ylang Ylang) is the one I use the most, and "Enlightenmint" (Bergamot & Mint ) is great for yoga/meditation time. They also have awesome Advent, Hanukkah, and Birthday candles, so you can be sure your family is breathing easily no matter what the occasion! (In addition to shopping online you can find most varieties at Whole Foods and local health food stores).
4. Seracon Eco-Culture - This was an unexpected, joyful little treat I stumbled upon while doing my normal exploring around Whole Foods. The rich maple scent transports me to happy childhood memories of hanging out in sugar houses and the multiple treats I indulged in - fresh syrup, maple creemees (probably "soft serve" to you), maple covered donuts, maple candy, maple cotton candy… Mmmmm! I could not resist this purchase, and I ended up going back to get more for myself and as gifts for others! The company's website is a little challenging to navigate, so I can't get quite as much information as I would like, but they state that their candles are 100% vegetable wax, with 100% cotton wicks (they also have wooden wicks). Some of their other yummy offerings include coffee and chocolate scents.
While the use of candles can lessen the air quality in your house, there is clearly a distinction between highly toxic versus safer options. As I mentioned I am very sensitive to artificial fragrances, so I know these candles are high quality because I haven't had any issues with any of them. I am very grateful for the companies above, because candles are something I really enjoy. Who wants to give up ALL of the fun stuff? Just make sure you burn candles in a wide, open space and/or with good ventilation like a cracked window. Also, keep the wicks trimmed so they produce less soot. Personally, I find the actual flame of the candle relaxing, but if the scent is all you are going for, diffusing essential oils is another good option that actually has health benefits, too (yup, another future blog topic!).
With most things a good rule of thumb is, if it is not naturally occurring in the world, you probably do not want it on your body, in your mouth, or in your house. Just like with antiperspirant/deodorant (from my earlier post), our bodies were not made to smell like a (fake) bouquet of flowers...and our homes are not supposed to smell like (fake) cinnamon buns. If you want your home to smell a certain way, put the REAL things around that you love - a bowl of lemons, some sprigs of dried lavender. We go to all of this effort to make things more "appealing," but we are hurting ourselves and the ones we love in the process. What we really need is to get back to a simpler way of life and keep things the way nature intended. Fire is a means for life, and candles have been a source of light for centuries, we just need to keep the junk out of them and leave them as pure as possible. Our sense of smell is a gift that can bring us great pleasure. Enjoy!
***UPDATE: November 2016***Always on the lookout for new products to enjoy and share I recently came across another cool candle company, and this brand has an interesting twist...their marketing is focused on men. I recently stumbled upon "Manready Mercantile" products in a local store, and I immediately fell in love with their line of "The Noble Series Soy Candle." I haven't stopped thinking about the "Frankincense + Orange" scent in particular. Just trying to decide if I make my purchase online today (it is Cyber Monday, after all...with 25% off), or if I just wait and support our lovely local business. Either way...I will let you know what I think! PS- You shouldn't get a hard time from the "man" in your life for picking up one of these little treats, since the candle comes in a reusable whiskey glass! That should mean you need to buy even more, right?!