Are Candles Bad for Your Health? Here's What an Expert Says
Is burning your favorite candle bad for your health? Here's what you should know before lighting that wick, including how to buy better-for-you options.
Your self-care routine might involve lighting a candle, grabbing a good book, and relaxing into your favorite scent. However, if you've found yourself casting a skeptical glance at that candle after reading one too many scary headlines about how it may negatively impact your health, you're not alone.
So, what's the deal—are candles bad for you? And if so, are certain types worse than others? Here's what you should know before taking your next deep breath.
Are Candles Bad for You?
Unbeknownst to many, burning candles emit various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air within your home, including formaldehyde and benzene—both of which are known carcinogens.
Despite these VOCs being emitted into your space when you burn a candle, pulmonologist Sobia Farooq, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic that most people don't need to change their candle-burning habits, so long as they buy high-quality options. Past research has shown the concentrations emitted are very low, making them unlikely to cause health problems.
With that being said, Dr. Farooq notes those living with or in remission from bladder cancer—as well as those with chronic lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—should rethink their habits.
“All these volatile organic hydrocarbons accumulate in the blood,” she told the Cleveland Clinic. “They eventually get excreted through the bladder, hence the link with bladder cancer.”
How to Safely Burn Candles
According to Dr. Farooq, there are two things to keep in mind when safely burning candles in your home. First, opt for high-quality candles crafted from ingredients that are better for your well-being. Second, make it a practice to always ignite them in well-ventilated areas.
Primarily, when it comes to the quality of your candle, that's avoiding paraffin wax, which is made from petroleum and "generates greater emissions than other waxes." Also, avoid anything with dyes. Instead, look for plant-based waxes like coconut wax, beeswax, or soy wax. And if you're unsure about what you're seeing in stores, it's really easy to make your own.
"In some cases, these cheaper products have more formaldehyde-generating materials and a lower melting point. It’s been suggested—but not proven—that cheaper candles are more dangerous because they have more volatile organic carbons in them," she says. "The dye used to color the candles has benzidine in it, which is also linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer."
Overall, under normal circumstances, experts agree that candles don't pose any notable health risks to consumers. Of course, if you're sitting in a tiny windowless room with candles everywhere, that may be a different story. So buy (or make!) high-quality candles, sit back, and relax.
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