From a candlelit dinner to the flicker of flames on a birthday cake, candles create an unmistakable ambiance that electric light just can’t replace. Unfortunately, most modern candles are made with paraffin – it’s readily available, relatively inexpensive and easy to color and scent. It’s also a petroleum product and recent studies show that burning paraffin candles releases a variety of toxins, including the carcinogens benzene and toluene, which can lead to breathing disorders, headaches and other not-so-fun health issues. Plus, since it’s petroleum based, it’s not great for the environment.So what’s a candle-lover to do? Reach for a soy or beeswax candle, of course. Beeswax is a long-standing traditional candle material, and recently, soy wax has come to the market. Both burn “cleaner” than paraffin, though no candle is truly “soot free”. Neither soy nor beeswax emit any toxins while burning, and if done properly, the processing of the candles is kinder to the environment than paraffin. Petroleum-based paraffin is a non-renewable resource, soy and beeswax are both renewable and sustainable. Another sustainable wax option coming into use is palm oil wax.
While beeswax can stand on its own, soy is softer and most widely available in containers. Soy tapers and other large, shaped candles will contain other waxes, including paraffin – so look for ones that specify they are mixed with beeswax, or palm oil wax. Soy is very soft, so the candles will soften and turn to liquid faster than other waxes; though it will still have a long burn time. Beeswax is the more expensive option, running about 10 times the cost of soy. Beeswax tends to have a mild, pleasant aroma of its own while soy is very neutral, so it’s perfect for scented candles. It’s also important to note that many vegans will not use beeswax candles.
When it comes to additives, like scents and colors, check to be sure that only natural, essential oils are used for the scents and that colors come from non-toxic dyes.
Beeswax – comes from honeycomb, a relatively expensive wax but has a very long burn time. Often blended with other waxes to help increase their burn time, or lend stability to their shape. Gives off a natural aroma and burns with a very bright, almost white light. Beeswax does not dye as easily as other waxes and the natural aroma can interfere with added scents. It’s also very difficult to clean up melted wax.
Soy wax – made from soybean oil and is very soft on its own. Soy wax burns slowly and holds scents and colors well. When burned, soy produces a soft, slightly yellow-tinted flame and burns relatively “cool” so it’s safer around children and pets. Because the wax is so soft, drips and spills are easy to clean up.
Palm oil wax – a relative newcomer to the natural candle market, palm oil wax is from coconuts and tends to be firm, almost brittle so it will work well in pillars. It’s a common ingredient in wax blends, especially with soy wax to create non-container candles.