What’s in your candles? What are you breathing when you light your candles?
The vast majority of candles sold on the market are made with
toxic paraffin wax. Ours are NOT!
What is Paraffin?
Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum, a non-renewable resource. And while it might seem obvious to some, many people don’t realize that inhaling the fumes from paraffin candles is not good for your health.Paraffin wax produces numerous toxic carcinogens and emits harmful vapors into the air. According to a study done at South Carolina State University, the chemicals found in the fumes of paraffin candles are linked to cancer, birth defects, allergies, and such respiratory ailments as asthma––especially when there are many of them burning in enclosed, unventilated spaces like restaurants, churches, or a room in your home.
After it’s scraped out of oil refineries, paraffin wax bleached by adding dioxin; texturized with acrolyn (a known carcinogen); and then mixed with animal-based stearic acid (a nasty byproduct of the meatpacking slaughterhouses) to harden it so that it can be made into candles. When paraffin candles burn, they emit black soot and toxic fumes—similar in chemistry to diesel exhaust—containing poisonous chemicals such as benzene, toluene, naphthalene, tri-decane, tetra-decane, penta-decane, and hexadecane. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t require candle makers to list the ingredients in candles, so you never really know what you’re burning and breathing.
You can read more about Paraffin below.
Consumers, restaurants, churches, temples, etc. mostly burn paraffin candles or disposable paraffin oil cartridge lamps. There are two reasons for this: price and knowledge. Regarding price, paraffin candles have historically been much cheaper to make than non-toxic soy. We don’t jack up our prices because of our “Non-Toxic, 100% Organic Soy, Cruelty-Free, Vegan” label like so many others. We want everyone to breath freely and not pay anymore than they would their for toxic candles. We would love to see every household, restaurant, church, business, etc. switch to clean-burning candles
A Closer Look at Paraffin Wax – AKA, Literal Toxic Waste
Candles are made from many different products, but predominantly paraffin wax is the most common candle material in the United States. They are also the cheapest, so if you are picking up your candles from a Dollar Store, Walmart, Target or other mega-chain store, chances are you are buying paraffin wax candles.
Paraffin wax was originally called petroleum wax when it was discovered in 1830 as a petroleum by-product created from the sludge waste found at the bottom of the barrel when crude oil is refined into gasoline. Its use was restricted for about two decades after it’s discovery, due to it’s toxic nature when burned.
However, in the 1850s, chemists learned how to efficiently separate the naturally occurring waxy substance from petroleum and “refine it” into what they now called paraffin at that point declaring it safe to burn and be used as candles.
Is Paraffin Wax As Non-Toxic As It Was Declared To Be In 1850?
In a word: No. In two words: Hell no. Let’s take a thorough look at the process of creating paraffin wax for candles:
Paraffin candles begin at the bottom of an oil barrel as the last possible petroleum by-product. Even asphalt is extracted before paraffin in the refining process. After crude oil has been refined to make gasoline, the barrel is coated in a highly toxic grayish-black sludge that has been rejected by the oil and gas industry. This is our “Petroleum Wax” from 1830. Now comes the “refining process” that makes it “non-toxic” and “safe”.
(I hope my quotes, unquotes were sufficiently condescending..)
The petroleum wax is gathered up and bleached with industrial strength bleach, changing the color of the black sludge to a stark white. As we learned when talking about toxin-free diapers in an earlier blog post (click here to read), bleaching – even with a household laundry bleach – creates toxic dioxins in noticeable amounts. Your household bleach, even at full strength, is only at 10%. To make paraffin wax, the bleach is at 100%.
Based on animal studies, dioxins from bleach are believed to have the ability to cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified dioxins as a “likely human carcinogen.”
Once the sludge is thoroughly bleached and dioxin-laden, acrolyn, a known carcinogenic chemical, is then added to form the white sludge into solid white blocks. Although the National Candle Association claims this substance is harmless, once burned, acrolyn releases carcinogenic toxins such as benzene and toluene into the air.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Long term exposure to benzene [long term defined as roughly one year] causes bone marrow to stop producing enough red blood cells and damages the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Toluene directly effects the central nervous system. Toluene toxicity in both humans and animals for acute and chronic exposures is manifested by central nervous system dysfunction and narcosis, which have been frequently observed in humans acutely exposed to low or moderate levels of toluene by inhalation. Symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea.
Other chemicals are then added to the solid white blocks, which help to make the paraffin burn a little longer and look a little prettier. The toxic chemicals added at this point vary on the producer of the paraffin, but common chemicals present in the paraffin mixture (and released through burning) at this point include: Acetone, Trichlorofluoromethane, Carbon Disulfide, 2-Butanone, Trichloroethane, Carbon Tetrachloride, Tetrachloroethene, Chlorobenzene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Xylene, Phenol, Cresol and Cyclopentene.
This blog post is already long (and getting longer!) so if you care to read the laundry list of toxic side effects of those chemicals (and every single one of them is toxic!), check out the EPA or CDC websites and enter them in the substance search box.
Paraffin blocks are then sold to companies that may add various other chemicals to texturize the wax.
So! Now we have our paraffin candle! Contrary to the verdict that was issued when Zachary Taylor was President of the United States, and Queen Victoria was on the throne in England, the end result of “refined petroleum wax” is STILL a very toxic product.
Paraffin and Indoor Air Pollution
Regardless of what chemical additives may or may not be in your paraffin candles based on the variations in Step 3 and 4 of the refining process, every single paraffin wax candle contains at LEAST seven documented toxins – two of which are carcinogenic – when they burn.
When you burn a paraffin wax candle, it is a FACT that you are filling your home with toxic chemicals and contributing to indoor air pollution. The soot and fumes released by paraffin wax are similar to those released from a diesel engine and can be as dangerous as secondhand cigarette smoke.
While this is harmful for anyone, it is especially unhealthy for those suffering from allergies or serious respiratory issues like asthma.
When soot is airborne, it is subject to inhalation. Paraffin soot particles are so fine (as small as 100 nanometers) that they are able to penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs – the lower respiratory tract and alveoli – which can cause long-term damage.
In 2012, for the first time, researchers studied in detail how candle soot gets stuck in the lungs. The results show that more than half of all inhaled soot particles remain in the body. MORE THAN HALF!! The findings were published in the Journal of Aerosol Science, and the findings are especially dire when linked to other studies on the inhalation of particulate matter such as diesel soot.
Soot that gets stuck in the lungs have been widely studied in humans and animals and the effects include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, respiratory diseases, and premature death. The World Health Organization estimates that:
“…fine particulate air pollution from soot causes about 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, and about 1% of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 years old, worldwide.”