What is in that candle you're burning? Many of our favourite candles contain paraffin wax. A study in 2009 revealed that burning paraffin wax releases toxic chemicals which pose health hazards.
Our increasing habits to light up candles for relaxation has unknowingly exposed us to these toxins. IKEA, Muji, and Yankee candles contain paraffin wax. Some may turn to branded and pricey candles thinking they may be of better quality and are safer for use.
According to local candle maker Gwen Chen, users should instead be looking out for candles made of 100 percent certified natural wax. "We can get around all these dangers by purchasing candles made of natural waxes like vegetable, soybean, or beeswax, as they burn [cleaner]. Watch the labels, as some candles may be only half soy wax, and the other half, paraffin." Tom Dixon and diptyque candles, for example, are made of vegetable and paraffin wax blends.
Not all commercial candles are to be avoided. There are a couple of all-natural brands available on the market. Some renowned options like French candle makers Cire Trudon and Italian brand Fornasetti offer 100 percent vegetable wax candles. But they come at a price – Cire Trudon candles average around S$108, while Fornasetti candles at S$246.
Chen's 100% all natural, certified soy wax candles boasts environmentally friendly maple wood wicks. It gives a bigger flame, with soft crackling sounds.
Two years ago, Chen started Cera Candles in response to the absence of affordable, all natural candles here in Singapore. Her research and trials revealed that not any soybean wax suffice – they should be certified by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) or Kosher Certification. To be certified, "all the soy wax undergo an average of 75 laboratory tests to assure premium quality and consistency."
It translates to a lengthy checklist. "The soy wax... is 100 percent GM-free, and no pesticides or herbicides... no added chemicals or paraffin wax." Other than that, the soybean wax has to be biodegradable. The soy beans must be pure and have to be farmed sustainability – aligned with renewable resource management guidelines. The wax has to be "easy to clean up... eliminating the need for harsh solvents." Since soybean wax is a vegetal matter, no animals or animal testings are involved in the procedures.
Chen's candles come with 100% cotton or hemp wicks as well – a safer, lead and zinc free alternative.
Technicalities aside, the candle emits a stronger scent. "Since they are made of vegetable oil, [they] have a lower melting point." The wax will liquefy easily, and you'll find a pool of melted wax around the candle wick. "It is from this liquid wax pool and the wick itself that the essential oils evaporate into the atmosphere."
But it does not necessarily mean soybean wax has a shorter burn life. "Soy wax candles generally burn longer than paraffin candles. Soy candles burn 50 percent longer than regular candles. Therefore, even though soy wax candles are sometimes more expensive than paraffin wax candles... they are still more cost-effective in the long run."
The wicks are another study altogether. Most commonplace wicks are made of a cotton blend, to which many have metal elements present in the heart of the wick. Lead wicks used to be a major dialogue in the candles industry, but it has been phased out since 1974 and officially banned in 2003. According to Chen, zinc wicks are common these days. "Zinc wicks are not toxic like lead, but they will produce more soot than the natural cotton, hemp, or wooden wick," Chen recommends that users enquire about the composition of any candle's wick. 100 percent pure cotton or wooden wicks are the cleanest burning options available.
What is most important, is the fact that "soy candles are non-toxic... produce negligible amounts of soot, and releases no known carcinogens into the air." They are much safer and healthier alternatives "for humans, pets, and the environment". To Chen, the trend for all natural candles is but a slice of the wider environmental-conscious consumption dialogue. Consumers are adapting to natural products in their skin care and body care routines – diets even. Scented candles likewise shouldn't come "at the expense of the environment".
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