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  • Writer's pictureLily Smith

Why do scented candles give me a headache?

Many of us love nothing more than lighting a cosy candle on a cold, drizzly evening. However, if your scented candles are giving you a headache, it might be time to take a closer look at the ingredients list and reconsider your buying habits...

Why do scented candles give me a headache?

A key reason for candle-induced headaches is the use of harmful chemicals within the candle formula. When burnt, these can produce nasty gases that trigger headaches - as well as a whole host of other potential health issues.

What headache-inducing chemicals are commonly found in scented candles?


To this day, the most common wax used in candles is paraffin. While many small businesses are opting to use renewable soy, coconut or rapeseed wax, paraffin remains the number one choice for mass-produced candles from larger retailers.

This mineral wax is a petroleum by-product. Unlike natural waxes, paraffin is filled with toxins and carcinogens when burnt. This causes your candle to release chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and soot into your home, polluting the air you breathe every day and causing headaches - and worse. In fact, the toxins produced by paraffin candles have been linked to asthma and lung cancer.

Artificial fragrances and perfumes

'Fragrance' and 'Parfum'. These words hide a multitude of sins on ingredient lists. This is true in both the home fragrancing world, and in the world of beauty, skincare and haircare. Lots of brands will simply write these words on the back of the packaging, without providing any details on the specific ingredients used. Often, it is because the fragrancing used is artificial.

Many artificial fragrances have been found to contain carcinogens, such as benzene and toluene, or phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors. Like paraffin, the inclusion of these ingredients could explain why your scented candle is giving you a headache. When looking for a candle, be sure you know exactly what has gone into it.

Artificial dyes and colourings

Many candle makers will use artificial colourings and dyes to change the colour of the candle wax. It may look pretty, but this is overshadowed when we consider how many nasty chemicals could be lurking in the candle, just to create one particular colour.

If you come across a candle with coloured candle wax, check the ingredients to see what's gone into the candle. If the list reveals something vague, like 'colourings' or 'dye', ask the candle company what it uses to dye its waxes. Candlemakers ought to be transparent about the ingredients that go into their products. If a company doesn't answer your questions, you can assume it's because you won't want to hear the answer.

Beeswax is a great option if you're looking for more natural candles

Try natural scented candles to avoid headaches

To avoid those pesky headaches, look for candles that use:

  • Natural waxes: like coconut, soy, rapeseed or beeswax

  • High-quality essential oils or fragrance oils

  • Unbleached 100% cotton wicks

  • Undyed candles, or candles with a plant-derived colourant

What if natural scented candles are causing my headaches?

When lighting any candle - no matter how natural it is - it's important to ensure the room is properly ventilated. Keeping a candle's scent confined to a small room is bound to get overpowering and cause a headache!

In fact, research shows that over a third of people suffer from headaches or migraines in response to a strongly scented product.

To avoid this, try choosing a candle with a more delicate scent, ensuring the room is ventilated and not leaving the candle lit for more than 4 hours per day.

Alternatively, you could try an unscented beeswax candle. These smell great, and don't require any strong fragrances!


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