Scented or aromatherapy candles are ubiquitous particularly around the holidays … and some of us use Hanukkah candles. In summary: we recommend that you avoid petroleum based paraffin candles – use 100% beeswax or organic soy.

What type of wax is generally used in candles?

Paraffin is the predominant wax used in the candle industry. Paraffin is basically the “bottom of the barrel” even after asphalt is extracted. Paraffin is the final byproduct in the petroleum refining chain.

In 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that burning paraffin candles emit harmful amounts of toxins in the air that are considered above the excess cancer risk, with multiple exposures.

According to California’s safe drinking water and toxic enforcement act of 1986, there are up to twenty toxins in paraffin candle wax, substances which are found in paint, lacquer and varnish removers.

Petro-soot from paraffin candles gives off the same soot as the exhaust of a diesel engine, and is considered just as dangerous as second hand smoke, causing problems from headaches to lung cancer. Paraffin fumes have been found to cause tumors in the kidneys and liver of lab animals.

In 2005, when the American Lung Association issued a warning to the public about the dangers of paraffin the National Candle Association (NCA) threatened them with legal action. The NCA has also sent letters to others who tried to warn the public.

As was previously noted, paraffin is made from leftover residue of the final petroleum refining process. The wealthy oil industry (which not only sells their by-products to the candle industry but also has four members sitting on the board of the National Candle Association) has assumed a very dominant position in the candle manufacturing business.

Additionally increasing the amount of particulates, volatile compounds, and soot released into the air:

  • the type of wick
  • inclusion of any synthetic fragrant oil scents and/or dyes
  • anytime you have a flame and combustion.

Further Reading and Sources:

“Alternative” Candles

Beeswax is a popular alternative to paraffin candles. The benefits of beeswax candles have stood for centuries: they don’t drip; they burn longer, as well as cleaner than their paraffin and soy counterparts. Beeswax is less likely to trigger allergies and does not produce toxins or soot when burned. It is generally more expensive than paraffin but burns longer. However, some candles labeled as beeswax may also contain paraffin. Look for 100% beeswax candles. More about the benefits of beeswax candles.

I have used Bluecorn Naturals candles for years.

Soy candles last 50% longer than candles made of petroleum-based paraffin. They also burn slower and cooler (helping to better distribute fragrance), are non-toxic, less likely to trigger allergies, clean up with soap and water, and produce very little soot. Organic soy candles are available, such as Paddywax Ecogreen Upcycled Candle and Aira Soy Candles – Organic.

Hanukkah Candles

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset on Tuesday, December 20, 2011, and ends at sunset on Wednesday, December 28, 2011. [I edited this article in 2014. Hanukkah 2014 begins in the evening of Tuesday, December 16 and ends in the evening of Wednesday, December 24.]

Hanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews, and even many assimilated Jews, think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration.

The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a Hanukia. Many people refer to the Hanukia incorrectly as a menorah. The name menorah is used only to describe the seven-branched candelabrum that was housed in the Jewish Temple. The Hanukiah holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamash or servant at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shamash candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited: The first candle is then lit using the shamash candle, and the shamash candle is placed in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of 1/2 hour. Each night, another candle is added from right to left, like the Hebrew language. Candles are lit from left to right because you pay honor to the newer thing first. Read more on Hannukah.

I recommend these 100% Beeswax Hanukkah Candles. You can buy these via our Amazon affiliation.

Do you enjoy lighting candles? Which ones do you like to use?


Photo credit Brian Liloia