EVEN FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT INTERESTED IN AROMATHERAPY , oils and diffusers, there are scented candles at home – if not purchased, then received as a gift. These candles are produced by many perfume brands or companies specializing in home decor, and scents range from traditional vanilla or lavender to ” Gwyneth Paltrow ‘s vagina ” (however, this is just a bold name for a mixture of geranium and bergamot scents). Another option that does not lose popularity is incense sticks, which spread the aroma when ignited. We decided to figure out if odorous combustion products are harmful and what to look for when choosing such pieces for the home.
Are there any hazardous components in the candles ?
Information about the dangers of candles – with and without scents – can most often be found on sites dedicated to natural cosmetics. It says that paraffin candles, when burned, release more than a dozen carcinogenic components, unlike “safe” beeswax or soy wax. In the United States, there is the National Candle Association ( NCA ), which deals with the safety of candles and sets standards for their production. According to her data , all the candles are lit the same, and flavors, whether synthetic or natural, do not emit toxic substances.
One study by scientists from the United States and Europe concluded that scented candles are not harmful to health under “normal conditions”. In another work by the University of South Carolina, it turned out that paraffin suppositories still release substances that can lead to bronchial asthma or even cancer – but in theory, if they are lit daily for many years. Another study showed that candles and incense sticks can contain many harmful components – from mechanical particles that pollute the air to lead, which is added to wicks, although, for example, American manufacturers have long abandoned it .
Several years ago, The Telegraph reported on the results of a study conducted at the University of York – it turned out that the component limonene, which gives citrus aroma to products, can be dangerous. In the air, it quickly turns into carcinogenic formaldehyde. Overall, there is evidence that the use of candles can be harmful, but it is not yet clear to what extent – after all, people have been using scents and burning candles for thousands of years, and no confirmed cases of related illnesses have been reported. Apparently, the best approach is moderation, as well as good ventilation and fire safety.
What about sticks
The authors of one of the studies claim that the smoke of incense sticks is more dangerous than cigarette smoke – in a laboratory experiment, it more often caused mutations in the cells of animals and bacteria. It’s worth noting that only four sticks and one cigarette were tested, and two of the researchers were employees of a tobacco company. In addition, the smoke of cigarettes when smoking goes directly into the lungs, so the effect on their cells can be different – and yet, probably, the harm from frequent use of sticks can be compared with the harm of secondhand smoke. Unlike candles, which are made by big brands that care about their own reputation, the origin of the sticks is often unknown.
In Taiwan, they studied air samples from temples constantly fumigated with incense – and it turned out that the concentration of carcinogenic substances (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) was very high. Their levels were forty-five times higher than those of smokers at home. Frequent use of burning incense has been reported to increase the risk of respiratory problems, allergic contact dermatitis, and neoplasms. Scientists’ recommendations boil down to reducing the time spent in rooms where sticks are burned, and if you do it at home, how to ventilate. Any combustion leads to the appearance of smoke, and smoke can irritate and harm the lungs.
How to use it correctly
The NCA’s statements about the safety of candles are accompanied by an important caveat – the candles must be made of high quality, and they must be used correctly. Fragrances must meet the standards of the International Fragrance Association ( IFRA ). At the same time, it is difficult to find a link to the IFRA certificate on manufacturers’ websites or on packages, but it is assumed that decent brands comply with these standards anyway (otherwise, they will face problems in the market). In general, we can recommend not buying cheap candles of unknown origin – most likely, their quality will be worse, and the components may be harmful.
On the website of the perfume brand Jo Malone, you can find tips for the correct use of scented candles: do not leave the fire unattended, do not light candles in a draft, do not let the wick burn out completely and protect the surface on which the candle stands. To keep the surface of the wax even, without a hole in the center, you cannot extinguish the candle too quickly – you need to let the entire surface melt. In people with bronchial asthma and other allergic diseases, volatile substances can cause an unwanted reaction – however, this applies not only to burning scented candles. You shouldn’t burn candles and sticks in small confined spaces like a bathroom – the place should be well ventilated.