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What’s in your candles? Why should you care?

Posted on 19 January 2018

What’s in your candles?  Why should you care? 

With the UK candle market on the the rise and predictions for the future of candle sales continuing to rise, why we believe you should wise up as to the contents of your candle. 

There are so many different choices when it comes to the wax used in scented candles; some have a much better throw (candle-maker speak for fragrance release), some burn longer and cleaner and some have eco-credentials. 

Broadly speaking, wax is a flammable, carbon-containing solid that becomes a liquid when heated above room temperature. In other words, this acts as the fuel in a candle. When the scented candle is lit, the wax melts and is vaporised and combusted. This, then produces heat and light. Just about any kind of oil can be turned into a wax, providing a huge selection of choices for candle-makers. 

making Imperial Candles

What wax is most commonly used and why it should matter…

Paraffin Wax. Overall, paraffin is the world’s most commonly used candle wax. It is removed from petroleum during the refining process and is a relatively hard wax with a range of melting points which provides versatility in candle production. It’s valued for it’s opacity, lack of colour and our and consistent burn qualities.  Essentially, paraffin wax is a petroleum by-product of crude oil, and  it emits large amounts of particulate pollution when burned which is a major ingredient in air pollution and you may find that it burns leaving a sooty residue. Paraffin wax is far from any wax with eco-credentials. It’s been linked to negative toxins and chemicals but you could, of course argue that this is good use of a bi-product of the petroleum industry. But do you really want to burn paraffin wax in your home? South Carolina State University experts analysed fumes released from burning candles and their findings were that paraffin wax candles gave off harmful fumes liked to lung cancer and asthma but admitted it would take many years’ use to actually cause risk to health. 

Rapeseed Wax. Rapeseed wax, also known as Canola Wax, provides a fantastic fragrance retention, scent throw and longer burn time. It’s a fairly new wax for scented candles, and independent brands (especially European) are now beginning to use it as a locally sourced alternative to Soy Wax. Not so many brands use rapeseed wax in the UK, but it is a growing trend that we see is likely to take off, particularly in a blended form. The downside of using rapeseed wax and why we would stay away is that rapeseed is considered quite a potent allergen. It can cause eye irritation and the fumes can affect those with rapeseed allergies. 

Soy Wax. Soy wax is a softer, slower burning and is less transparent than paraffin but’s it’s polarity is highly compatible with many essential oils and fragrances. It comes in a variety of melting points and can be used as 100% soy wax (or more commonly used in a blend (often with a paraffin wax). Occasionally and particularly with 100% soy wax tiny looking crystals may appear on the tops of soy candles or melts (often called frosting or bloom). These are not flaws, but just natural variations in the wax which do not affect the fragrance or burn. When put with the right wicks and mixed well with fragrances, soy wax is known not to burn sooty (like paraffin wax) and soy itself isn’t known at this time to emit carcinogenic toxins (again like paraffin), but environmentally there are some questions - soy wax general comes from genetically modified sources. GM soy crops are sprayed heavily with toxic pesticides, which it’s questionable about the long-term effects on our environment, our soil, our farms and therefore our health. 

Beeswax. Beeswax is the substance secreted by honeybees when they construct their honeycombs, and is obtained by melting the empty comb in boiling water. It is far more sticky than other waxes and its composition varies slightly according to the geographical location and diet of the bees. It’s valued for it’s slow burn and golden colouring. Beeswax candles have been used for more than 1,000 years and beeswax, by far (if farmed right) is considered one of the best and some consider with medicinal purposes. It’s not so good to use for scented candles - it carries it’s own delicate scent. Today’s farming methods can leave a lot to be desired often with bee welfare low down on the priorities for wax farmers.

Palm Wax. Palm wax is obtained primarily from oil palms grown in Southeast Asia. It is a relatively hard, bright-burning wax composed of mid-chain fatty acids that make up the solid stearin fraction of palm and palm kernel oil. Palm wax has been commercially used for candles since the late 1990s. Palm wax was considered an environmentally sustainable source, until it was discovered that in places like Indonesia, the rainforest was ravaged and there were long-term effects on wildlife, such as the declining orangutangs. Palm wax is now given a wide berth in the industry, though there are still producers and there are still manufactures using it. We feel strongly that Palm wax should be avoided until sustainable farming methods are adopted and stringent policies and checks in place. 

Coconut Wax. Coconut wax is considered a high-yield and relatively sustainable wax (at present!). The wax burns slowly and has a good throw making it good for using to make scented candles and the process to obtain coconut oil is natural Coconut is considered newer (and at present less popular than paraffin, soy or beeswax) and it is more expensive, but in time, we hope to see to more of it, particularly through good sustainable farming methods. 

What should you choose?

At this stage anything other paraffin wax is probably considered better for your health individually.  When choosing candles read first before buying as many candles will advertise a blended wax - usually part of that blend is paraffin. Identify the full ingredients (blend) prior to purchase (or prior to burning). You might be surprised that the super popular, sold across the High Street and many chainstores/online stores, Yankee Candle use paraffin wax - low cost to make and high profit margin due to branding but not so great as contains paraffin wax. This is both in the jar candles along with wax melts…. So, ensure you can easily identify what wax is being used or don’t buy it - do you really want to release on a regular basis, toxins considered carcinogenic into your home and bodies. 

Overall beeswax or coconut waxes are likely the best, but with the ruthless farming methods for beeswax we say avoid, unless you are confident of the source and the methods. Coconut wax, at present sounds like a good candle wax. 

Palm wax - we say avoid. The effects of the palm industry and the lack of stringent sustainable farming methods has put a dampener on this wax - but watch this space, as we anticipate at some point the in the future that palm wax will make a comeback. 

Overall, for price and usability, soy wax is the most popular alternative to paraffin and is a good alternative, though we hope we see more soy being harvested not from GMO farming in the future. 

Who did we decide to stock? Imperial Candles. We chose Imperial Candles as they use ingredients not tested on animals, 100% soy (not a blend with paraffin) and have stunning jewellery hidden in every candle - which is a beautiful surprise. Their scents are stunning too and their leading scent, Black Raspberry Vanilla is to die for! Once you start, you can’t resist buying more! We stock their wax melts and their jewel candles along with the stunning fizzy jewel bath bombs too! 

Happy candle burning and why not get in touch with your experiences 💕

black raspberry vanilla candle

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