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Who doesn't love candles? A gentle flickering flame can create a beautiful cosy or romantic ambiance, while adding a layer of scent to fragrance your space. But most people are surprised to learn that the majority of commercially available scented candles are made with paraffin wax and synthetic 'fragrant oils'. And the more you know about these two types of ingredients, the less likely you are to continue to find joy in burning them.


So what is paraffin wax?

PARAFFIN WAX is a by-product of the petrol industry - a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons obtained by distillation from petroleum or shale which is further processed into a waxy sustance, and commonly used in candlemaking, along with polishes, waxed paper and various cosmetics. 

Tests completed in the US in 2001 revealed that paraffin wax contained 11 compounds which are classified as dangerous, some even classed as carcinogenic. One compound, carbon tetrachloride, can lead to liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage when experienced in chronic amounts. A 2009 South Carolina State University study found that burning paraffin wax candles can emit harmful toluene and benzene fumes which have been linked to asthma and lung cancer. It is also reported that frequent lighting of multiple paraffin candles in an unventilated space could lead to problems such as irritation of skin and the respiratory tract. The American Lung Association has issued warnings regarding the burning of paraffin candles as a common, unrecognised cause of poor indoor air quality. Yet commercially mass-produced candles (pillars, jar candles and tealights in particular) continue to be made from paraffin wax.


There are alternative waxes that are also used in candlemaking. BEESWAX is a beautiful, naturally produced hard wax that is particularly long burning. But even "safe" beeswax candles are not necessarily what they seem. There are no regulatory laws regarding wax labelling, so as long as a candle contains a percentage of natural beeswax, it is legal to label it as a beeswax candle. And so 'beeswax candles' are often blended with large amounts of paraffin wax. It's a bit like strolling the bathroom section of your supermarket: so many products boast the fact that they include natural essential oils ... but often they only contain a token amount which is padded out with chemical nasties. As there's no governing body that insists on full disclosure regarding what percentage of a product is natural (beeswax, essential oil etc), it can be very difficult to know just how much is made from paraffin or other additives. And as the natural options are typically more expensive than the petrochemical ones, it's usually in the manufactuer's interests to use as little natural product as possible.


PALM WAX is another type of wax that is a little misunderstood. Because it's considered to be 'natural' it is often seen as preferable to petro-chemical based paraffin wax. However it is now becoming more widely accepted that the demand for palm oil is creating all kinds of havoc in countries where large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations – destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants and tigers. In some cases, the expansion of plantations has even led to the eviction of forest-dwelling peoples. (Source: WWF). When palm wax is used in candlemaking it's very important to be sure that the palm products are farmed in a renewable and environmentally responsible way. And again, as there is little regulation involved, it's not uncommon for palm wax to be labelled 'sustainable' regardless of its origins.


SOY WAX is considered by many to be one of the safest and most environmentally friendly options for current use in candles. Soy wax is a relatively new natural - and renewable - alternative to paraffin, based on soy bean oil which is hydrogenated to solidify at room temperature.

Soy wax is generally believed to be very clean burning, with little or no soot and fewer CO2 emissions in comparison to candles made of paraffin wax. Studies that have shown paraffin wax candles to emit toxic fumes have concluded that soy wax candles do not have the same effect.

Soy wax also lasts up to 50% longer in burning time over paraffin wax candles of the same size, making it better value for money when buying or making candles. Soy wax also melts at a much lower temperature, meaning that the melted wax is not as hot and potentially dangerous as paraffin wax, which can also contain an amount of flammable oil.

As with palm wax, there are concerns being raised over soy cultivation beginning to cause deforestation in some of the countries that are cashing in to the recent demand of the product, so making sure your soy wax comes from a responsible source is increasingly more important. When buying candles made of soy or palm wax, do check that the manufacturers are also employing responsible methods. All soy wax candles produced by Aroma Queen use wax sourced from environmentally sustainable companies.



( See also our other detailed article on Essential & Fragrant Oils)

The other major aspect of scented candles is the scent itself.

Many people buy scented candles to achieve aromatherapeutic benefits, whether for calming, cleansing, relaxing or energising. Aromatherapy is the use of natural plant-based pure 'essential oils', which carry various therapeutic benefits for both the body and the mind.

However the majority of scented candles available today are scented using synthetic FRAGRANT / PERFUME OILS, which are simply synthetic copies made up of a combination of chemicals, with the intention of emulating a certain scent. You'll find bottles of these for a couple of dollars each in your local discount store, alongside candy-flavoured scents you won't usually find as a natural essential oil, such as Peach, Coconut or Strawberry. These kind of 'fragrant oils' are also found in the candlemaking industry, with literally thousands of fragrances available - some sounding like natural plants or flowers, others with 'perfumey' names like 'bubblegum', 'baby powder' or 'Chanel No 5 Type'. These synthetic oils have absolutely no therapeutic qualities, and many are also believed to be toxic or even carcinogenic, though in low enough readings to be approved as legally 'safe' to sell.

There are many names for these type of fragrances, most of which try to make the product sound less chemical and thus more desirable - terms such as parfum, perfume, scent, fragrance, fragrant oil, essence. Some might even twist the words to give the impression that they're natural and have aromatherapy benefits, with titles like 'Aroma Essence', or 'Essential Fragrance'. Others will mention essential oils but will pad them out with cheaper chemicals. But unless your candles (or any other products) are scented with only pure Essential Oils derived from plants, they're all pretty much the same - synthetic. And these have no place in the realm of aromatherapy as chemically produced scents have no therapeutic benefit whatsoever.

What it comes down to is this: if your candle is scented using synthetic perfumes, then it won't have any therapeutic value. You might be relaxed just by the fact that you've sat down to light a candle, but a synthetic 'relaxing' scent won't actually do anything other than give off an artificial fragrance. And if it is made from petrochemicals and synthetic perfumes, your candle may also contain potentially dangerous toxins that you may not really want to be breathing in.


If you've decided that natural is the way to go, just take a little care when choosing your candles. Firstly check which kind of wax is being used, and then either opt for unscented or do your homework to ensure only natural essential oils are used to scent the candle, rather than fragrance or perfume.

Candles scented with essential oils are not only more natural and less likely to cause headaches etc, you'll also experience the aromatherapeutic benefits that essential oils are renowned for.

If you'd like to see our own range of natural soy candles, follow the link below.

Once you've discovered true natural candles, and appreciated the gorgeous natural benefits of pure essential oils, it will be very hard to go back to mass produced artificial candles. They may cost a little more as Essential Oils are more costly to produce, but the reward in knowing exactly what you and your family are breathing in will be worth it.

Always take care around candles, keep out reach of small children and pets, and never leave a lit candle unattended.