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  • Writer's pictureLily Smith

Are Soy Wax Candles Better (for your health and the environment)?

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Soy wax candles have seen a surge in interest this past 12 months. Searches for soy wax and whether or not it’s better for your health are rising all the time.


Are Soy Wax Candles Better (for your health and the environment)? Soy wax candles have seen a surge in interest this past 12 months. Searches for soy wax and whether or not it’s better for your health are rising all the time. This is due in part to the rise in veganism. Soy wax is purely vegan, unlike the ingredients in some candles. The rise is also because of an increasing awareness in airborne toxins and the products we use on a daily basis. Soy wax is 100 per cent natural and derived from soybeans. After the beans are harvested, they’re cleaned, cracked, de-hulled and rolled into flakes. Soybean oil is extracted from the flakes and the leftover flakes are used for animal feed. Is soy wax better for your health? The main health hazard of paraffin wax candles is that burning them releases potentially dangerous chemicals into the air. These chemicals include toluene, which is bad for your health, as found in a 2009 study* (http://www.scsu.edu/news_article.aspx?news_id=832) However, the above study was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the European Candle Association raised questions about the study’s reliability. Do paraffin wax candles emit harmful chemicals? Could the claims about paraffin wax being bad for your health be overhyped? Some would say so. An earlier study – Candle Science & Testing ( https://www.eca-candles.com/pdf/Oekometric-Wax-1797_NCA_NL_42908.pdf) – from 2007 looked at the major types of wax and what they release when they burn. Candles made from paraffin wax, soy wax, stearin, palm wax and beeswax were burned in a testing chamber designed to replicate a living room. Emission gases were analysed for more than 300 chemicals known or suspected to cause health risks or respiratory irritation at high levels. The researchers found that the levels of chemicals released by each type of wax were well below the amount claimed to be harmful to health. According to the report: “Their combustion byproducts were virtually identical in composition and quantity, with all emissions levels registering far below the most restrictive of any applicable indoor-air standards.” The chemicals analysed included dioxins and furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, short-chain aldehydes, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Emission levels were compared to acceptable indoor-air standards. Synthetic fragrances in paraffin wax candles

However, it’s worth noting that the candles in the above study were plain wax and contained no fragrance. Most paraffin wax candles, which are cheap to produce, contain synthetic fragrances, which have their own health implications.. Synthetic fragrances often contain phthalates. These are chemical compounds most often added to plastics to make them flexible. They also act as emulsifiers and suspending agents, which is why you can find them in many personal care products. Phthalates are found in lots of personal care and beauty products, as they are a cheap way to add fragrance. A lot of the time when you see the word ‘fragrance’ on a label – even some luxury, eco, ethical ones – it means it contains phthalates. Phthalates have been found to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mess with the way hormones work in your body. This can lead to long-term health complications if exposure is prolonged. So while the actual paraffin wax may not be producing noticeable health hazards when burning, the synthetic perfumes and fragrances within the wax could be. Do candles release particulate matter and VOCs?

Burning candles does release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter. Particulate matter is made up from very tiny liquid droplets and particles that are small enough to enter your lungs. There’s concern that extended exposure to particulate matter can lead to heart and lung problems. VOCs are carbon compounds that turn into a gas when at room temperature. Some VOCs occur naturally in plants and flowers and are what make them smell nice. However, other VOCs, such as formaldehyde and benzene, are potentially a cause of cancer. In fact, benzene is categorised as one of the most carcinogenic (meaning cancer-causing) VOCs. (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00128-013-1104-6) Daily exposure to VOCs comes from car exhausts, factory pollution, and anything that burns fossil fuels. They can also be released from new furniture, carpets and some beauty products. However, a study from 2014 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0273230014000348 ?via%3Dihub_) found no major health risk from VOCs and candles. The study concluded: “… under normal conditions of use scented candles do not pose known health risks to the consumer.” So as long as you’re lighting a candle in a well-ventilated space, it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on your health. Are soy wax candles a cleaner burn?

Another type of toxin to consider is phthalates. Although it’s a generalisation, people making soy wax candles tend to be trying to reduce toxic overload (though always check and read labels), meaning most soy wax candles are more likely to contain natural fragrances, such as essential oils. While essential oils aren’t 100 per cent without complications – some people can be allergic to certain ones – they are far less, if at all, toxic to inhale. In fact, essential oils can have physical and mental health benefits, such as helping you relax or even stimulating your appetite and helping fat burning (think citrus scents). There are, of course thousands of essential oils and not all are created equal, so the more you can find out from your soy wax candle maker about the source of their essential oils, the better. Fewer chemicals in soy wax candles

Another benefit to soy wax is that it’s good at carrying fragrance and doesn’t need added chemicals to help the scent mix into the wax. This is another clean-burn benefit to soy wax candles. Candles made from soy wax also produce less soot than paraffin wax candles, which is often why they’re often referred to as ‘clean burning’. All candles produce some smoke and breathing too much of any type of smoke can cause health damage. It’s a good idea to minimise the amount of smoke you breathe in by lighting your candles in a well-ventilated room and keeping them away from drafts that can increase the amount of smoke they release. Are soy wax candles better for the environment?

One of the reasons people prefer soy wax over paraffin wax is because paraffin wax is a by-product of the purification process of petroleum, coal, or oil shale. Paraffin wax is basically what’s left over when you remove the waxy substance from crude oil. So while studies may not have found a clear correlation between burning paraffin wax candles and respiratory problems, there are clear health hazards for the environment. This is because crude oil is not renewable, therefore paraffin wax is also not renewable. Soy wax, on the other hand, comes from a renewable source. Although clearly here are some issues around over farming and GMO in relation to soy, at least you don't eat the wax so you’re not directly ingesting any GMO beans, as you might be if you were to eat some soy products. Top 5 benefits of soy wax candles 1.Candles made from soy wax produce less soot, which is better for your lungs. 2.Soy wax burns more slowly than paraffin wax so your candles last longer. 3.Soy wax is good at carrying fragrance and therefore doesn’t require additional chemicals to help the scent mix into the wax. This is another clean burn benefit. 4.They are less likely to contain hormone-disrupting phthalates (fragrance) but do check. Ask what ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ means on a label. 5.Soy wax is sustainable as soy crops can be grown over and over, unlike paraffin, which comes from crude oil and is in limited supply. Try these tips for handling candles:

  • Keep your room well ventilated but also avoid placing candles in a draughty area.

  • Trim wicks if they get longer than 10-15mm. This is to create a more even burn and less flickering flame.

  • Instead of blowing out a candle, use a snuffer or use some tweezers or similar implement to dip the wick down into the melted wax.

  • Ventilate your room after extinguishing a candle.

  • Never leave a candle unattended and always check they are fully extinguished before leaving the house.

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