Candles can cozy up our homes, but you need to choose wisely so you don't have one that's emitting toxins into your air and making you sick.
Article originally published in Home and Cabin.
By this time, most are getting sick of the cooler weather and spending time inside. Over our long winter, I try to take cues from the Dane’s to make my home extra cozy or hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) as they’d say. Candles create a soft flickering light, warmth and can add a pleasant aroma to the room. Candles vary drastically in price and quality, here is some information to help you spend smartly.
Many homes have less ventilation in the winter than the summer, keeping any toxins inside for longer. Most commercial products use synthetic fragrance or ‘parfum’ one of the Dirty Dozen. This is why you may feel uncomfortable when walking through the cleaning aisle of any big box store. Synthetic fragrances can cause headaches, skin irritation, runny eyes or just down right irritability. Unlike products that go on your skin, or in your mouth, home products (like candles) aren’t required to disclose their ingredients in Canada.
Some products are scented using natural essential oil blends, but Helena Butler, who is trained in Aromatherapy, says these should still be used with caution. Too much scent can result in overstimulation that Helena feels can be toxic to someone’s emotional balance. Her rule of thumb (which depends on personal sensitivity, and the size and airflow in a room) is that a diffuser (or candle) shouldn’t be going for longer than two hours a day. Bree Hyland creates natural perfumes in Halifax, NS under the name Barre. These essential oil blends develop and shift through the day and eventually ‘dry out’ unlike synthetic fragrances that can linger for weeks or months.
Scented or unscented, candles are made of different waxes. Most common is petroleum based paraffin is used. Less common (and with a higher price tag) are soy or beeswax. A study by Ruhullah Massoudi at South Carolina State University revealed that burning paraffin wax releases harmful toxins into your home. While all candles emit some soot, this same study found vegetable-based waxes (like soy) or beeswax didn’t emit the same harmful toxins. Some believe these lesser used waxes can actually improve ivndoor air quality by trapping toxins.
When choosing a candle, be wary of scents. If scented, choose natural and use sparingly, especially in a small room or if you know you are sensitive. Try for vegetable wax or beeswax over petroleum based paraffin. Keep in mind natural scents and good quality wax will be more expensive and you may have to do some digging to find out exactly what’s in your candle.