Most people associate lit candlesticks with peaceful and relaxed atmospheres, meditation, aromatherapy and romance. This is due to the minimal light that candles produce and the softness with which they glow. And so, the benefits of candles have evolved over time, far beyond the provision of light. Candles are used to change the ambience of places, to influence people’s mood, and as a tool for helping people sleep. But could burning a candle be bad for your health? More precisely, could it be the same thing as smoking a cigarette? The simple answer is yes.
THE DARK SIDE OF CANDLE BURNING
Candles are not as harmless as they look. On one hand, the benefits of candle burning are numerous and perhaps inexhaustible, including positive effects on the mental health through stress relief and better quality of sleep. But the other hand – the dark side, more aptly put – paints a picture that is completely different.
The harmful effects of candle burning may range from fire hazards to subtler and perhaps more insidious consequences. There are various claims that soot from candles, especially scented candles, may contain benzene, phthalates, lead, toluene and small amounts of naphthalene, acetaldehyde, acrolein and formaldehyde. These gases can cause damage to the respiratory system, leading to the worsening of conditions like allergies and asthma, and they may even cause cancer. Yet, inhaling gases from scented candles is an essential part of aromatherapy. And so, it would seem that as far as candle burning goes, there is a bad side to the benefits and vice-versa.
This yin and yang relationship continues into the fact that a number of people who employ candles for aromatherapy and aesthetics would not ordinarily smoke. Yet, medical and environmental professionals claim that one hour of burning scented candles can be the equivalent of smoking a single cigarette. In 2015, pediatrician and environmental toxicologist, Dr. Andrew Sledd added his voice to that claim on KFVS 12 news. He went on to state that soot from burning candles are more dangerous than smoke from cigarettes because while a cigarette has a filter, a candle does not. And so, several millions of micro particles produced from candle burning are not removed. These particles are then passed into the environment or inhaled into the lungs where they might cause respiratory diseases.
HOW TO REDUCE THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF CANDLE BURNING
Luckily, some steps can be taken to reduce and largely eradicate the potentially harmful effects of candle burning. Candle burning provides a host of benefits that cannot be denied especially in aromatherapy and mental health care and so, idea of eliminating the practice completely due to its negative sides seems like a drastic measure which may wreak havoc on a lot of people’s mental health, not to mention its economic ramifications on the candle making industry. This is why several people all over the globe have come up with ways of reducing – and largely eradicating – these reported harmful effects. Some of the measures which can be employed include:
- Buying the right type of candle
The first thing to know is that there are different types of candles and not all of them pose the same degree of risk when it comes to the type of gases and soot they produce. Basically, some candles are more harmful than others. Some candlesticks contain wicks made of lead, this contributed to lead poisoning upon burning, particularly in young children. About two decades ago, candlewicks made with lead cores were banned in the United States of America. However, some countries across the world may still be producing them.
Also, candles are made with different kinds of waxes which contribute greatly to the properties of the gases they produce. Candles made from paraffin wax may give off higher levels of dangerous chemicals than other types of candles such as soy wax, beeswax and plant-based waxes. This is probably because paraffin wax is derived from petroleum and candles made from it have been claimed to give off high levels of a chemical called toluene, which can cause harm to people and the environment. However, there are currently no published studies to support this claim, as the general opinion is that all kinds of smoke are bad for personal health and the environment.
- Practicing proper ventilation
There is a lot of global speculation over the idea that one type of candle wax is somehow superior to the others when it comes to releasing – or not releasing – harmful chemicals and research into the subject is still ongoing. However, the one thing that experts and non-experts alike seem to be able to agree on is that all kinds of smoke are bad. This means that even after exercising care in purchasing “the right type of candles” there is work to be done.
Lots of people have scented candles on when they are in the bath or when they want to fall asleep, but one important thing that is sometimes overlooked in such scenarios is proper ventilation. A lot of people have fallen into the habit of spending long hours indoors or in closed spaces with scented candles burning in the background, usually somewhere close to them. Many of them do not seem consciously aware that soot and fumes released from burning candles can accumulate in closed spaces and increase the risk of danger to personal health, especially the respiratory system. One simple way to avoid this is to leave the windows open the next time you want to burn a candle.
- Acquire more knowledge
In the world we live in today, knowledge is always changing. There are still many things about candle burning that we do not understand, as well as many claims that are yet to be proven. Hopefully, in subsequent years, more information will be made available concerning this subject. However some of the knowledge we have today point to the fact that candles are potentially harmful, especially to people living with allergies and preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma. And so, to prevent avoidable emergencies, we must also have knowledge about our own preexisting health conditions, which is another area where the acquisition of more knowledge comes in.