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Why Paraffin Wax is Bad For You

Is paraffin wax bad for you?

Without even realizing it, you may be burning paraffin throughout your home while exposing yourself to the health hazards associated with it. If burning candles is a part of your daily routine, it’s time to educate yourself on their history, the harms of paraffin wax, and why you should discontinue using candles made from it.

Since the Roman era, people around the world have used candles for both practical and pleasurable purposes. Although they originally started as instruments of light, they eventually became a tool for producing lofty scents whenever they were lit.

In days gone by, candles were often made from an animal fat called tallow. As time went on, other ingredients came into play, paraffin wax among them. 

Although paraffin has played an important role in candles over the years, now's the time to begin looking elsewhere. But first, let's learn about where it comes from and why it isn't the healthiest ingredient to use in candles.

When did paraffin candle wax become popular?

Did you know that paraffin candle wax is a by-product of petroleum? It first became a popular ingredient for use in candles around 1867. Scientists who worked with its associated chemicals noticed that petroleum began to solidify upon cooling. When used again in candles, it had a relatively low melting point.

In present day, after it’s scraped out of oil refineries, paraffin wax is usually bleached by adding dioxin; texturized with acrolyn (a known carcinogen); and then mixed with animal-based stearic acid (a nasty byproduct of the meatpacking slaughterhouses) to harden it so that it can be made into candles.

What are the biggest harms associated with burning paraffin wax?

If you’ve ever found yourself rubbing your eyes to relieve irritation not long after lighting a candle, you may have experienced the short-term effects of paraffin wax. As an eye irritant, it won’t affect everyone in the same way. However, it can cause itching, tearing, and sometimes soreness. So, if you want to be kind to your eyes, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere for candles.

Sore eyes are only the tip of the iceberg, though. There are other ways that paraffin candle waxes can harm your health:

Aggravating your lungs

Your lungs play an important role in ensuring you feel fresh and healthy. As you exert yourself each day, they replenish your blood with fresh oxygen and free it from toxins. Because of this, it’s in your best interests to veer away from paraffin candles.

Whenever you light a paraffin candle, you’re accidentally releasing dangerous chemicals into the air. When paraffin candles burn, they emit black soot and toxic fumes—similar in chemistry to diesel exhaust—containing poisonous chemicals such as benzene, toluene, naphthalene, tri-decane, tetra-decane, penta-decane, and hexadecane. According to one study from the University of South Carolina, those chemicals are associated with asthma, the exacerbation of respiratory conditions, and allergy-like reactions.

Irritating your skin

If you’re a big beauty fan and love treating yourself to moisturizers and creams, you may see paraffin among the ingredients — and assume that it won’t harm your skin. However, as with lots of other ingredients, paraffin comes in various forms. Some of those forms are more harmful than others.

The paraffin that exists in beauty products is likely safer to use on your skin than the paraffin you find in candles. By now, you may be thinking that you’re hardly likely to rub the wax onto your skin. Despite this, your skin isn’t immune to fumes in the air. And depending on the quality of the paraffin that’s in your candles, you may find that those fumes cause itching. They could also make existing dermatological conditions worse.

Now we know that paraffin wax is bad for you, what can you use?

If you’ve been using paraffin wax all this time and you’re worried about giving up your love for candles, you don’t need to be. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural candle alternatives available. In the same way that the candle making world has moved on from tallow, expert candlemakers have successfully used alternatives to paraffin.

paraffin wax free candles

Palm wax candles

A natural, plant-based alternative to paraffin is sustainable palm wax, a non-GMO and rapidly renewable resource. As the name suggests, palm wax is derived from palm oil and sourced from Southeast Asia. When using it for candles, palm oil doesn’t require the added use of paraffin, a non-renewable resource, making it beneficial for those who prefer to live a greener lifestyle.

If you’re a fan of scents — as many candle lovers are — you’ll be pleased to learn that palm wax candles absorb scents readily. They then disperse them around the room, allowing you to immerse yourself in the joys of a scented candle that brings a touch of luxury to your home.

As a natural, non-toxic, and renewable resource, palm wax sourced from sustainably grown and harvested trees allows you to enjoy luxurious candles without worrying about your impact on the planet. Oil palm trees grow in an area where there is plenty of rainfall, so they only require minimal irrigation. Compared to other oilseed crops such as soy, palm requires less fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel to cultivate and process the oil. Additionally, oil palm trees produce up to ten times more oil per acre than other oil-producing crop.

To ensure you’re making an eco-friendly choice, look for candles made from sustainable palm. Traditionally grown oil palm trees are not sustainable and their cultivation is linked to destructive practices such as burning forests, bulldozing, and community displacement. 

Naturally, you’re not just buying a candle with the aim of saving the Earth. You want to know that it will burn well, last a while, and remain aesthetically pleasing. Fortunately, palm wax takes longer to burn through than paraffin wax. As a result, it’s practical, even when you’re buying non-scented candles to keep yourself going through a power outage. Even better, it produces very little soot. Less soot means fewer opportunities for your candle holders to attract stains. In comparison, paraffin can leave lasting black marks that are unsightly.

How can you make sure your palm wax candles are truly healthy?

As a candle lover, you probably already know that different manufacturers use their ingredients in different ways. Although the team here at GoodLight Natural Candles loves the use of sustainable palm wax, we’re also aware that you need to approach its use in the right way. For us, this means looking out for certain features that will ensure your candle burning experience is as environmentally friendly as possible. And how does that relate to health? Well, in most cases, what is good for the planet is also good for you.

Pure cotton wicks

If you’ve never given much consideration to the wick that burns through your candle, now’s a great time to start. Much like the type of wax you use, the wick can affect the quality of the candle and the way it burns. Some wicks contain metal filaments like lead to help them stand upright which are very harmful when burned. If you’ve ever burned a poor-quality candle, you’re probably also aware that a poor wick can result in an uneven burn.

Pure cotton wicks don’t feature the same chemicals used to mordant (prepare) synthetic wicks. As a result, they’re less likely to release toxic chemicals into the air that you’ll then go on to breathe. Despite being less toxic, they’re still easy to light and relight. When compared with other natural wicks, such as wooden wicks, they take around three seconds to light. In contrast, wooden wicks may take around 60 seconds, which can become uncomfortable and frustrating if you’re using a match that burns rapidly.

Essential oils instead of chemical fragrances

Essential oils sit right at the heart of a candle that smells amazing. Whether you love to light bright citrus scented treats or you’re a fan of soft floral scents, essential oils will allow you to enjoy your candle without exposing your body to phthalates and other toxins found in chemical fragrances.

Essential oils are made from pure plant sources. They are processed from flowers, barks, herbs, and seeds and contain zero synthetic ingredients. In fact, essential oils are known to possess therapeutic properties based on the specific natural compounds found within each plant. For example, lavender is known for its calming properties while peppermint may enhance mental clarity.

When shopping for sustainable palm wax candles, choose those that feature pure essential oils and plant-derived oils. For the healthiest and most enjoyable experience, turn to cold-pressed or vacuum processed essential oils. Cold pressing means that the essential oils are made without the application of heat, allowing them to retain their aromatic properties and healing benefits. 

Those little environmentally friendly touches

Although we’re trying to help you step away from paraffin wax candles for health reasons, we’d like to encourage an environmentally friendly approach too. After all, we’re more likely to remain healthy when we’re living on a planet that isn’t suffering from ecological harm.

Try finding natural candles that embrace recyclable packaging. Businesses that use recyclable or recycled ingredients will always proudly advertise their approach, so you won’t need to venture too far to find the right candle. It’s even possible to find plant-based plastic, so you can enjoy a candle shopping experience that’s both convenient and eco-friendly. It's also a good idea to look for aluminum you can recycle easily.

Once you’re done with your palm wax candle, try composting it rather than throwing it into the trash. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same with paraffin wax, as it’s likely to taint any compost you’re making. As palm oil is natural and free from harmful chemicals, it will complement your existing compost.

Now that we’ve established the harms of paraffin wax and the alternatives that are available, it’s time for you to get shopping!

Browse our unscented candles here

Browse our scented candles here

At GoodLight Candles, we sell both scented and unscented non-GMO, plant-based palm wax candles. Our commitment to environmentally friendly practices allows us to maintain our customers’ health while keeping the planet safe. If you’d like to learn more about our environmental commitment and stance on sustainable palm, or if you want to discuss our products, you can get in touch here.

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