Shopping for Non Toxic Candles

Updated: Feb 13



So, if you're on the all natural and organic food and products, healthy living, holistic lifestyle like so many of us are now, you may be wondering which candles would be the best to use in your home. Long before you ever looked it up, you probably had a good idea that the thick black soot coming off the flame of your candles probably was not something good for you to be breathing in. And you would be absolutely right!


Paraffin wax candles are highly toxic and contain at least two known carcinogens benzene and toluene. Paraffin is a by-product of petroleum and the soot it produces is the same soot that comes out of the back of a diesel engine. Yuck!


In this article I'll break down the important things you should look for when choosing a non toxic candle for your home.


1. Wicks


MANY of the wicks used in candles contain lead in the core. In 2003 lead wicked candles were banned in the United States. A candle with a lead-core wick releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air, says the CPSC, which is why they were banned. But what about candles coming in from other countries? Approximately 47% of candles imported are from China and Hong Kong respectively where the rules and regulations do not include strict adherence to the same standards as United States candle manufacturers. It's completely legal to manufacture candles with lead wicks in China. Would you trust a candle that came from China was safe for your family? Sometimes you can see the metal in the wick but sometimes you can't because it's woven into the fabric.


When shopping for candles make sure you get one that has a 100% cotton wick (preferably organic), a hemp wick, or a wood wick. Element candles uses a cherry wood wick which burns very nicely.


2. Wax


Paraffin Wax - no thank you!

Most people don't even realize this, but there are lots of choices of candle wax available. The one you want to avoid no matter what is paraffin. As mentioned before it's toxic and contains carcinogens. It also can ruin the inside of your air conditioning ducts leaving a build up of black soot all over them.


A study done by South Carolina State University, shows that burning paraffin candles indoors can create unhealthy airborne chemicals. “The paraffin candles we tested released unwanted chemicals into the air. For a person who lights a candle every day for years or just uses them frequently, inhalation of these dangerous pollutants drifting in the air could contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, common allergies and even asthma,” said Massoudi, a chemistry professor in the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.


Other toxic chemicals that may be present in the paraffin mixture and released through burning include: Acetone, Trichlorofluoromethane, Carbon Disulfide, 2-Butanone, Trichloroethane, Trichloroethene, Carbon Tetrachloride, Tetrachloroethene, Chlorobenzene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Xylene, Phenol, Cresol, Cyclopentene. Some of the toxins are found in other products such as paint, laquer, and varnish removers. Yuck!


Paraffin Soy Blend - nice try!

Many companies will blend paraffin into soy wax but not write that on the label. If it contains mostly soy wax, legally they can just call it a "soy wax candle." The reason for this is because soy wax doesn't hold or throw scent well. What you want to look for is one that says 100% soy wax candle. If it doesn't say 100% soy wax on the label, I wouldn't trust it.


Soy Wax - you're better than this!

I'm not a huge fan of soy wax because any soy being turned into wax for candles is coming from GMO soy. I started out making candles using soy wax until I learned that the "non GMO soy wax" I was buying really came form GMO soy crops and they just removed the protein in it so that when it was tested it would be negative for GMO's. Sneaky.


"Contrary to popular belief, soy wax candles can emit chemicals into the air as well. Over 90% of soybean crops in the United States are genetically modified and are grown using pesticides. Some soy wax manufacturers process their soybean oil to filter out any genetically modified material as well as any "potentially present herbicides or pesticides" (source: www.ecosoyabrands.com). Not all soy wax manufacturers do this though which means a good portion of soy wax candles have the potential to emit chemicals into the air from herbicides and pesticides." Well..... wouldn't we all have loved to have known this from the beginning?!?


Plus the amount of damage being done to the planet from the growing of GMO soy is insane. The crops are heavily sprayed with fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides which pollute the water, land, and air.


If you see a company claiming that they have "organic soy candles" you should ask them how it's possible.


First off, there's only FOUR companies as of right now making and selling soy wax. None of those companies are using organically grown soy for candle wax. Any organically grown soy is used in the production of food. And upon investigating, every one of those companies uses GMO soy for their wax.


Secondly, it's physically impossible to have organic soy wax even if the soy was grown organically. The reason why is that the soy must go through a chemical process to turn the soy into wax. Extraction with hexane, chlorine bleaching, deodorization, and hydrogenation are all part of this process. Once you start adding in all these chemicals the soy can no longer be considered organic.


Update: Just found this out about soy: It has become a leading driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Read this article. https://www.alohabay.com/planet/soy-rainforest-destruction-in-south-america.html


Beeswax - ok if you're not vegan you may love this!

Beeswax candles are amazing because they actually work to purify the air instead of pollute it. Beeswax emits negative ions when it is burns. Negative ions are effective at reducing dust, dander, and mold that float in the air we breath.


Here's the downside to beeswax candles, they don't hold or throw scent very well. Ugh... so sad. It's hard to even find scented beeswax candles. But, we ran across this website that had a few scents to choose from so we wanted to share it. https://www.beehivecandles.com/


Also, if you're a DIY type of person here's a great article on how to make your own beeswax candles. https://wellnessmama.com/76597/beeswax-candles/


Palm Wax - only if you want to help destroy the rain forrest!

Clean burning, holds fragrance well, all natural, sounds great right!? Unfortunately, even if it says sustainably sourced palm, there's a good chance it's not. So much so that many companies have quit carrying palm all together. https://www.candlescience.com/learning/the-problem-with-palm-wax


The majority of rain forest land in Indonesia that has been cleared is for growing palm trees from which palm oil and palm wax is derived. The land being clearcut is home to some of the oldest and most diverse rain forests in the world. The incredible rate of deforestation in Indonesia ranks it as one of the world's largest CO2 emitters.


It was discovered that while the RSPO(Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) is a respectable organization, it has virtually no control over the behavior of its members. Its lack of success in certifying sustainable oil has critics joking that RSPO stands for "Really Slow Progress Overall".


What's worse is that the article reveals that even 'certified' members of the organization (just 15 of 355 total members) only have to prove that a percentage of their supply is sustainable. So, even if you are buying from a certified grower, there is a good chance you're getting tainted oil.


Coconut Wax - it's perfect!

Coconut wax is made from cold-pressed coconut meat. It’s creamy white in color and burns cleaner than soy wax. It also is argued to be more "natural" than soy because it's organic and much much more eco-friendly to harvest. It burns cooler so it lasts waaaay longer than any other candle waxes. It can hold a higher fragrance concentration than soy. This also makes it the perfect choice for retaining more essential oil per candle. Cooler burning means the therapeutic value of essential oils can be better retained.


One little word of caution though, some companies will mix coconut wax with paraffin wax to make the wax harder because coconut wax is very soft. In the industry it's referred to as "para-coco wax." It will appear to burn clean but if it has paraffin in it it's absolutely releasing harmful chemicals into the air you breath. When buying coconut wax candles make sure that it does not contain paraffin wax blended in, even a tiny amount.


3. Fragrance


Natural vs Synthetic Fragrance

The biggest divide between natural and synthetic fragrances lies in the way they are created. Plants, trees or animals comprise the basic elements of natural scents and run the gamut from lilac to sandalwood to deer musk. Synthetic fragrances are created in a laboratory, and although it may not be common knowledge, Mother Nature has absolutely nothing to do with almost two-third’s of the most popular fragrances made today that are used in perfumes and other scented products.


Fragrance oils are composed of many aromatic ingredients. Many of the common ingredients used in fragrance oils include: carrier base, alcohols, aldehydes, esters, and other synthetic compounds. These ingredients can be derived from nature or created by scientific methods. Natural ingredients include essential oils, resins, and absolutes. Ingredients that are man-made, commonly referred to as synthetic chemicals, are also found in nature and can be reproduced synthetically using scientific techniques. The synthetic versions are generally less expensive, more consistent in odor and color, and widely available.


Four Types of Synthetic Fragrances

Per the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) guidelines, there are 3 grades of fragrances produced for today’s fragrance market. However, we have added a fourth option to this list because we feel it's the safest one.


  • Burning grade is the lowest of the three and should only be used in candle formulations or diffusion.

  • The second is Manufactures grade which can be used when heavily diluted, in some body care formulations as well as laundry detergent and cleaning supplies.

  • The third is Premium grade which has been thoroughly tested and meets all qualifications for the IFRA’s standards for use in all skin and body care applications as well as direct topical use.

  • And lastly Phthalate Free Premium Grade. Also referred to as body safe phthalate free fragrance. It's the same as the Premium grade but will not contain any phthalates.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers found more than 75 percent of products listing the ingredient “fragrance” contained phthalates (THAL-ates) which have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts, and cause reproductive malformation, and have been linked to liver and breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Additionally, studies by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, link fetal exposure with autism, ADHD, and neurological disorders.


If you are going to use products with synthetic fragrance phthalate free premium grade fragrances would be the best choice.


Natural Fragrances

Natural fragrances are made up of essential oil, absolutes, true flower essences, extracts, CO2’s and isolates of the natural aromatic components taken from the complex scent of the essential oil. Natural fragrances are made in a laboratory but NOT from synthetic materials.


Natural fragrance oils are blends of isolates that are extracted through the same processes that are used to get essential oils. The difference is that ...

  • when you extract an essential oil you are extracting the entire scent complex compound

  • when you extract an isolate you are extracting a single scent molecule

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) allows an ingredient to be called natural ONLY if it is plant derived. To determine what is plant derived, they follow a strict set of guidelines provided by the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) protocol.


Perfumers keep their blends proprietary and do not provide information on which natural isolates have been included in their blends or from what oils the isolates have been distilled.


Where once something like cherry, apple, papaya, blueberry or watermelon scents were completely synthetic, it is now possible to create these scents using natural isolates. 


The Environment and Natural Fragrances

While there might be a mental tendency to assume natural is better, when it comes to fragrance creation that is not necessarily the case. For example, massive deforestation has resulted from the production of natural sandalwood and rosewood and the utilization of natural musk requires painful extraction from deer and other forest creatures.


Essential Oils

Essential oils would fall under the natural fragrance category but are almost always listed as "essential oil fragrance" rather than "natural fragrance."


The essential oils within a plant are Mother Nature's creations. Powerfully fragrant and concentrated, essential oils are the pure natural aromatic essences from a variety of aromatic plant material including grasses, leaves, flowers, needles, twigs, peels of fruit, seeds, bark, and roots. The chemical profile of an essential oil determines its scent and overall quality.

Essential oils are not only highly therapeutic aromas, but they often provide healing properties or other therapeutic benefits not found in synthetic aromatics. 

Drawbacks to Using Essential Oils in Candles

  • Essential oils are typically much more expensive than fragrance oils and prices can fluctuate based on weather, crops and the trade relationships between countries.

  • The quality and scent of the oil varies depending on the crop. So the consumer is not always getting the exact same thing even though the product is the same.

  • While essential oils may provide a good cold throw, they provide very little scent when you burn them in a candle. It takes a lot more essential oil to try and achieve the strength of scent from a fragrance oil.

  • Essential oils, just like any natural plant material, degrade over time, lose potency and eventually their smell. However, when building a scent profile with isolates you can use scent anchoring isolates that will help prolong the scent. 

  • Essential oils do not offer the variety of scents that fragrance oils provide; for example, you cannot get apple pumpkin butter, sugar cookie, coffee, etc.

What are Organic Fragrances?

Organic perfumes have their own certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which insures consumers that they are made from ingredients that are tested, assumed safe, pure and free from harmful petrochemicals, solvents, dyes, alcohol, and pesticides. They are also certified by PETA and are considered vegan. According to a recent National Marketing Institute study, consumers have been very open to the use of organic ingredients particularly in personal care products.


Organic fragrances are derived from living matter and are defined as those that are grown and processed under highly controlled conditions that guarantee materials are free from pesticides, heavy metals and synthetic fertilizers. There is one important distinction to always remember with organic products. Natural fragrances are not always organic but organic fragrances are always natural.


Both natural fragrances and essential oils can be certified organic if they meet the requirements.


What type of fragrance is best for candles?

As you can see there are many options to choose from. But there's not one that stands out as the obvious best choice.


If you're looking for a strong candle that smells wonderful or a specialty scent such as a bakery scent, I would recommend a natural fragrance, organic fragrance, or a premium phthalate free fragrance. These will provide you with the best scent throw. And you'll have the peace of mind that what you are using isn't harmful. If you have a very large room or high ceilings these will also work very well.


If you are wanting an aromatherapy candle for the relaxation or health benefits I would look for a candle made from quality therapeutic grade essential oils either organic or natural is fine.


Where to buy non toxic candles?

From us of course! LOL. Ok seriously, I'm going to be working on another blog post that has a list of candle companies that I think have the same standards of quality as we do.


When it comes to candles, there so many styles available! Simplistic, modern, vintage, country, shabby chic, retro, upcycled, etc. Some people like to match their candles to their home decor and some people really could care less. And different companies will have different fragrances to offer too of course. So, I'll get the list of companies I recommend added to this post ASAP.


I will say this though. If you can, please buy from a local company that is hand pouring their candles. These are the people that are way more likely to really care about what's going into the candles they are making. Find one you trust that can tell you how the candles are made and what they are made with and support them. Also buying candles that you know are made in the USA is very important. If it's coming from overseas you really can't know for sure that it's safe no matter what the label says.


I would also not trust some of the candles on Amazon. If you type in "organic candles" a whole bunch of soy candles will pop up saying that they are made with organic soy. Not even possible! Plus I've heard so many times that most of the reviews on Amazon are paid for and fake. Not cool and amazon should put a stop to this. If you're going to shop on Amazon I would recommend googling the name of the company and getting more info before you purchase.


I hope you found this post helpful and if you would like information about what we use in our candles please visit our about our candles page to learn more.


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