Are scented candles bad for you?
Are candles made with essential oils better for you than those made with synthetic fragrances?
Is a soy candle safer than one made of paraffin?
The simple answer to those questions: “Maybe; it depends.”
Assuming you feel (as I do) that that answer is not very helpful, let’s get into it.
My name is Kathy. I am a chandler (one who makes candles) and I have lots of information to share. So much that this will be a multi-part blog post.
Part 1: When did we decide candles might be dangerous?
Candles are often taken for granted in our electrified world, but they have a rich and diverse history.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that much attention was paid to the possible health implications of burning candles. Emerging concerns about toxic emissions came to light as studies identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released when candles are burned, potentially causing indoor air pollution. For instance, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that burning paraffin candles can release harmful chemicals into the air, negatively impacting air quality.
In addition, Lead or metal-core wicks, often used at the time in candle production , were found to emit lead particles into the air, posing severe health hazards.
Lead? Why was lead being used in wicks?
Lead core wicks were used because they helped stabilize the candle flame and keep it upright, especially in larger or thicker candles. The lead core provided rigidity to the wick, which made it less likely to sag or bend as the candle burned. This helped maintain a consistent and even burn, which was desirable from a functional and aesthetic perspective.
However, when a candle with a lead core wick is burned, the heat can vaporize the lead, releasing toxic lead fumes into the air. Inhaling these fumes can lead to lead poisoning, which can have serious health consequences, particularly for children and pregnant women.
Due to the well-documented health hazards associated with lead exposure, including those from lead-core wick candles, regulatory authorities in the United States and other countries took action to ban the use of lead in candle wicks. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took action to ban lead-cored wicks in candles in 2003 due to health concerns. As a result of the ban, candle manufacturers were required to stop using lead-core wicks in their products.
Since then, regulations and industry standards have been established to ensure that candle wicks are made from safer materials, such as cotton or other non-toxic materials.
The regulation of candles and candle waxes in the United States primarily falls under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC sets safety standards for various consumer products, including candles, to address safety concerns related to factors like candle labeling, fire safety, and wick materials. However, the CPSC’s primary focus has been on safety in terms of fire hazards rather than air quality.
It’s essential for consumers to be aware of the potential risks associated with burning paraffin candles in poorly ventilated spaces or for extended periods. Some individuals with sensitivities to indoor air pollutants may choose to use alternative candle types, such as soy candles or beeswax candles, which are often considered to be more environmentally friendly and may produce fewer indoor air pollutants.
So the good news is that lead-core wicks that were once used have been banned (a good thing). The importation of candles with lead-core wicks into the U.S. would typically not be allowed; importers and manufacturers of candles are generally required to adhere to these regulations to ensure that the candles they produce or import are safe for consumers.
However, while the world is a fine place, not a perfect place, and a recent report suggests the lead candle wicks are still playing a role.
There are people and companies more concerned with making a profit rather than protecting the consumers using their products. Lead-core wicks are not banned everywhere, and can be made in other parts of the world (and imported illegally into the US) or used illegally in US. Word to the wise: know who is making your candles, and what materials they are using to create them.
What wick options are there?
- Cotton wicks: Cotton wicks are commonly used in candles for their safety and minimal health concerns. They do not contain harmful additives and produce a steady, even burn.
- Hemp wicks
- Wood wicks: Wood wicks have gained popularity for their aesthetic appeal and crackling sound. While generally safe, there have been concerns about the type of wood used and its potential health impacts.
- Zinc-core wicks.
Are zinc-core wicks safe?
Zinc-core candle wicks are generally considered safer than lead-core candle wicks, but the environmental impact of zinc in candle wicks is a topic of discussion.
Here are some key points regarding zinc-core candle wicks:
- They do not release toxic lead fumes when burned, which was a significant concern with lead-core wicks.
- Zinc-core wicks provide stability to the candle flame, similar to lead-core wicks. They help keep the flame centered.
- When zinc-core wicks burn, they can release trace amounts of zinc into the air. While these levels are typically not considered harmful to human health, there is concern about the environmental impact, especially if large numbers of candles with zinc-core wicks are burned regularly.
- The use of zinc-core wicks is generally in compliance with candle safety regulations in many countries, including the United States. However, it is up to manufacturers to adhere to safety standards and for consumers to look for candles labeled as complying with safety regulations.
At Brimstone, we use cotton-core wicks for most candles, and wood wicks for a limited number.