Why we think twice about using scented candles

Fair warning…you guys might not like me for this long one! 

It’s an important read though, and with the changing of the season, it’s the traditional time of year to get out those scented candles and stock up on new ones. Apple pie, pumpkin spice, and buttered maple syrup were old favorites of mine. But after some personal experience, and the results from recent studies have given us pause about artificially scented decor.

Growing up “crunchy”, on very rare occasions we would light unscented soy candles, and I recall loving how cozy and inviting it made the room feel. I also remember going down candle isles to get these and my Mom saying how she instantly got a headache. Fast forward to when we moved back home and found the home we live in now. My first “house purchase” was little plug in wax warmers for almost every room! I couldn’t wait. I noticed a slight headache with certain scents but I pushed that aside. We had a house warming party and everybody commented about how nice it smelled (except my Dad who reminded me how toxic it was to let those scent chemicals fill the air we were breathing). A few days into my daily wax warming I noticed my sweet little Noble was breaking out head to toe in a red bumpy rash. It didn’t seem to bother him, but being exclusively breast fed still, it really started to bother ME! What would be causing this out of nowhere? At the same time we noticed Hawk experienced more labored, wheezy breathing. They both must have come down with something, we thought. No biggie, some immune support should do the trick! Well this kept on…so after some allergy and energy testing, it made it extremely obvious what the culprit was for BOTH of them. My new synthetically fragranced wax bars and candles. Less than 24 hours of windows open and an air purifier running, and both my sweet boys were back to normal! I’ve never looked back (even though I still love that buttery maple!), but let’s look at some research and I’ll link some alternatives in the comments as well…


Let’s start with an article from a well know reporter of the Daily Mail suggested that he found evidence that scented candles could actually make us quite sick. And it’s not just candles; apparently “aerosols, plug-ins, gels, and incense sticks” are also troubling. The fear lies in the mannnny chemicals that can be found in the fragrance and wax. While more research certainly needs to be done to make a truly definitive statement, some researchers feel that extended, long-term use of certain scented items might lead to asthma, lung damage, or in extreme cases even cancer.


Digging a little more to inspect the claims further, researchers have cautioned that burning candles could cause indoor air pollution. A 2001 EPA study shows that candles with more fragrance in them produce more soot, and the agency suggests choosing unscented candles to reduce this leftover debris.


A 2009 study out of South Carolina State University also warns about chemicals emitted into the air upon burning candles. The researchers found that burning paraffin candles produced “undesired chemicals,” like alkans, alkenes, and toluene, which are known to have harmful effects on humans. “For a person who lights a candle every day for years or just uses them frequently, inhalation of these dangerous pollutants drifting in the air could contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, common allergies and even asthma,” said lead researcher and chemistry professor Dr. Ruhullah Massoudi.


The Public Health England’s Center for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards found that these fresheners can contain “considerable levels of formaldehyde” — but they also report that there’s “not a public health concern under normal ventilation conditions or product use.”


Still, the research continues to pile up: In 2014, Scientific American reported that a a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectivesshows a strong (though not totally definitive) link between exposure to phthalates (chemicals that are found in air fresheners and often plastics) during pregnancy and the child’s future risk of asthma. Phthalates are known to impede the endocrine system, the regulatory mechanism that dictates hormonal distribution in the body,” Scientific American reports. The chemicals’ disruptive prowess have been linked to health problems including birth defects, cancers and diabetes. Yet until now there has been no data to suggest they were also harming children’s respiratory systems.


All this to say, I certainly won’t judge my candle loving friends…I definitely don’t blame you! If my children hadn’t had a noticeable reaction, I would probably continue on too! It was an eye opener for me though, and an important topic to share about! Happy pumpkin spice season, ladies!