There are many harmful products that many of us knowingly or unknowingly use on a daily basis. Many of them are obviously dangerous, such as drain cleaner and bleach. But some products appear innocent while posing significant health risks. So we set out to see if scented candles are among them — are they really dangerous?
There is an online movement that warns against the dangers of burning scented candles. The argument is that candles contain lead, chemicals and artificial fragrances that are harmful to humans or even pets. Let's take a look at the research.
The internet is full of baseless claims that scented candles are toxic and harmful to health. Many of the claims assert that candle wicks contain lead, fragrances are made with cancer-causing chemicals and candle wax (especially paraffin) releases toxic chemicals. But are these claims true?
Probably not... There doesn't seem to be any real research that verifies these claims, and there is real research disputing the claims. Let’s tackle these false claims one-by-one.
- Candle wicks contain lead - While this was once true, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission outlawed the sale of lead-cored wicks and candles constructed with them in 2003. Today, most candle manufacturers use synthetic fibers, cotton, paper and zinc wicks.
- Candle wax releases toxic chemicals - A study showed that well-made candles burn cleanly, regardless of the type of wax used. Over 300 chemicals were tested, and all emission levels were found to fall below even the most rigid indoor-air standards.
- Fragrances are made with cancer-causing chemicals - The International Fragrance Association ensures that fragrances are non-toxic.
It seems that candles are made with safe materials and are generally non-toxic.
Concerns About Particulate Matter
There is one thing we should perhaps worry about when burning candles, however. Anything that’s on fire, including candles, releases particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the air. Once these materials are released into the air, we can breathe them in, and they may be harmful.
The truth is that these materials can be harmful, but burning a candle may not make much difference in your exposure level depending on the environment in which you live. Consider that there is particulate matter present in most places every day. So it may be that these do increase exposure, something that might be a challenge for sensitive folks, but for a healthy adult, it probably won't be a problem.
Burning Candles Without Hurting Your Health
Ultimately, the choice to use candles does come with some risk, however small. So we should strive to use them safely. The longer they burn, the more particles are released into the air. For this reason, we should avoid burning scented candles for long periods of time. Use them occasionally and for short periods only. Or opt for unscented candles to reduce the particulates. And if sensitive people live in the home, maybe opt for some other mood enhancer instead.
While burning scented candles does not pose the health risks that many would have us believe, candles are not entirely harmless, either. Particulate matter, in large amounts, can cause problems. For this reason, it's probably best to burn scented candles responsibly and in moderation.