The benefits of beeswax candles
I had a very unusual high school job: I poured beeswax candles at a Greek Orthodox convent!
Although an unconventional (pun intended!) experience, I loved the quiet afternoons I spent at the convent. I deeply inhaled the thick, honey-fragranced air in pouring room as I meditatively poured golden, molten beeswax into the cups. Next, I gently placed a wick in each candle, meticulously nudging it into the center.
Besides mastering the rare art of beeswax candle making, I also learned some important chemistry and health lessons from this job. Namely, the toxic effects of paraffin candles and the unique air-purifying properties of 100% beeswax candles.
The probem with paraffin candles
“Regular candles,” i.e. that bag of tealights you can buy for five bucks, are made from paraffin. As the name implies, paraffin candles are made from paraffin wax, a by-product of petroleum refining. The result? A highly toxic (and environmentally unfriendly) product that literally poisons the air you breathe.
Paraffin wax starts as the sludge at the bottom of the barrel of crude oil. Even asphalt is extracted before paraffin in the refining process! The black sludge, already filled with numerous toxins, undergoes bleaching and treatment by carcinogens benzene and/or toulene.
And the chemicals don’t stop there. Chemists mix in toxic concoctions of colors and fragrances to make this waste product marketable and appealing. The final result is a innocent looking candle which releases seven documented toxins –two of which are carcinogenic–when it burns.
And toxins aren’t the only problem with burning paraffin candles. Over time, repeatedly burning paraffin candles leaves black soot stains on walls, ceilings, furniture, and drapery. The microscopic soot particles at fault for the cosmetic damage also cause serious health problems. These tiny particles are easily inhaled and get trapped in the deepest part of the lungs, which may cause respiratory irritation.
How beeswax candles clean the air
Did you know that beeswax candles clean the air when they burn?
Beeswax releases negative ions when it burns. Pollen, dust, dirt, pollutants, and any other junk in the air all carry a positive charge, and that is how they can be suspended in the air. The negative ions released from burning beeswax negate the positive charge of air contaminants, and the neutralized ions are sucked back into the burning candle or fall to the ground. Many air purifiers and water filters harness this effective negative ion technology.
Because beeswax candles clean the air and reduce indoor pollutants, they can effectively reduce asthma, allergies, and hay fever. One of the most rewarding parts of my candle pouring job was listening to customers tell me miraculous stories of how the beeswax candles changed their quality of life. The most common thing I heard was, “these are the only candles I can burn,” or “these are the only candles my husband will let me burn,” since the beeswax didn’t release irritating toxins and fragrances. Here are two of the most memorable stories.
Beeswax Candles and Asthma
As I was ringing up one woman’s candle purchase in the candle shop, I struggled to fit all of her candles into the three large canvas bags she provided. “Wow–you must be stocking up!” I observed. “I am never running out of these candles again!” she exclaimed, and told me how the candles changed her young son’s life. “He has always had terrible asthma that acts up at night. The other day, I burned one of these candles in his room two hours before he went to bed. He had no asthma symptoms at all! Now we do this routine every night.”
Beeswax Candles and Allergies
One woman told me that her granddaughter’s cat allergies interfered with visits to grandma, because of her cats. After learning about the convent’s candles, this woman burned two beeswax candles in the living room a couple of hours before her granddaughter arrived. Her granddaughter, while in the living room, experienced no allergic symptoms! They now practice this routine for comfortable visits each week.
Beeswax candles sound great, right? But there is a catch…
Sneaky labeling on beeswax candles
In the U.S., the term “pure” on a label means only 51% of an ingredient (and that goes for food, too). Often, companies sell “pure” beeswax candles which contain a combination of 51% beeswax and 49% toxic paraffin. Look for the key phrase “100% Pure Beeswax” on candles.
100% pure beeswax candles come with an unexpectedly large price tag for those used to buying 100 paraffin tea lights for five bucks at Ikea. No one should pay money, however, to poison their home!When you buy 100% pure beeswax candles, you are making a health investment.
UPDATE – How do I get these beeswax candles?
Previously, I did not post the Sisters’ info on this post and asked people to email me if they wanted to know how to purchase the candles (yeah, I had a much smaller audience then!). After a discussion with the Sisters, however, we’ve decided to put their information on the post.
The Sisters sell their candles online here, at Quiet Light Candles. Their website also gives important tips about how to get the longest burn time from the candles. You will get a helpful brochure in your order, covering a lot of what I’ve written in this post. You can also ask for a few extra brochures to give to family and friends, or include with the candles you give as gifts.
Frequently Asked Beeswax Questions
Do you recommend making your own beeswax candles?
I do not recommend making beeswax candles from scratch, if you have no prior experience. The sisters spent 9 months figuring out the correct type of beeswax (it varies depending on wax season, pollen content, etc.), the correct temperature for pouring the wax (even 5 degrees makes a huge difference), the correct diameter for the candle, and the correct wick. And they are constantly perfecting all these variables. Making beeswax candles at home can be a fun project, but it is not as cost effective as buying the candles, since homemade ones will have a significantly reduced burn time.
I’ve heard about lead in wicks. Is this true?
If a candle has a metal wire in the wick, it may contain lead. Lead is banned from use, but many imported candles, especially from China, still contain lead. Burn only candles with 100% cotton wicks and avoid any with a wire center. If it has a wire center, it will put zinc and other metals into your air.
For questions regarding soy candles, read my Soy vs. Beeswax Candles: The Inside Scoop