The Lowdown on… Candle Waxes
Note, December 2012: Smallbones is no longer making beeswax candles. Cedar Cove Wellness has taken over that part of my business.
It’s Valentine’s Day…a day for romance often accompanied by soft, beautiful candlelight. If you burn candles, I hope yours are pure beeswax. If not, the romance may be replaced by toxic illness later.
There are many types of candles to choose from these days. And there are many that are marketed by good people under the mistaken impression that their candles are “natural” and “sustainable.” Unfortunately, most aren’t.
PARAFFIN is a greyish-black sludge that is a by-product of the petroleum refining process. Toxic chemicals are used to treat, colour and scent paraffin candles. Chemicals normally found in paraffin candles include formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, ethanol and acetone. Add toxic, petroleum based fragrances and colours, and you have a toxic cocktail burning in your home. Breathing the fumes of a paraffin candle has been compared to breathing the fumes of a diesel engine. According to the state of California’s Proposition 65 (Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), there are at least seven toxins in paraffin candle wax, including benzene, a known carcinogen.The soot from burning paraffin can contain carcinogens, neurotoxins and reproductive toxins. Testing and air chamber analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found the following compounds in significant quantity in a random group of over 30 candles tested: acetone, benzene, trichlorofluoromethane, carbon disulfide, butanone, trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride carbon black (soot) particulate matter, trichlo-roethene, tetrachloroethene, tolulene, chlorobenzene, ethylbenzene, styrene, xylene, phenol, cresol, cyclopentene and lead. I’m not a chemist, but according to the EPA, they pose a health hazard with continued exposure over time.
GEL CANDLES are made from mineral oil, a petroleum based product, and polymer resin, a plastic. Synthetic colours and scents are added that when burned produce toxic fumes. Due to the characteristics of the gel, gel candles must be burned in a container. Containers restrict air flow leading to incomplete combustion, introducing pollutants (soot) into the air. Also, because containers may be insufficiently heat-resistant, the heat produced by the candle may cause the glass to shatter.
SOY WAX is not a wax at all, but hydrogenated soybean oil. Soybeans are grown using high intensity farming practices with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and chemicals, and the majority are now from genetically modified seeds. Soybean oil is heated to a high temperature (140C – 225C) and then introduced to hydrogen and nickel (a suspected carcinogen) as a catalyst to solidify the oil. Soy wax is naturally a “soft” wax with a low melting point. While container candles, tealights and small tarts may be made entirely of soy, it is extremely difficult to make good pillar candles and votives with 100% soy wax, so paraffin wax is usually added. Synthetic colours and fragrances are also added that, when burned, produce even more toxic fumes.
PALM OIL WAX is not genetically modified and is carcinogen-free, but unfortunately it comes mostly from Malaysia where it contributes to the environmental damage being caused by the enormous growth of palm plantations, decimating the native forests. Palm Oil production is one of the most contentious environmental issues in the world. In the major producing countries of palm oil, tropical forests are cut down in order for palm oil plantations to be put in their place. Between 1990 and 2005 palm plantations rocketed by 1.87 million hectares in Malaysia and by more than 3 million hectares in Indonesia. With the help of data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Lian Pin Koh at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and David Wilcove of Princeton University found that more than half the palm plantations came at the expense of forests – largely pristine, intact forest in Indonesia and previously logged forest in Malaysia. (You’ll note that the organic virgin red palm oil I use in my Smallbones hemp oil soap & shampoo bar comes from western Africa, where oil palm trees are native and have been grown on family farms for many, many generations.) The palm produces fruits in bunches which are harvested and sent to palm oil mills to undergo sterilization, bunch stripping, oil extraction, oil clarification and purification. This crude palm oil then becomes the raw material for palm oil refineries/chemical companies/manufacturing plants where it is further processed by neutralization (removal of free fatty acids), bleaching (removal of colouring substances) and deodorization (removal of odours and flavours). Synthetic fragrance and dyes are usually added to palm wax candles.
PURE & NATURAL WONDERFUL BEESWAX
Beeswax is the only all natural candle wax. It’s a sustainable and renewable resource. When you buy a beeswax candle you’re supporting beekeepers, which means supporting those busy little insects that pollinate food crops and keep the world green naturally. Beeswax candles burn cleaner, brighter, hotter and longer than other candles. When natural golden beeswax burns it gives off a soft glow* and sweetens the room with its natural scent — no artificial scents or colours required! Many people are allergic to the artificial waxes and artificial fragrances common in today’s candles, even in church! Beeswax is non-allergenic and is a natural air cleaner, recommended by the American Lung Association. It’s the best choice for asthma and allergy sufferers. Beeswax candles burn cleanly, don’t drip when properly used, and have long burn times, saving you money. Be sure that the candles you buy are 100% beeswax – some countries allow as little as 10% beeswax in candles labelled as ‘beeswax’.
*The light spectrum emitted from a beeswax candle is the closest of all waxes to natural sunshine