STEP Article: Safer Holiday Candles

Article from the The Next STEP newsletter, Issue XVIII/6.

Safer Holiday Candles
By Patricia Dines, Editor and Lead Writer of The Next STEP newsletter

As the holidays near and days shorten, we often light candles to set a cozy, relaxing, or festive mood.

Unfortunately, though, these candles might be emiting materials that risk the health of ourselves, our families, and our guests. (Similar cautions apply to other scent products, including sprays and plug-ins.)

The Risks
Over the years, various studies, experts, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have brought forward evidence that mainstream candles can put toxics into our air.

This is confirmed by people’s repeated reports that candles can bring on headaches, congested sinuses, teary eyes, and allergic reactions when burned — and even unlit. And that these problems disappear when these candles are removed.

Researchers are also concerned about long-term harm, such as cancer and damage to the lungs, brain, and nervous system. Plus candles’ black soot can damage ceilings, computers, and electrical appliances.

The level of harm depends on what candles are used, how often, in how small a space — plus people’s vulnerability and current health issues.

And, not surprisingly, The National Candle Association says that candles are safe for our health.

Materials of Concern
Paraffin wax. Most mainstream candles are made with this petroleum product. When burned, these candles have been shown to emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.

Metal in wicks. Using candle wicks with zinc or tin cores can release heavy metals into the air. Lead cores were banned in the U.S. in 2003, but cheap candles from other countries might still have them.

Synthetic scents and colors. Though scents in products are often marketed as natural, most are actually synthetic chemicals that can cause health issues — from headaches and dizziness, to asthma and even cancer. (For more about this, see the STEP Index under Perfumes (IV/6).)

Choosing Better Candles
Give yourself and others safer scents to breathe deep. Look for:

1) ”100%” beeswax, soy, or vegetable oil. Get 100%. Even those labeled as just “pure” can be a blend with paraffin!
- Beeswax burns cleaner and longer, doesn’t drip, has a naturally sweet scent, and comes in tapers, pillars, votives, tea lights, birthday candles — even Hanukkah candles! You can also buy beeswax sheets and roll your own candles, or melt beeswax granules into glass jars.
- Soy is softer, so “100%” most likely comes in containers and tea lights. Be sure it says that no toxic chemicals were added. Perhaps also look for non-GMO or organic soy.

2) ”100%” non-metal wicks, such as cotton, paper, or wood. (Check your current candles with the steps at

3) All natural essential oils (distilled from plants). These come in a wide range of pleasing, refreshing, and evocative scents.

4) Non-toxic natural dyes.

Other Healthier Approaches
You can also bring light and scents into your home with: healthier air freshener sprays, simmering aromatic spices on the stove, diffusers, lamp rings, and battery operated candles (some look pretty realistic!). See the STEP Index under Air Fresheners (VII/2).

For additional seasonal tips, look in the STEP Index under Holidays.

Article sources and more information are at [That's this page! See below.].

Sources and further information

* Candles, By Sandrine Perez, Nourishing Our Children,

* The Hidden Dangers of Scented Candles,

* Are Your Candles Making You Sick?, By Laura Bowen, EcoWatch, Jan. 17, 2017,

* The Big Problem With Scented Candles, By Dana Oliver, June 16, 2015,

* Toxins in Candles: Sad, But True, Keeper of the Home, April 12, 2012,

* New Study Finds Scented Candles and Air Fresheners Pose Dangerous Health Risks, By Alexis Hobbs,

* Study: Frequent use of certain candles produces unwanted chemicals, August 24, 2009, South Carolina State University,

* Study: Some types of candles may pollute indoor air, CNN, Aug. 21 2009,

* Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review(EPA/600/R-01/001), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
, 2001 - Summary of report - Full report

* National Candle Association, "Scented candles are safe", Also see

* Why Your Scented Candle Has To Go & Safer Fall Scents, Force of Nature,

* 7 Candles That Won’t Give You Cancer or Make Your Kids Sick,

* 5 Non-Toxic Scented Candles that Smell Fantastic, Naturally, By Liz Thompson, Dec. 27, 2016,

* Soy vs. Beeswax Candles: The Inside Scoop, September 14, 2012,

* Guide to Waxes for Candle Making, By David Fisher, Oct. 8 2018,

* Natural Homemade Air Freshener Recipes, By Katie Wells, August 5, 2018,

The Next STEP newsletter provides empowering information about how to avoid everyday toxics and choose healthier alternatives. It's your friendly guide to earth-healthy living!

Produced by citizen volunteers, this newsletter implements the Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP), an innovative City program to reduce toxic use and exposure in Sebastopol, thus creating a healthier and safer town for everyone.

This newsletter is sent bi-monthly to all City residents in their water bills. It's also available online, and you can sign up to receive email alerts when new issues are posted. (Just email that request to STEP [at] healthyworld [dot] org.) For more about STEP, click here.

Information courtesy of:

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This page is on the Community Action Publications (CAP) website because we participate in and support the STEP program and want to make additional information available about its activities.

For more information about these and related topics, as well as our community work, see

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Page last updated 10/31/18.