Photo: Graeme Montgomery/Trunk Archive
You probably own a candle—or 10. If you’re a woman, we’ll go with definitely, since the National Candle Association reports that 90% of candle buyers are women, and 7 out of 10 households use candles. But with more types of wax available than ever, it’s easy to be confused. Is soy better? Is paraffin safe? And is it really that bad to breathe in a little soot? Answers to those questions—and some surprising wax facts—below.
The most common wax used in candle-making, paraffin is made from fossil fuels—hence its newly controversial reputation. In 2009, researchers at South Carolina State University found that burning paraffin candles releases hazardous chemicals into the air. This year, a study declared that all wax types burn alike (but it was funded by the candle-industry groups and a petrochemical lobbying group). Until further research happens, don’t expect this flame war to die down.
Soy wax is an increasingly popular base for candles, in part because of its long-lasting burn time. “I love soy wax,” says Kristi Head, founder of the California-based line Lite+Cycle. “It’s also a renewable resource, non-toxic, and it provides a great scent throw.” (That’s candle speak for fragrance.)
This naturally fragrant ingredient is purified wax from a honeycomb. And, since a 2001 EPA report found that unscented candles are less likely to produce soot, beeswax is a smart choice for anyone with respiratory issues such as asthma.
A sustainable and renewable resource, vegetable wax has obvious appeal for the eco-chic crowd. “Produced directly from vegetables, it’s readily available to grow and produce locally,” explains Head, who uses non-GMO vegetable wax in her line. “And that lowers the threat to the environment.”
No matter which wax you choose, remember: A properly burned candle should never give off plumes of smoke. It’s a health issue, says Dr. Jerome Nriagu, PhD, DSc, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “If candles are burned without adequate air supply, the emissions have the same characteristics as what you would find from diesel [fumes],” he says. “But if you burn your candles properly, you shouldn’t get a lot of smoke.” He advises trimming wicks before lighting, and burning candles only in a well-ventilated area. That may mean cracking a window the next time you light up, but at least you’ll breathe easy.
This article originally appeared on Yahoo Beauty.