Better Burn: Beeswax and Soy Wax Candles

Choose the right candles for a healthy glow.

| November/December 2011

  • Big Dipper Wax Works’ beeswax votives are made with cotton wicks.
    Photo Courtesy Big Dipper Wax Works

Editor's Note: Since the publication of this article palm oil has been linked to deforestation, human rights violations and is considered a major part of human-induced climate change. For more information please visit the Rainforest Action Network.

From candlelit dinners to the flicker of flames next to the bathtub, candles create a warm glow electric light can’t replicate. But, depending on their makeup, the candles setting the mood in our yoga studios and perfuming our kitchens could be compromising our health.

Most conventional candles are made of paraffin, a petroleum byproduct, and scented with synthetic fragrances, which often contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. According to a  study reported by LEAD Action News, scented paraffin candles emit the same fumes as diesel exhaust—known neurotoxins and carcinogens such as toluene and benzene, and hydrocarbons linked to asthma, allergies, and skin, eye and lung irritation. What’s more, studies have found that the superfine soot emitted by burning candles penetrates deep into the lungs where it can cause irritation and damage. Scented paraffin candles in enclosed containers (such as glass jars) are the worst soot offenders. Finally, although use of lead in candles has mostly been eliminated, some inexpensive imported candle wicks may still contain and emit lead—a bioaccumulative neurotoxin that’s especially dangerous for children. 

Fortunately, several candle options can safely illuminate your space. Pure beeswax candles with cotton wicks (not dipped in paraffin) are a healthy choice. Compared with their petroleum-derived counterparts, beeswax candles burn at a lower temperature, produce less soot and last longer. Find a local source, and you’re supporting local beekeepers, too.



Soy wax candles made with pesticide-free, non-GMO soy are a clean, renewable choice (non-organic soy is a pesticide- and water-intensive, genetically modified crop). Because soy is less firm than paraffin, most soy wax candles come in glass containers. Palm oil candles also burn cleanly, but palm tree plantations are often responsible for the destruction of rainforests, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia.

If you’re looking for scented or colored candles, use extra caution. Choose candles scented with pure essential oils (labels should say 100 percent essential plant oil, not fragrance). Essential oils offer natural scents rather than chemical imitations. Also ask manufacturers about the makeup of candle dyes. Beeswax candles are naturally honey-colored. Some companies offer “naturally dyed” candles, though they often don’t report what the ingredients are. If you want to be absolutely sure your candle doesn’t contain synthetic dyes, it may be best to choose white/undyed. 



Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Get the latest on Natural Health and Sustainable Living with Mother Earth News!

Mother Earth News

Your friends at Mother Earth Living are committed to natural health and sustainable living. Unfortunately, the financial impact of COVID-19 has challenged us to find a more economical way to achieve this mission. We welcome you to our sister publication Mother Earth News. What you sought in the pages of Mother Earth Living can be found in Mother Earth News. For over 50 years, “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” has focused on organic gardening, herbal medicine, real food recipes, and sustainability. We look forward to going on this new journey with you and providing solutions for better health and self-sufficiency.

The impact of this crisis has no doubt affected every aspect of our daily lives. We will strive to be a useful and inspiring resource during this critical time and for years to come.

Best wishes,
Your friends at Mother Earth Living and Mother Earth News

Save Money & a Few Trees!

By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Mother Earth News for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Classifieds