candles

Your sense of smell is supposedly the strongest sense tied to memory. That’s why the rich aroma of coconut instantly makes you prickle with the feeling of summer sun on your skin, even in the dead of winter. And you can blame your nose for conjuring up images in your head of Thanksgiving meals whenever you catch a whiff of scrumptious cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin scents.

The feel-good emotions linked with so many smells can lure us into buying all manner of deliciously-scented candles. And why not go a little candle crazy? Candles are a bit like flowers. They’re pretty, sensory-appealing, fun, but not actually necessary—unless the electricity goes out. (The candles would be helpful in that situation, not the flowers. Just to clear that up.) Candles may fall in the luxury category, but why not enjoy them? They set a relaxing mood, they freshen the air, their soft light makes a home feel cozy, and the smells… well, there ain’t nothing wrong with a home that smells good.

Unfortunately these comfort-inducing items can often be anything but healthy for your home. Discover four easy tips to choose safe, healthy candles.

1. Watch out for petroleum by-products.  

The paraffin wax used to craft conventional candles is made from the residue leftover from oil refining. Just say no.

2. Conventional candles can pollute your indoor air.

That heady scent (aka toxic fumes) your candle is wafting around your home isn’t just fragrant, it’s polluting your air supply. The soot from these candles can contain a slew of toxic chemicals including toluene and benzene, volatile organic compounds linked to cancer and neurological damage. Some candles even contain lead in the wick. Check with the candle’s manufacturer for a list of ingredients.

3. Nix the additives and synthetic fragrances.

You savvy green consumers wouldn’t let the toxic ingredients in conventional shampoos and lotions anywhere near your skin or hair, but would you inhale similar ingredients into your body? That’s what could be happening with your seemingly harmless candle.

Smells like… phthalates? If you’re smelling fragrance, then there’s probably phthalates in your candle. The chemicals used to create fragrances often contain these hormone-disrupting chemicals, as well as other toxic synthetic compounds. If you’re curious about the ingredients in your candle, check with the manufacturer.

When shopping for candles, always opt for organic options. Or at least choose fragrance-free types (or if you just can’t go for unscented, opt for candles that use pure essential oils) or healthier vegetable-based versions.

4. Buy eco-conscious candles

You don’t have to deprive your olfactory glands of scrumptious candle aromatics forever. Check out these two eco-options.

Soy candles

As a renewable resource, soy candles boast more eco-bragging rights than conventional candles. Plus, they burn longer! But while soy candles are certainly superior to the toxic fragrances and additives in conventional candles, it’s worth noting that 91 percent of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Unless it boasts the USDA-certified organic label, it’s likely that your candle is made from GM soy.

Beeswax candles

Look for these eco-bad boys at your local farmers market. Beeswax is the only naturally occurring wax on earth and pure beeswax candles are non-toxic, non-polluting and actually cleanse indoor air of odors and allergens. They also give off the faint smell of honey when burned. What more could you ask for?

image: Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

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