This guest blog post was written by Meredith from the Clean Living Mom Blog.
Are there safe candles? Or are they all toxic and bad for your health? What do studies show? Do non-toxic candles even exist? Let’s take a look! This is your deep-dive, everything you need to know and more, candles 101 post; including over 55 candle brands ranked as worst, bad, better, and best! We’re going to look at 4 main facets:
- Regulations on candles in general
- Health impact of burning conventional candles (scientific studies and all)
- Safe alternatives to conventional candles: How do you know which companies are truly clean and make safe candles?
- Then, I’m going to make it easy for you guys and rank over 55 brands, including many non-toxic candles!! Doing the digging and dirty work so you don’t have to! (But my goal is to also teach you how to do research for yourself, for those that want to!)
In this post:
- 1. Candle Regulations
- What about lead in candle wicks?
- 2. What’s wrong with conventional candles? Are candles toxic?
- What are the health risks?
- What does this mean in terms of candles?
- Are there “safe” candles or are all candles “toxic” and actually bad for you?
- Here are the main problems with the studies we have now on candles
- Deciphering the “body of evidence” when it comes to “toxic” and “non-toxic” candles
- What was NOT debated in the various studies on candles
- 3. So, are there “safe” candles / “non-toxic” candles? If so, what are they?
- Soy wax
- BONUS! Beeswax non-toxic candles myth: Do they clean the air?
- Coconut wax
- Quick Candle Label Reading Guide/Tips
- What to look for to ensure the cleanest burning non-toxic candles in general
- Are essential oils safe in candles? Can such candles still be considered “non-toxic” candles?
- I also want to address the argument, “Aren’t all candles bad for you to some degree, even the “non-toxic candles?”
- My Candle Safety Research Conclusions
- 4. Candle Brands Ranked: Worst, Bad, Better, Best!
- About the Guest Blogger
1. Candle Regulations
To begin, there are six organizations/laws etc. that relate to candle regulations:
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal regulatory agency formed in 1972. They can ban ingredients in consumer products and instigate recalls on products they have jurisdiction over, if considered unsafe. Also, they administer and enforce several federal laws including the FHSA.
- Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) is a public law upheld by the CPSC that addresses various fire safety rules including for candle labels.
- Fair Packaging & Labeling Act (FPLA) enacted in 1967, directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or FDA (in the case of candles, it’s the FTC) to issue regulations to companies to prevent consumer deception. It addresses specific labeling that would pertain to candles in title 16, chapter 1, sub-chapter E, part 500.7 and 501.7. It only specifies labeling pertaining to weight, height, measurements, etc. but nothing to ingredients.
- The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) is the global representative body of the fragrance industry. Their standards ban, limit or set criteria for the use of certain ingredients. Candles fall under category 12 which states, “the product types in this category are not included in the Creme RIFM model, and aggregate exposure is not taken into account when calculating the acceptable levels of fragrance ingredients.” (Because there’s no contact with skin.) In other words, they do no set regulations of any kind regarding fragrances in candles.
- The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM international) has over 12,000 standards used worldwide in many industries to improve product quality/safety, etc. The ASTM has developed/published the current official national industry standards for candles. There are six regulations specifically for candles that pertain ONLY to fire safety, wick/container specifications, what defines a candle etc. The ASTM Subcommittee on candle products, which includes members of the CPSC, fire officials, safety organizations, NCA, etc., worked together to develop these.
- National Candle Association (NCA) is the “only trade association representing US candle manufacturers/suppliers that serves as the leading technical authority on candle manufacturing, science, and safety.” It is comprised of big wigs in various companies in the industry. The President is also the Senior Director/Research Development and Engineer at Luminex Home Décor & Fragrance, i.e., Candle-Lite, one of THE largest brands of candles in mass retail stores across the US (also Luminex sells food and pharmaceutical DRUGS…not sketch at all lol just a side note there). Their treasurer is Steve Horenziak who is a scientist and research fellow at P&G who manages major research programs there. Not sketch at all. Other officers on staff include Christine Casper, Manager at S.C Johnson Co, Daily Gist who’s the Vice President of Research & Development at Newell Brands, Home Fragrance Division (aka Yankee Candle Co) etc. I could go on and on, but every person on that board is monetarily involved in a candle or fragrance company. Although this IS normal for a trade association to be comprised of industry “experts,” … umm conflict of interest much?! As an example, in their FAQ section, when asked if certain types of candle waxes are better than others they said, “No. All types of quality candle waxes have been shown to burn cleanly, safely and in the same manner.” Pssh ok lol. I personally don’t believe a word they say.
So, all this is to say, the only regulations on “safe” candles are fire safety related or legalities for labels regarding warnings/manufacturer info etc. There are no regulations pertaining to ingredients or how a company labels the ingredients in a candle.
I’ve seen some other blogs claim “they can say 100% soy wax even if there’s only 50% soy” or “as little as 20%”. Well let’s just set the record straight. There are not even regulations requiring that! Companies can pretty much put whatever they want in a candle, and they don’t have to disclose every ingredient.
The industry doesn’t consider candles to be a disruptive enough product to care about the ingredients inside it. We are 100% going off a company’s discretion and integrity when they are claiming the phrase “we sell non-toxic candles”.
What about lead in candle wicks?
It’s pretty commonly claimed that back in 2003 lead was completely banned from metal core wicks by the CPSC. Metal cores used to be commonly used in conventional candles to help keep the wick upright and to improve burn time. (Clearly, such candles wouldn’t be “safe” candles!)
Lead was such a problem that studies were showing “a child would obtain some 85% to 127% of the provisional tolerable weekly Pb intake (PTWI)” from such exposure of only several hours once per week (CPSC).
However, when you actually look at their regulations, you’ll find it’s only limited to: “The metal core of each candlewick has a lead content (calculated as the metal) of not more than 0.06 percent of the total weight of the metal core.”
So, lead isn’t technically totally banned but a company does have to put “Conforms to 16 CFR 1500.17(a)(13)” on the label of a candle that contains any lead. However, it’s not required on the direct label that contains the candle itself, so in many cases the consumer will never even see it. (By the way, lead may be in cosmetic products, too: find out how you can protect yourself from lead in lipstick!)
This is all ironic to me because they also claim, “The Commission estimates that the ban will reduce the potential for exposure to lead and resulting lead poisoning because there is no “safe” level of lead in the blood”. Which begs the question, why not just ban lead altogether then in the candle cores?
I wasn’t able to find any study even testing for lead in candles since 2003, but no known reports exist for unsafe levels found since then. Additionally, I will say after looking into the ingredients of hundreds of candles now (including non-toxic candles), that I haven’t found a single candle that uses a metal core in their wick anymore.
2. What’s wrong with conventional candles? Are candles toxic?
What are the distinguishing features between the unsafe and safe candles? Well, the main dangers/concerns are the emitted levels of:
- VOCs (volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, etc.)
- PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)
- PM (particulate matter, aka soot)
- Undisclosed fragrance ingredients
What are the health risks?
For starters, VOCs cause:
eyes, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and skin problems. Higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system and cancer.EPA
Studies show that certain PAH metabolites interact with DNA and are genotoxic, causing malignancies and heritable genetic damage in humans … long term exposure to mixtures of PAHs entails a substantial risk of lung, skin, or bladder cancer.CDC
Moreover, long term exposure to PM includes:
respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity, such as aggravation of asthma, respiratory symptoms and an increase in hospital admissions, mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and from lung cancer.WHO
Terminology Nit-picking: Many people in the “clean living world” oversimplify this by saying “candles are toxic” or “they release toxic chemicals.” Because “toxic” has no set definition, it’s become quite the catch-all greenwashing term that can mean literally anything or different things to different people. Similarly, “non-toxic” candles and “safe” candles can mean different things to different people. If you’re looking for an easy phrase to explain more specifically why candles are harmful, it can be summarized as:
candles emit various chemicals that lower the indoor air quality.
The more advanced ad-on:
… thus increasing your chances of hitting various toxicity thresholds that your body is able to be exposed to, withstand or detox out. Many of these chemicals emitted don’t even have defined “safe thresholds” to begin with.
A note about VOCs in general: I want to clarify here that not all VOCs are created equal or are equally harmful. VOC really just means anything that emits an odor. Technically essential oils can be classified as emitting VOCs. (More on that below when we discuss “non-toxic” candles.)
What does this mean in terms of candles?
Let’s break it down. It is a universally accepted fact that indoor air quality is vastly worse than outdoor air (even in a city).
Studies on indoor air quality suggest that, within the home, people are exposed to high levels of numerous pollutants. Of particular concern are the levels of PAH and VOCs because many of these are known carcinogens.Spaeth 2000
Many factors go into increased indoor air pollution such as gas stoves, building materials (e.g., wallpaper, flooring types, paint, glues, particle board, etc.), dust and dirt, furniture (especially fabric furniture like couches, etc.) and more! (Stay with me to see if there are any “safe” candles or “non-toxic” candles that don’t emit VOCs!)
VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.EPA
Now, there are various organizations such as the WHO, OSHA, EPA, etc. that set what’s called a “toxicity threshold” for various chemicals that a human can safely be exposed to on a daily basis. However, the problem is that either many of the emitted chemicals don’t even have a recognized safe level OR the various standards differ drastically from one another OR they haven’t been updated in 30 years! Lol
When a candle is burned, due to incomplete combustion (or not burning “cleanly”), it releases various chemicals/gases into the air, therefore polluting it. One study found:
68 reference compounds were detected in addition to our 24 target compounds by the ST–TD–GC/MS. These identified compounds include, but are not limited to, various aldehydes, hydrocarbons, and alcohols. A number of PAHs identified as carcinogens (e.g., naphthalene, anthrancene, and pyrene) were also observed.Jeong-Hyeon Ahn et al. 2015
Are there “safe” candles or are all candles “toxic” and actually bad for you?
It’s complicated. The “body of evidence” (the majority/summary of what studies show) would say no, all candles are “non-toxic” candles even though there are a vast number of studies with mixed results or opposing ones. Here are some examples:
Scented candles may emit plenty of biologically active substances that are inhaled and gradually accumulate in urine, analogously to compounds found within tobacco smoke. Concentrations of pollutants measured indoor during burning of scented candles, exceeded background concentrations indicating that the candles were the source of contamination. Also, dyes containing benzidine which is associated with urothelial cancer development are still used to color candle waxes.Adamowicz et al. Cancer Prev Res 2019
The concentration of benzopyrene, described by the EPA as one of the most mutagenic & genotoxic aromatic hydrocarbons, emitted by burned scented candle indoor may reach about 40% of the recommended value.
Among tested scented candles there was usually one in each report which emitted VOC exceeding legal values in terms of at least one pollutant (benzopyrene, chrysene, etc.).
It has been found that the BTEX and PAHs emission factors show large differences in similar candles without any clear correlations.M. Derudi et al. 2012
One study even showed VOC emission from candles to be continually polluting the air even when the candles weren’t lit! (Read on to see if “non-toxic” candles, or “safe” candles, do that!)
In terms of TVOC (ppbC), the highest concentrations were observed from the KW product with their values of 12,742 (on) and 2766 ppbC (off). As such, the results suggest that certain scented candle products should act as potent sources of VOC emission in indoor environment, regardless of conditions–whether being lit or not. The concentration of Formaldehyde in three samples exceeded the WHO and EU criteria considerably.John E Heinze et al. 2016
Paraffin wax with fragrance candles ranged anywhere roughly from 10-323.50 ug/m3 in formaldehyde emission. (The most generous guidelines are 100, btw.)Petry et al. 2014
Burning several candles exceeded the US EPA’s 10−6 increased risk for cancer for acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, and exceeded the Reference Concentration (RfC) for acrolein.S.C Lee, B. Wang 2005
Most of researchers … indicate that results should be critically interpreted, and further research is necessary due to current methodology limitations.Adamowicz et al. 2019
*(all studies mentioned above are from peer reviewed journals)
So, as you can see above from the various studies, not so cut and dry.
Here are the main problems with the studies we have now on candles
- Candle brands used in the studies are almost never mentioned (I could find only 1 study that mentioned the brand). The ingredients outside of just the wax type and if it’s scented with fragrance or not are never looked into more. (Ultimately, it is ingredients that help us determine whether we are using “non-toxic” candles, or “safe” candles.)
- The number of emissions of the various chemicals varies GREATLY, even among the same combo of ingredients (e.g., paraffin with synthetic fragrance).
- “As no validated standardized protocol for the measurement of candle emissions is available, the … investigations differ in conditions and test set-up, making it difficult to compare and estimate consumer exposure on the basis of the presented data.” (Petry 2014)
- There needs to be a study testing urine samples! A lot of studies go into how much is being emitted, but not so much on what is actually getting inside of our bodies!
- There are so many different standards for levels, so what they compare the emissions to in order to determine safety will differ in each study! It’s like comparing apples to oranges each time because the standard changes every time!
- They never take into consideration aggregate exposure from other products also emitting these VOCs, PAHs, etc.!! (which, granted, would be nearly impossible to do)
Deciphering the “body of evidence” when it comes to “toxic” and “non-toxic” candles
I quoted Petry a few times above so I’m going to use his work as my main example since he’s cited among many in the “scientific community” for why candles are fine. He did a large compilation study analyzing 3 publications (including one of his own) that concluded candles are safe. (Petry T, Vitale D, Joachim FJ, et al. Human health risk evaluation of selected VOC, SVOC and particulate emissions from scented candles.)
It’s worth noting that Petry worked as a head scientist at P&G and a director at The Weinberg Group (a ProPharma company). When you dig a little on the colleagues that cowrote this paper with him, you’ll find a few working for P&G and S.C Johnson and that funding in part came from those companies as well for these studies.
- All these studies that say it’s fine also use varying standards to evaluate the safety. Petry himself says, “Regulatory indoor air guideline values are not available for the volatile fragrance materials considered in this investigation.” So, they have to make them up!
- Plus, the guidelines vary greatly, e.g., WHO formaldehyde is 100 ug/m3 and EU is 30 – how can you possibly determine true safety with that wide a gap?!
- They also contradict themselves all the time! WHO has a guideline set at .17ug/m3 for benzene but then states in that same official guideline document that “there is no known exposure threshold for the risks of benzene exposure. Therefore, from a practical standpoint, it is expedient to reduce indoor exposure levels to as low as possible.”
- None of these studies have EVER taken into consideration aggregate exposure of other emitting products or materials in the home when determining safety. Granted that would be difficult, but that needs to be accounted for when determining safety.
Again, not so cut and dry! And this is why even when scientists and “professionals” claim that “because the body of evidence says it’s safe, it’s fine!” I DON’T JUST AUTOMATICALLY TRUST THAT!! It’s never that black and white!
What was NOT debated in the various studies on candles
- It was certain that gel, paraffin and palm wax candles DID emit several VOCs to some degree… just to what levels and are those levels safe or not was what was debated on.
- Across the board formaldehyde was the highest emitting VOC (especially in scented candles).
- It’s agreed upon that it’s significantly worse when burned in smaller rooms with less ventilation (e.g., bathrooms, etc.), when more than one candle is burned at once (the more candles burned the exponential increase of indoor pollution), and that burning for longer periods of time increases soot especially (PM).
- In order of the worst (emitting highest amounts of everything) to the cleanest burning it was consistently: gel wax (worst), paraffin and palm wax, soy wax, then beeswax (cleanest burning).
- Non-scented candles always burned cleaner than those with fragrances added.
- Soy wax and beeswax candles always burned the cleanest in every study, however it’s worth noting that it still emitted some VOCs and PM at minuscule amounts “formaldehyde was detected at levels similar to or slightly higher than that of the blank, but its presence could not be confidently associated with the combustion of these waxes.” (Rezaei 2002)
- Scientists agree there need to be studies done in vivo to see what effect it really has on the human body (e.g., testing urine) because right now there aren’t any.
3. So, are there “safe” candles / “non-toxic” candles? If so, what are they?
The most common wax alternatives are:
- Soy wax
- Coconut wax
Let’s talk about each as used in non-toxic candles.
The most common alternative in safe candles because it holds scents the best but debated in the “clean living world” for whether it’s truly cleaner. So, here’s everything you need to know about soy wax.
- All studies did consistently show soy wax to burn cleaner than the conventional waxes, however there are very few studies in general that study soy wax on its own and no studies whatsoever comparing quality of soy wax. It’s also worth mentioning here that when compared to beeswax, beeswax always burned even cleaner than soy. (Here’s one example.)
- There was not one study I could find linking the burning of a soy wax candle to endocrine disruption. (Which is also debated whether or not soy actually does by the way.) If you’d rather be safe and avoid it, then do so, but it’s HIGHLY unlikely for soy in this form when inhaled to be able to alter hormone levels. (Let me know if you know of a study that does link it though!)
- Soy wax is derived from soybeans but there’s quite the chemically treated process typically before it becomes a candle. Namely, the beans are harvested, cleaned, cracked, de-hulled, & rolled into flakes. The oil is then extracted from the flakes, separated from the solid components by solvent extraction (often by the chemical hexane) or by mechanical pressing, hydrogenated, then refined and bleached with chlorine (sometimes also deodorized).
- All soy wax is going to be GMO, and that’s never been studied before in relation to candle safety and the potential harmful effects! Every industry expert, candle maker, or vendor I’ve talked to on this topic have all said it’s actually impossible to get true non-GMO soy because all non-GMO soy goes straight to the food industry because of lack of supply and won’t be wasted on candles. There were 2 candle companies I researched that originally claimed to be “non-GMO” soy, but after pressing them on it, they found that their supplier never gave them any documentation proving it and/or refused to. Legit suppliers will always provide documentation.
- Eco-friendly wise, this is the least sustainable alternative for non-toxic candles (there’s a lot to this that would go down a whole rabbit trail that would take too long to explain, but feel free to explore that one yourself!)
For these reasons – the beeswax outperforming the soy in studies and the unexplored GMO aspect, I’d consider soy wax an overall better option as a material for safe candles, but not the very best.
For cleanest burning soy, make sure to ask the company if their soy is:
- not treated with any chemicals (like hexane or bleach/chlorine, etc.)
- and ask how they clean it.
In my opinion, it’s the cleanest burning because there’s not as much of a process to get it from the point of harvesting to wax form. (Also, all studies that test beeswax confirm that!) Here’s everything you need to know:
- There are different places to harvest wax in a beehive but the highest quality and most common is the super (collected from the top and has the brightest yellow color).
- Studies showed beeswax to produce the least amount of soot (even compared to soy wax).
- As a material for safe candles, beeswax is a more sustainable option than soy wax.
Here’s what to ask companies for the highest quality beeswax:
- Is your beeswax harvested from the super?
- How is it cleaned/ is it treated with anything or bleached? (If it’s whiter/lighter in color it may have been bleached.)
BONUS! Beeswax non-toxic candles myth: Do they clean the air?
There is a claim I’ve seen floating around that beeswax candles clean the air because they emit negative ions. After thoroughly researching this, I was shocked to find that this is a baseless and RIDICULOUS claim that is FALSE. I’m ASHAMED at big holistic names like Wellness Mama, Dr. Axe, etc. for spreading this. You’re great, but do better, guys! You’re discrediting yourselves.
- When you look at the sources they (and other blogs) cite (if they even cite what sources they are getting that from), it’s always another blog claiming it or a website/article that doesn’t exist. Never a study or even someone experienced in the beekeeping/beeswax field.
- There is not ONE study that proves this or even talks about negative ions and beeswax. And I don’t even mean just not a peer reviewed study – NO STUDIES. There are no studies.
- Not only that but also there is one study actually on paraffin wax that measures negative ions emitted, and it actually found that the POSITIVE ions emitted were the same as or in most instances GREATER than the negative ions emitted. (Wright et. Al 2007)
- Here’s the kicker: for negative ions to even work to hypothetically clean the air, there would need to be a great deal more negative than positive ions emitted. Otherwise, they just cancel each other out or get absorbed, etc. (there’s a lot more needed for negative ions to effectively clean the air). Seeing as how another candle wasn’t even close to emitting more negative than positive, it’s unlikely a beeswax candle would be that drastically different. It COULD be that they emit crazy high amounts of negative ions, but we have no study even studying that as of right now.
So, until there is any evidence on this, let’s put this theory to bed. All that to say though, beeswax does burn very cleanly! (Keep reading for the options of non-toxic candles!)
I couldn’t find a single study testing this type of wax for candle safety specifically, but we do have many studies on coconut oil in general. Here’s what you need to know:
- Some brands use coconut oil and some use coconut wax. There is a difference!
- Unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of 350 degrees F while refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees F. Most companies I’ve found use refined.
- There actually are candle regulations on how hot the wax of a candle can get, so you can rest assured that the wax will never get that hot enough to reach that smoke point. (Most waxes melt at somewhere between 100-200F just for a point of reference.)
- Know that coconut “wax” is *almost* always blended with other waxes, most often soy (and not a high quality one at that), because on its own it’s not the correct consistency when burned. So, if you see a candle label that says coconut wax, chances are, soy is in it too.
- Coconut wax is also a more sustainable option than soy and the best vegan clean burning wax of the non-toxic candles.
I have found to date only TWO companies that have managed to create a completely vegan, ALL coconut wax candle using all organic coconut derived ingredients with no other added waxes! So, know that’s a rare thing!! If a company claims it, be leery! See who it is below in the rankings of the best safe candles!
To ensure the purest coconut oil or wax ask companies that use it the following questions:
- Do your candles have coconut oil or wax in them?
- Does that wax have any other waxes blended with it like soy wax?
- Is the coconut oil refined or unrefined?
- Is it organic? (Certified USDA organic is even better.)
- Has it been chemically treated whatsoever?
- How is it cleaned and processed?
Quick Candle Label Reading Guide/Tips
- “X wax blend” almost always means there’s more than 1 type of wax used. “Soy wax blend” means soy is blended with another wax, and it doesn’t even always mean that it was made from majority soy wax!
- “Made with essential oils” doesn’t mean it’s made with ONLY essential oils – just that essential oils are included in the fragrance. I’ve also seen “blended with essential oils” – the same thing. It can still contain synthetics. (Read on to see what I think about essential oils and “non-toxic” candles!)
- “Fragrance oils” means they are synthetically derived.
- “All natural” or “non-toxic” or “safe for the whole family and pets” means nothing, absolutely nothing. Everyone’s definition of safe, toxic, etc. is different and these terms have no set definition or regulation behind them. (By the way, what is your definition of a “safe candle”?)
- “Plant based” also means nothing! A great number of companies I questioned that touted plant based still contained paraffin wax! Ridiculous! This brings us to …
- “Food grade paraffin.” It is not cleaner than or different from regular paraffin wax. They are the same!
What to look for to ensure the cleanest burning non-toxic candles in general
- Avoid any dyes, stabilizers or additional ingredients. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence to support that these burn cleanly and don’t negatively affect human health.
- Avoid any synthetic fragrances. By the way, this includes even synthetic scents that meet IFRA standards because, remember, there are no restrictions when it comes to candles in particular. A LOT of companies claim that, because the fragrance supplier they buy from claims it, because they create fragrance blends that can be used in multiple types of products. But, what’s good for a lotion may not be good for a candle! When you’re burning it, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game! Different routes of exposure, different combustion etc. It means NOTHING to claim it meets a standard that doesn’t even apply to the product they’re selling!! (There IS a line of “safer synthetic scents” that go beyond the IFRA standards which is at least slightly better but still not ideal. More on that below in the conventional and “safe” candle rankings.)
- DON’T just label-read, brand-research! Remember, a company can label ingredients however they want, even ones claiming to be safer. “100% soy wax blend” could mean 1% of soy & 99% paraffin. Never trust the label, always contact the company for an exact ingredient list & sourcing. I can’t tell you how many companies ranked below touted “all natural” or “100% plant based” that still contained paraffin and/or synthetic scents!
- Look for an untreated cotton wick with no metal core (certified organic is nice but as long as it’s not chemically treated at all, it’s the same thing) or a wood wick. Hemp is also good!
- Palm oil, by the way, showed just as high VOC emissions as paraffin wax, but not as much PM. For that reason, though, I wouldn’t consider it a cleaner alternative for use in truly non-toxic candles.
- Stick to only 100% pure essential oils for any fragrances, or at the very least, naturally derived ingredients. This brings us to…
Are essential oils safe in candles? Can such candles still be considered “non-toxic” candles?
It’s complicated. When it comes to the topic of candle safety and essential oils, there are many things to consider.
- First, there are a few studies that have tested the emissions of essential oils and found various harmful VOCs such as formaldehyde and toluene, etc. HOWEVER, these studies don’t specify the brand of essential oils used. They say some came from a grocery store lol, and there are more, by far, bad essential oil brands out there than there are pure and high-quality ones. The essential oil brand used is SO important! To be clear, yes, all pure essential oils emit VOCs (actually so does anything that smells lol) but not all VOCs are equally harmful.
- Second, I’ve seen claims that essential oils heated become toxic. This is really only the case with oils that were toxic to begin with and wouldn’t be used anyway (like mustard or cumin, for example). I’d argue that the concentration/dilution rate at which you’d inhale oils via a candle would be potent enough. Also, inhalation is arguably the safest form of exposure. Yes, some essential oils like citrus oils can be “toxic” but, again, the route of exposure matters here. Studies show those can be more harmful when directly applied to skin then exposed to sunlight, but not when inhaled.
- Third, it IS proven that heating an oil compromises its therapeutic quality because of oxidation and how the components of the oil separate. But you’re not burning your non-toxic candles for the benefits of the oil, so I’d say this doesn’t matter in this case.
- Further, in our search for “safe” candles it’s legit to ask: “What about the fact that essential oils are flammable? Doesn’t that make them unsafe?” Yes, they can be flammable. Here’s the thing though: that only becomes an issue if there’s too much essential oil in the candle and/or they get too hot. You’ll know this if it happens because the whole top of the wax layer, not just the wick, will be on fire. Unless that happens, you’re fine! Chances are these kinks will be worked out in the product development/formulation. Just because they are potentially flammable, doesn’t mean they will for sure catch on fire.
Make sure you ask the candle company if:
- The essential oils are pure and unadulterated.
- Their essential oil supplier provides them with GC/MS proving purity of each batch of oils they purchase.
I talk A LOT about the topic of essential oils on my blog and how to know what brands are actually pure and of high quality. I have a video breaking that all down with everything to look for HERE, if you’re interested!
In my opinion, there really needs to be more studies done on the topic of essential oils being burned in general, but I’d personally feel comfortable with them in my non-toxic candles if I knew the oil was pure.
What about naturally derived scents in “safe” candles?
I think we can safely assume that typically speaking something naturally derived will burn cleaner than synthetically derived. However, at least one exception is essential oil isolates. That’s when chemical components of a particular essential oil are stripped or “isolated” on its own for fragrant use. The problem with this is without its complex counterparts within that essential oil as a whole, these can, for some people, become an irritant. I’d classify these as better but not best for this reason.
I also want to address the argument, “Aren’t all candles bad for you to some degree, even the “non-toxic candles?”
Sort of. There’s an element of truth to that. The main base of this argument is that all candles have a flame and therefore produce some level of particulate matter/smoke which would degrade the air quality to some degree. However, not all candles will produce the same amount of smoke. Beeswax, for instance, produces far less PM than paraffin wax does, as shown clearly in this study. Actually, it produced virtually none!
There are also some additional things you can do to reduce soot/particulate matter when burning your “safe” candles.
- Don’t set your candle under a fan or vent where wind would be blowing on it. The less the flame flickers, the less soot produced.
- When blowing out a candle, the most PM/soot is produced. You can eliminate that by dunking your wick in the melted wax to extinguish it instead of blowing it out.
- Burn the candle in a well-ventilated room – the larger the better. You can also open a window!
- Burn a fragrance-free candle. It’s true that a candle even with essential oils or naturally derived fragrances will not burn quite as cleanly as just a pure beeswax candle would, so if you’re very sensitive or worried about it, avoid the fragrance altogether!
- I WILL say a cotton wick, from my observations of just trying many different types of candle brands and wicks, burns the cleanest because it flickers the least. The least amount of flickering, the least amount of soot/particulate matter produced. Wood wicks are cool but by far produce the most incomplete combustion and flicker a lot.
Overall, after assessing all the data, the short answer is, no, I don’t believe all candles are bad for your health and, no, I don’t believe that “non-toxic” candles pose enough of a health threat to warrant banning candles altogether. To put it into perspective, the emissions and off-gassing off a beeswax candle are far less than those off an oven or stove-top while cooking. If you come to a different conclusion than this though, you do you! You can always opt for diffusing high quality and pure essential oils in a diffuser if you still like the fragrance aspect!
My Candle Safety Research Conclusions
- Basically, when determining if candles are toxic, it all boils down to improving your indoor air quality and lowering your chances of hitting various toxicity thresholds. Conventional candles do lower the air quality (even if only by a small amount). Obviously, if you’re sensitive to certain fragrances or ingredients in a candle, it’s also about eliminating triggers.
- I really think there’s something to be said for aggregate exposure and how many other things off-gas VOCs and other chemicals in our homes and how that’s NEVER been taken into account when people say that candles aren’t harmful to health.
- If you’re going to burn a conventional candle especially, burn only 1 at a time in a big room with a window open to make it safer. Also, consider using a mobile air purifier.
- Hardly ever burn a candle or even keep candles in your house? You probably have nothing to worry about. If you’re a frequent candle user, I’d recommend switching to cleaner burning “non-toxic” candles.
- Soy wax is a “good” option, but beeswax has been shown to burn the cleanest!
- The “science” is very mixed, and more studies need to be done. But based on what we currently have, no, I don’t think the body of evidence is correct in assuming that “All types of quality candle waxes have been shown to burn cleanly, safely and in the same manner”. There’s a lot of nuances and varying finds within studies, but that doesn’t magically negate the studies that did show serious concern and high emissions of various harmful chemicals!
4. Candle Brands Ranked: Worst, Bad, Better, Best!
Set out to find safe candles, I contacted almost every single one of these brands to ensure accurate information.
Criteria: Brands in this category contain paraffin wax, synthetic scents, and any additional ingredients such as dyes/colorants etc. (even if it is “blended” with additional waxes or even naturally derived scents).
- Yankee Candle
- Chesapeake Bay Candle
- Bath & Body Works
- Candle Lite
- Better Homes and Gardens
- DW Home
- Himalayan Handmade Candles
- Pink Zebra
- Sand and Fog
Criteria: Brands in this category contain either paraffin wax (at any amount) and/or any synthetic scents, but no additional ingredients.
- Capri Blue
- Perma Earth (made of tallow and beeswax which was promising but uses synthetically derived colorants and a mix of synthetically derived and naturally derived scents)
- Hearth and Hand
- Project 62 (Target Brand)
- Mrs. Meyers
- The Good Candle
- Trader Joe’s
- La Jolie Muse
- Milk House Candles
- Hearth and Craft Candle Co.
- Farmhouse Candle Shop
- Antique Candle
- Sweet Water Decor
- Peacesake Candles & Co.
- P.F Candle Co.
- Lake & Skye (Echo Lake candle would make the “Better” list)
- Satya + Sage
- 1803 Candles
- Le Labo
- Trudon Candles
Not quite “better” but not as “bad” as the others in this category
While researching brands for safe candles, I found a few brands that claimed to use a “cleaner synthetic scent” like CleanScience Clean Scents, for instance, that go beyond the IFRA scent standards and claim to stay away from carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and meet CA Prop. 65 standards etc. I was tempted to put this in the “Better category” and call them “non-toxic” candles, however, there are several studies (as shown in the sources section below) that prove synthetic scents DON’T burn cleanly. In fact, this study and this study show that synthetic scents produced the most and highest chemical emissions, even over pure paraffin wax.
So, while I like the idea of it and would choose these brands over others in the “bad” category, I can’t in good conscience call them better when I know, and have evidence to prove, other things burn much cleaner! However, I WILL say that if you’re going to choose a brand in this category, it would be one of these!! Brands that use 100% soy wax and use “cleaner” synthetic scents are:
- **Soft Serenity Candle Co.
- **Five Sisters Co.
- Get A Whiff Candle
- Colorado Candle Co.
(**The only 2 brands that disclosed using CleanScience Clean Scents line. So, I’d choose them first since you can clearly look into the standards of this company! I applaud their transparency as it’s a huge plus in determining candle safety.)
Better Candle Brands
Criteria: Brands in this category used only 100% soy wax or soy wax mixed with beeswax or coconut and either essential oils or naturally derived fragrance ingredients with no additional ingredients (no synthetics whatsoever). A step closer to being called “non-toxic” candles but not quite there yet!
- Grow Fragrance (mix of soy wax and coconut oil with a mix of essential oils and other naturally derived ingredients. The ONLY “better” brand to fully disclose its ingredients!!)
- Life In Lilac (soy wax and coconut wax with a mix of essential oils and other naturally derived ingredients)
- Public Goods (only soy wax and essential oils)
- Grove Co. (only soy wax and essential oils)
- Honest Co. (soy wax and coconut oil with essential oils)
- Terralite (coconut wax and “vegetable oil” with a mix of essential oils and other naturally derived ingredients…they also have a rice bran derived wax which is interesting)
- Everspring (100% soy wax with a mix of essential oils and other naturally derived ingredients)
- Terralite (coconut wax with a “vegetable oil” and essential oils)
- Plant Therapy (soy wax and coconut wax with a mix of essential oils and other naturally derived ingredients)
- Sanari Candle (mainly coconut wax with some soy wax and essential oils)
Out of this list of “non-toxic” candles, I’d favor Sanari Candle because it’s mainly coconut, with only some soy and only essential oils or grow fragrance because you could see all the ingredients used.
*I’d like to make one small additional note about soy wax used solely with essential oils. Apparently, it’s pretty well known among “safe” candle makers and suppliers that straight soy wax and essential oils don’t burn as well together and can become a fire hazard. It’s apparently rare to have a candle comprised only of soy and essential oils for this reason. So, just know I questioned VERY heavily all the companies listed here that claimed to be 100% soy and essential oils to make sure no other ingredients were used. I also asked what tests were done to ensure fire safety.
Best Candle Brands
Criteria: Brands in this category contain ONLY beeswax or pure coconut wax/oil with no other waxes and ONLY essential oils as fragrance (no synthetics whatsoever and IMO are the best of the non-toxic candles).
- Basic Bee Candle Co. is my top pick because IMO they are the strongest smelling scents of all these brands! Organic coconut oil, pure local beeswax, cotton wicks, and pure high quality essential oils only! Small biz, woman owned, amazing scents, and very affordable prices. Use the discount code CLEANLIVINGMOM for 10% off your order! (Want to read my review of this brand and some of their scents? Check out that blog HERE.)
- Natural Sloth is one of only 2 non-toxic candles brand that has the MadeSafe certification!! (on select candles) They fully disclose their ingredients, which is rare, only use essential oils for scents, and beeswax and coconut oil for wax. I’ve tried a few of their safe candles/scents and love them! Very unique, wood wicks, small biz and family owned. Use code Read10 for 10% off.
- Pure Plant Home and Meaningful Mantras are my top vegan picks!! These are THE ONLY brands I’ve found that use truly 100% coconut derived wax (they make it themselves in house). Woman owned, mother-daughter team, and the mother is an experienced aromatherapist that uses only very high-quality essential oils for the fragrances! Pure Plant Home is mostly run by the mom, and Meaningful Mantras is mainly run by the daughter. Both companies are owned by the same family and manufacture with the same ingredients. I’ve tried many of their candles (you can read my review HERE) and love their unique scents and more affordable prices! Use discount code cleanlivingmom for 15% off your order!
- Wellness By Ari Candles is the only brand I’ve ever come across that uses hemp wicks in their non-toxic candles! Very unique and I love the larger sized candles they sell and scents I’ve tried so far. All beeswax and essential oils, small biz and woman owned. Use the code CANDLES for 10% off your order!
- Elizabeth Candle Co. are all beeswax and coconut wax (includes no soy) and fragranced with essential oils. All ingredients are disclosed and the only brand I’ve seen yet to have a stone/cement candle container! Love the scents I’ve tried (see my review of them HERE). The candles have a medium to stronger scent throw. Small biz and woman owned. Use the discount code cleanlivingmom10 for 10% off your order!
- Fontana Candle Co. is the only brand I haven’t personally tried but LOVE that they are completely MadeSafe certified, leaping bunny certified and disclose every ingredient! They are made from beeswax, coconut oil, essential oils, and use a wood wick. Use the Read15 code for 15% off!
- Welch Candle Co. uses ONLY locally sourced beeswax, is family run, adds no scents. 10% of their proceeds goes to an organization that helps fight modern day human trafficking! I’ve tried one of their safe candles and it’s definitely pure and of high quality! Smells like honey!
If you found this post educating and the ranking of non-toxic candles helpful and informative, share it with a friend! Any questions, comments, or thoughts? Comment below!
About the Guest Blogger
This guest blog was written by Meredith from the Clean Living Mom Blog. Meredith is a wife and mother passionate about living a truly clean lifestyle! Tired of all the misinformation and greenwashing surrounding nontoxic living, she is now on a mission to help you sort through all the noise and provide detailed product reviews and in-depth research that is thorough, yet easy to understand and fun! When researching, Meredith goes beyond just looking at ingredients. She also dives into medical and scientific research and talks with industry experts, manufacturers, formulators and more helping you be truly informed and able to live a clean lifestyle!
See more of her content and connect with Meredith on her:
and YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/CleanLivingMom
https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02582327.pdf (soy burning not safety)
Decorative candles: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1352231010010502
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10635590/ (metal wicks)
Labeling and regulations -CFR Title 16 Part 1303 and Part 1500.17
Essential oils in candles: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Pham_Nhut/publication/339046011_Preparation_and_Characterization_of_Naturally_Scented_Candles_Using_the_Lemongrass_Cymbopogon_citratus_Essential_Oil/links/5f0681eaa6fdcc4ca45999a9/Preparation-and-Characterization-of-Naturally-Scented-Candles-Using-the-Lemongrass-Cymbopogon-citratus-Essential-Oil.pdf?origin=publication_detail
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02786820701225812 (negative ions)
https://www.n-ion.com/e/faq-04-all.html#32 (ions cancel each other out)
Indoor air quality: Spaeth K. R. (2000) https://doi.org/10.1006/pmed.2000.0769