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Which Candles Emit Carcinogens?

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Which Candles Emit Carcinogens?

As the days start their slow climb toward the winter solstice I always find myself lighting more and more candles to compensate for the diminishing sunlight. I love the warmth and flicker of light they can infuse a room with, rooms otherwise flat by the increasingly muted autumn and winter skies. Yet while candles can create a lovely mood, some types also create toxic emissions that are hardly worth the ambiance.

The candle culprits? Paraffin wax candles. These candles, which are made from petroleum, are a source of known human carcinogens and indoor pollution, researchers said in a study presented last month at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Washington, D.C. In the study, R. Massoudi and Amid Hamidi found that candles made from beeswax or soy, although more expensive, are safer because they do not release potentially harmful pollutants.

“An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you,” Hamidi said in a news release from the American Chemical Society. “But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an unventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems.” Hamidi also said that some people who believe they have an indoor allergy or respiratory irritation may actually be reacting to pollutants from burning candles. They noted that ventilation can help reduce the level of pollutants in closed rooms–but I say, better yet: switch to a healthier alternative!

Next: fragrance and your best bet

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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2:51PM PST on Nov 8, 2014

With dogs running around the house 24-7 I don't find candles very safe any more. We get plenty of heat and flickering light from the wood stove, and have all-mounted oil lamps in case we need light when the electricity is out.

1:38PM PST on Feb 18, 2013

I had no idea about it. Thanks much for the share.
Any idea about their candles -

11:20AM PDT on Jun 30, 2010

Please NEVER use anything with Palm wax or oil unless If your palm wax candles are not certified by the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), you may not know you are contributing to the destruction of rainforests, loss of animal habitat, animal extinction, and the livelihood of native peoples. Remember, just because it is natural, doesn’t mean it is always earth friendly or cruelty free. Tens of thousands of wild orangatans have been barbarically slaughtered with guns and machetes, due to the ever-growing demand for palm oil plantations. Most of the plantations are in Borneo and Sumatra, and the atrocities are not going to stop any time soon. It is estimated 90% of orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has already been lost and over 5,000 perish every year.

I buy and sell in my store Mia Bella candles made from vegetables. Made in the USA and the longest burning candles ever.

When eating and using products always use compassion please. xo

6:42AM PDT on Jun 30, 2010

I love the candles I sell which are made from eco-friendly palm wax. I have had several people tell me they get headaches with paraffin candles but can burn mine just fine.

9:11AM PST on Mar 1, 2010


12:58PM PST on Jan 27, 2010

I did not know about the drawback of parafin candles. I will try to get beeswax or soy candles

12:39PM PST on Jan 25, 2010


1:07PM PST on Jan 24, 2010

As I mentioned in a previous comment, FLAMELESS candles are the way to go. There is no danger of burning the house or apartment building down if your child or pet knocks one over, and they ARE allowed in nursing homes, unlike live-flame candles. Many of them have timers, allowing you to set them to come on and turn off at certain times of the day. You can have them come on before you arrive home from work. They flicker like a real flame flickers, and no one can tell they aren't burning unless they look down into the candle. I have given several as Christmas gifts, and each recipient has said they were the best gift they had gotten. No more burned coffee tables, no more spilled wax on carpet, no more soot, no more risk of FIRE!! They are REAL wax candles, too, the only difference is that the wick won't light and they take a battery. I no longer use anything else! I get mine at QVC.

9:51AM PST on Jan 22, 2010

Well, I really need to say I had no idea about the paraffin-petroleum link. Time to look for beeswax then... however costly that one would prove to be. My general comment would be that it really takes lots of awareness as well as strong funding to adopt the eco-friendly routine. Who says that it is not worth trying though?

5:06PM PST on Jan 19, 2010

good info thanks

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