Americans spend more than $3 billion a year on candles, with 7 of every 10 homes burning them. Typically, candles are harmless, but for some, they trigger health problems without us even knowing.
When humans started making candles thousands of years ago, they used animal fat, plants or insects. Today, they are made from soy, beeswax, or, most commonly, paraffin wax.
Paraffin is a soft, colorless byproduct of petroleum, a liquid found beneath the earth’s surface that can be turned into fuel. While lighting a paraffin candle once in a while won’t noticeably affect you, paraffin candles are more likely to emit toxic fumes. Chronic exposure to those fumes may lead to increased risk of cancer, allergies, and asthma.
Burning anything indoors will pollute your air to a certain extent. Lighting candles in a space that’s not properly ventilated may aggravate asthma, cause allergies or irritate your chest and lungs.
One of the most common side effects of burning scented candles is a headache or migraine. Strong odors activate the nose’s nerve cells, which wakes up the nerve system associated with head pain. Studies have also shown candles with more fragrance produce more soot, which may end up on walls, vents or fan blades.
7 tips for better candle-burning health
1. Buy vegetable-based.
Soy or beeswax candles haven’t shown any adverse health effects, so opt for those over paraffin. Look for candles that are 100% beeswax or soy with no artificial colors.
2. Choose non-scented.
Odorless candles are less likely to affect your health or bother your guests. Plus, if you’re lighting them around food, scented candles can confuse your nose (smelling cinnamon while eating steak, for example) and hamper your ability to taste your meal.
3. Use a lighter, not a match.
Lighting a match every once in a while isn’t bad for you, however striking a match will send a little bit of sulfur into the air. Use a lighter if you’re worried about pollutants.
4. Ventilate the area.
Turn on the exhaust or open a window to properly vent candle fumes. And don’t burn candles in small spaces around babies — the soot can get caught into their nostrils and cause breathing problems.
5. Trim your wicks.
Longer wicks create soot, which can be deposited on walls, vents or fans. Select candles with 100% cotton wicks, and trim any wick longer than a half inch before burning.
6. Blow them out.
More than 8,700 house fires are started by candles each year. Check and make sure you’ve blown out all your candles before leaving the house or going to sleep.
7. Opt for electric.
There are thousands of flameless candle options these days, many of which are tough to tell apart from real candles. Choosing an electric or battery-powered candle may also cut down on cost as many last longer than a traditional candle would.