Let There Be (non-toxic) Light!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, many of us will be buying candles. Luxurious, calming, and exotic, it might appear to be the perfect gift. But the burning question is – do candles harm the environment and our health? The short answer: yes! The seemingly innocuous candle can be a source of lead poisoning, synthetic chemicals, and indoor air pollution.

Paraffin is the predominant wax used in the candle industry, simply because it is the most inexpensive. It is essentially a skimmed wax made from petroleum oil which has reached it’s melting point. When you burn paraffin candles, carcinogenic soot is produced. This soot contains many of the same toxins found in diesel fuel. A 2009 study by researchers at South Carolina State University also found paraffin-based candles emitted toxic chemicals like ketones, toluene, and benzene, which have been linked to cancer and birth defects. They concluded that lighting candles in unventilated spaces could aggravate asthma, cause allergy-like symptoms, or irritate the respiratory tract. Talk about an ambiance killer!

Some candles may also have wicks that contain lead, which is said to make them burn more slowly and evenly. When you burn these candles, lead vapours are produced, particularly dangerous for children or pregnant women. Votives, pillars, tea lights, or any candle which produces puddles of wax are more likely to contain a lead wick. While Health Canada advises you avoid lead candles, there is no currently no ban in place.

Synthetic fragrances also pose a number of health hazards. Many contain phthalates which are hidden under the term “fragrance” on an ingredients list. Phthalates have been linked to hormone disruptions and infertility. Fragrance ingredients can also contain neurotoxins, synthetic musks, and many can trigger asthma attacks or sensitivities.

The best way to enjoy the beautiful glow of candles is to ensure the candles you use are made with natural products, so they don’t release dangerous toxins into your home. Spending a little more money or time finding non-toxic candles will be well worth it with regards to your health and the environment. Look for candles made from beeswax or soy, which is much safer than paraffin. Make sure to look for products that are 100% pure, as some candles contain paraffin blends. Also look for candles scented with essential oils, not synthetic fragrance! And finally, make absolutely sure you avoid lead wicks.

Companies are beginning to catch on that Canadians want to promote a healthy home environment. Willow Tree Collection, Upper Canada Soap and Candle, Natura Soylights and Freen are just some of the many companies offering healthy and safer choices. By supporting a Canadian company, you’re not only giving back to the local economy, but also cutting back on carbon emissions from lengthy transport. As always, the more local the better.

All of us can make minor adjustments in our lifestyles to have less impact on our environment.There’s no need to put out the fire this Valentine’s Day, but simply a need to make more informed choices when buying candles.