The most popular (and polluting) candles are made of paraffin wax, which is a petroleum-based byproduct of oil refineries. That alone should sound your alarm bells. Burning paraffin candles causes chemical reactions in the air, forming the human carcinogen formaldehyde as well as toxic chemicals like alkans and toluene. At low concentrations, formaldehyde can cause inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract. Exposure to these chemicals over time can cause common allergies, asthma, chronic lung issues and cancer in some people. Another common wax is stearin, which is composed of animal or vegetable fats. Although stearin isn’t as polluting as paraffin, its impact on lungs are comparable to particles from diesel engines.
Soy candles – the natural solution
Thankfully, there are also vegetable-based waxes like soy candles. Soy wax can be made of 100% soybean oil or a mixture between that and other botanical waxes. The production of soy wax starts with harvesting the soybeans. Farmers clean, crack and de-hull the beans, then roll them into flakes that are hydrogenated. This saturates the fatty acids in the oil so the oil becomes solid at room temperature. Leftover bean husks are typically fed to animals so there’s no waste. Soy candles that are not pigmented, scented or dyed haven’t been found to produce toxic chemicals and only produce a fraction of the soot normally created by paraffin. Furthermore, soy wax is renewable and biodegradable, so remnants can go straight in the compost.
This is all well and good, but not all soy waxes are made equal. Some are mixed with paraffin and perfumes. The worst offenders are synthetically scented candles that many use for “self-care” (more like: self-harming) routines. Scented candles are actually being targeted in the UK, where manufacturers are told to reduce emissions from them. To be sustainable, you need to avoid soy candles using soy from areas where deforestation is rife. Soybeans from Europe are often produced to a high standard, completely GMO-free to make it totally natural. Palm oil, on the other hand, has often been sourced from rainforest farmers complicit in deforestation. The key thing is to check the facts with your candle supplier, so you can rest assured you’re not buying an unsustainable product.
At Soys Ecologist Candles, all candles are made of 100% natural soy wax and 100% cotton wicks. All our soybeans are GMO-free and sourced in Europe. We only use high grade fragrance blends for our scented candles and only natural and biodegradable colours.
Resources: Danes soothe the air with light (2011), Politiken Clean Air Strategy 2019 (2019), Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Frequent use of certain candles produce unwanted chemicals (2009), South Carolina State University New measurements: Particles from candles can be as dangerous as diesel exhaust (2017), Videnskab.dk, How scented candles could be harming the environment and your health (2019), The Independent