Many of the candles on the market today force us to play the game “Would you rather?” Would you rather breath toxic fumes that could cause allergies or lung cancer or contribute to deforestation and loss of habitat around the world? Horrible choices, right? Well, not all the candles on the market are unhealthy. So let’s scroll through some of the most popular candles and find a few we’d feel good about giving our Valentine.
The vast majority of candles on store shelves today are made from paraffin wax, which is a petroleum by-product. Yep, that pretty candle is dependent on the fossil-fuel industry. There hasn’t been a lot of independent research on the health affects of burning paraffin candles, but a highly cited 2009 study by researchers at Southern Carolina State University found that paraffin candles emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene (CNN), both are known carcinogens. And most paraffin candles are scented with synthetic chemicals, like limonene (a citrus fragrance)
Burning a paraffin candle once in awhile isn’t going to kill you, but burning them frequently and without adequate ventilation could put you at a greater risk for developing allergies or even lung cancer.
Soy candles (derived from soybean oil) are touted as vegan, cleaner than paraffin, and eco-friendly. But the truth is, it isn’t that simple. Soy is natural, but soy wax isn’t. In order for soy to turn into soy wax it has to be chemically distilled with hexane, bleached with chlorine (to make it white), deodorized with boric acid (it would smell rancid otherwise), and then hydrogenated.
The other issue is soy is a “soft” wax with a low melting point. It won’t hold the shape of a taper or pillar candle without being blended with another wax, and that’s often paraffin. In addition, soy doesn’t hold scent well, so it requires even more chemicals to make it smell like a “fresh” summer day.
WHY SOY CANDLES SHOULDN’T BE VEGAN
Technically soy candles are vegan because they come from the soy plant. But that’s not to say that soy candles aren’t without serious consequences to animals and the environment. The soy crop requires a large amount of farmland to produce, which has lead to massive deforestation of rainforests around the world, especially in South America (Reuters). Many vulnerable species found no where else on Earth are at high risk of extinction due to the cultivation of soybeans (World WildLife Federation and The Guardian). One example is Jaguars. Their populations have been reduced by one-third due mainly to soy and cattle production. That affects a lot of animals. Beeswax candles, by contrast, aren’t vegan, but they’re aren’t capable of wreaking that kind of global devastation on wildlife.
Soy is also the largest GMO crop in the US (about 94 percent of all the soy grown in the US is a GMO). GMOs are routinely sprayed with chemical herbicides (MIT) that can threaten local ecosystems, decrease biodiversity, kill soil microbiology, and increase water and air pollution (Phys.org). Spraying herbicides on soy crops also harms beneficial insects, like pollinators.
The world’s most used weed killer [Monsanto’s Roundup] damages the beneficial bacteria in the guts of honeybees and makes them more prone to deadly infections, new research has found. — The Guardian
Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production.
Conventionally grown GMO soy is not a sustainable crop, it harms wildlife, and is not eco-friendly. Soy candles are vegan, but only by only the narrowest of definitions.
ORGANIC SOY CANDLES
Candles made from organic soy do minimize the impact on the environment. But, if the label on your candle claims it’s made from 100% organic soy, be suspicious, especially if the price is low. There aren’t a lot of organic soy farmers in the US and organic soy can be cost prohibitive for many small candle companies.
COCONUT CANDLES ARE A BETTER CHOICE FOR VEGANS
The good news is coconut farming isn’t linked to the kind of deforestation that soy is. Coconut wax holds fragrance well and burns slowly and cleanly. The downside is, like soy, coconut produces a soft wax. It can be poured into containers, but won’t be solid enough to make pillars or tapers. Coconut wax is often mixed with a firmer wax, like beeswax or soy, to give it more body. If your candle says 100% coconut wax, reach out to the manufacturer and ask just to be sure. Overall, coconut candles are more eco-friendly than soy or paraffin and are a good option for vegans.
There’s a lot to love about pure beeswax candles: they’re made without preservatives, fragrance, additives, or artificial chemicals; they burn longer and cleaner than most store bought candles; they’ve been used since the 1500s; and they don’t require farmland to produce, like soy or palm oil. Plus, beeswax candles produce a warm glow and a natural honey scent.
IMPACT ON BEES
If you’re concerned about how bees are treated, buy beeswax candles from companies baring the “Bee-Friendly Farming” logo. It means the beekeeper complies with guidelines designed to promote pollinator-friendly systems that protected bees from harm.
HOW TO FIND THE BEST BEESWAX
Candle manufactures aren’t required to tell consumers how much beeswax is in their candles, so make sure your candle is labeled 100% beeswax. If you want the purest beeswax candles, buy them without color or fragrance.
Lead wicks were banned in 2003, but some wicks still contain metal cores that can produce unhealthy toxic soot. If you see dark smoke coming from your candle, stop using it or make sure you have adequate ventilation. Look for wood or 100% cotton wicks, ideally, unbleached or organic. Avoid wicks made with metal cores, lead, or zinc.
VALENTINE’S DAY GIFT IDEAS
Big Dipper’s 100% Beeswax Heart Pillar was designed by their in-house artisans. This heart will burn for over 40 hours, $19.50.
Elizaville Beeswax on Etsy hand makes these mini beeswax heart shaped candles with non toxic dye and organic cotton wicks, $2.50 each. Pop one of these in a cellophane bag and tie it with loads of red ribbon and you’ve got a very economical Valentine’s Day gift you can give to someone you love.
Elizaville Beeswax also makes these romantic “rust red” colored tapers. They are handmade, 100% beeswax, have organic cotton wicks and non toxic dye. They’ll burn for 20 hours and are smokeless and “relatively” dripless, when burned correctly, $12.75.
Pair with matches in “The Heart” box, $2.95.
Bee Organic’s 100% beeswax candles are USDA certified organic and made with unbleached cotton wicks. Bee Organic has partnered with Extraordinary Ventures Michigan who employ “Differently-abled” adults, many have Autism, to help label their candles. This rose gold set is on sale for $43.99. Pair with these HomArt geometric shaped matches (below), $2.95.
Honey Candles makes “Paris Pink” colored beeswax candles that are sure to please any girly girl. Their candles are made with 100% pure Canadian beeswax, have cotton wicks, and are colored with a small quantity of non-toxic, environmentally-friendly dye, $31.99- $59.99. Pair with “I Love You” square boxed matches (below), $8.
MOSTLY COCONUT CANDLES
KEAP’s Love Candle Set includes free shipping, a hand-written love letter, and a matchbox. The candles are made with coconut wax and a touch of soy. KEAP is a Certified B Corp, or a purpose-driven company. Their packaging is 100% plastic-free and you can return your candle and re-use it. “Legendary” French perfumer Christophe Laudamiel created their scents. The Love Candle Set scent is wild fig and crushed berries, $44.50. Pair with HomArt’s rainbow matches, $3.95.
Ethic Supply Co makes this Ojai Pixie Blossom candle from 95% organic coconut wax and 5% white beeswax. The candle is hand-poured in California and the fragrance is a blend of premium grade aromatic oils, $38.
Pair with these Lemon and Orange matches by HomArt, $3.95.
The Overview Effect candle by Ethics Supply Co. is inspired by what the Earth looks like from space. Like all their candles, this one is 95% organic coconut wax and 5% white beeswax. The scents are “Winsome Stardust, Refreshing Ozone, and Wild Clary Sage,” $36. Pair with a solar system decorative match box (below), $4.00.
Ethics Supply Co. also make several “Libations” candles. This one is Whiskey & Sage, $38.
Perfect with these Burley Man matches, $4.
Feature image of beeswax candles courtesy of Vitranc@iStock