Candle Fragrance | How to Tell if the Candles You're Getting are Toxic

Candle Fragrance | How to Tell if the Candles You're Getting are Toxic

You don't see many candle makers talking about the complex content of their fragrances. When it comes to a new release or scent collection, sure, but no one wants to share where they get their fragrances from or what blends they use.

Sometimes it is a gate keeping thing. However, since I have been in the industry I have found that most candle companies would simply rather not talk about the contents of their chemically enhanced fragrance oils.

Yes, although most (especially smaller) candle companies boast a clean soy/coconut wax, the majority of manufacturers, big and small, lack fragrances that aren't at least somewhat tainted with harmful chemicals. The reason is largely for the lack of availability — popular scents like vanilla and pumpkin are rarely non-toxic, much less made without chemicals. Even the ones like peppermint and lavender can be enhanced to contain harmful properties, releasing parabens, phthalates, and potential carcinogens that could cause anything from migraines to soot on the walls to birth defects. 

Fragrances without chemical contents are not only almost impossible to find, they are ridiculously expensive. Each ounce costs no less than a dollar (it takes an ounce to make ONE 16oz candle), often costing closer to two or three. Larger companies overseas and a few across America can boast non-toxicity but shipping is outrageous and even then it is unclear exactly what you are getting.

There are a lot of legal loopholes that allow fragrances to be marketed in deceiving ways. And, speaking from the inside, candle makers unknowingly take advantage of these loopholes daily.

Regardless of what you believe about fragrances, there is a fine line between being conscious and being paranoid over things that have little chance of harming you — and in this media-saturated world it is hard to tell the difference. I am going to go over some of my research below and hopefully give you a better idea of which fragrances are actually toxic and which ones you are safe to use!

Myth: Essential Oils are Always Good For You

Myth number one to demystify is that essential oils are always good for you. While I don't take this to an extreme, I do want to note before we go any further that any fragrance can be a cause of irritation or bodily disruption. There is science to back this but there's also common sense: IF YOU CAN SMELL IT, IT IS GOING TO AFFECT YOU IN SOME WAY.

For example, peppermint can help with headaches and tighten skin but it isn't ideal for irritated and dry skin. It is a potent oil that can cause irritation to eyes and even damage sensitive skin and the effect it has on your lungs in large doses isn't all that great either. 

Lavender oil is another example. Although it is natural, breathing in lavender can have negative long term effects as minute as causing blurry vision or severe as disrupting your natural hormonal cycle. These are both potent oils that can be used for medicinal qualities. However, because of their potency, your body naturally prepares a response. Lavender has been used in aroma therapy and as an agent to calm the nerves but if used too much, it can cause a disruption in female hormones or spike in estrogen in males. Still all natural, but the effects can be potent.

Because of legal loopholes, many essential oils can also be diluted while maintaining their title of "100% essential oil," on the label... so you never exactly know what you are getting. If you use essential oils or put them in your candles, I wouldn't advise discontinuing unless you have an allergy but moderation is key. 

Myth: All Manmade Chemicals are Toxic

This is one that was hard for me to swallow. We go to such lengths here to banish as many manmade chemicals from our candles as possible but after I did some more scholarly research into actual studies that have been done, I was shocked by the benign nature of most manmade chemicals. Research proves that out of over 30,000 manmade chemicals used in fragrances, only 1,000 present even the most minute elements of toxicity. Several of those have been banned from the U.S. so we are left with about half, and after you factor in what most candle companies throw out for the sheer benefit of marketing, you are left with a very low number.

There are still some to look out for that are present in most fragrances applied to skin and in candles that you should look out for (namely ingredients like Musk and Camphor). But other chemicals labeled "carcinogens," by the media actually have no real research to back any cancer-inducing nature.

Styrene is a good example. While it can cause irritation that leads to inflammatory issues creating ideal conditions for disease, there is no backing to it being a carcinogen according to the EPA. Benzaldehyde is another example often pinned by whistleblowers that passes almost every health test in America and is used as a common flavoring in most sweet treats. The only fragrance with instances of death behind it is Camphor which is frequently used in religious activity in the middle east and has caused one reported death of a 3 year old girl. While there are possibilities, they are few.

While many of these fragrances are not going to land you on your death bed, it is important to be cautious of what you are using and how much you're using it. If a scent is overwhelmingly strong for example, maybe you should open some windows and blow the candle out.

The best way to identify manmade chemicals in candles and other products is how strong they are in the first few minutes of use. If you're overwhelmed by scent in a fraction of the time it should take, maybe you should take a look at the ingredients.

Myth: Toxicity ALWAYS = A Reaction 

As I am saying all of this it may seem a little lofty. Most strong scents cause headaches in people but that is just about it. The truth is, not all toxic chemicals are going to have an apparent negative effect on you.

For example, an overdose of Ethyl Acetate (often used as a diluent in fragrances and paints) can have narcotic effects shutting down the nervous system and have long term damage. But as an ingredient in most paint/stain mixtures, chances are it's in the paint on your walls. 

Methylene Chloride is used to process 'whole,' foods including decaffeinated coffee but it is also under speculation for being a carcinogen. In summary, most of the harmful chemicals listed are exposed to you every day and their effect is strictly long term after repeated exposure. You may see little to no effect at all — and if you are having a reaction, there is more of a chance it is from something you are ingesting than from a candle if we are talking about man made chemicals. The probability of being allergic to a fragrance is still highly possible — however, if you are worried about toxic chemicals don't be afraid to look into your diet too!

Myth: You Can't Be Allergic to Natural Oils/Chemical Fragrances

It is still good to be conscious of chemicals and fragrances, natural or not. In some cases, people have an unidentified allergy that can cause fatigue or inflammation, triggered by things they don't even know exist! Because of health restrictions, it is rare that you would find one of these elements in food or coffee, but in an unregulated candle or perfume having an allergic reaction is highly possible. Fragrances often possess MORE chemicals than any of the other products we use daily and many of them have irritating properties that people can be intolerant of. 

My advice, again, is to pay attention to what scents/fragrance loaded products seem to bother you and steer clear of them or use them in moderation. Even if there isn't a huge presence of toxic chemicals, you could still be allergic to the particular essential oil that makes the fragrance itself!

Myth: It's All About the Ingredients

Ok. This one is going to make some of you put your pitch forks at me but hear me out. When I got into the candle making business, I only used clean fragrances just as I do today. None of them gave me headaches which I was thankful for. But being someone with sensitive skin, I started noticing a huge comeback in sensitivity and acne! Nothing irks me more than having unclear skin so I started paying attention to how the fragrance oil affected me. This is what I found.

 First of all, I do think there is something to be said for oils like peppermint and lavender AND vanilla and cinnamon. Personally those are the ones I have found cause the most effect on me, simply because they are strong.

Vanilla seems to have little effect with peppermint coming second but oddly lavender and cinnamon seemed to flare up both my skin issues and hormones. After some research proving that lavender stimulates increase in female hormones that makes sense, but in the fall I always dreaded using cinnamon simply because most of my fall scents contained it. This is going to sound oddly simple but this is the solution I found: having a better hygiene system.

Yep, although I did find that my skin is sensitive to cinnamon, it is not always about the ingredients. Sometimes it is just about ratios. On days when I poured big orders and worked with my hair hanging by my face soaking in the hot scented wax, my skin struggled severely. Heat causes your pores to open so I also noticed in the early fall months when I worked with heat in my shop and tried to save the AC, I would break out. Simple things like keeping my hair up, washing my hands frequently, and turning on some AC to prevent me from becoming more vulnerable helped my skin tremendously. 

The truth is, no matter what fragrance you have in a candle or perfume, if there is too much proportionally to the diluent, you are going to have issues. I also invested in a nice scale for my shop and I measure out the exact quantity of oil I need for each candle so that none of them are scented too little or too much.

This isn't a good marketing point for me, but the ratio MATTERS more than the mere ingredients sometimes and it can be the difference between a candle with "toxic," effects and one that you can smell for hours with no issues. When you burn your candles, be sure to leave on for a few hours at a time, no more than 12 in one burn!

The Main Point

 In all of the points I hit this has been my refrain: USE IN MODERATION. Spot test or use lightly at the beginning of use. To properly "break in," a candle, you're supposed to burn it for at least an hour at the beginning to make sure the entire surface gets melty but once that is done feel free to blow it out. (You can read our candle care guide here)

Stay away from scents you know irritate you and if you're someone who gets a headache from strong scents, try to avoid them. While candles presenting no toxic chemicals in their fragrance oils (such as ours) may make a world of difference, there is still just a possibility that you are allergic to the natural essential components.

Finally, while most toxic chemicals are banned, be sure to stay away from a few. Phthalates have been known to cause the most damage along with Camphor, Musk, and a few other ingredients that you want to stay away from. While in moderation a negative effect is rare, it is important to be aware, especially if you are sensitive! 

We take pride in making our candles balanced with just the right amount of fragrance to wax ratio and we use clean fragrances approved by strict International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials) standards. To read our full list of what we DON'T put in our candles, click here. As there are over thousands of chemicals we don't use, not every chemical is listed, only the most toxic and recognizable. If you are curious about one in specific, please don't hesitate to reach out at store@burnworthycandleco.com. 

I as the owner of Burnworthy Candle Co. screen all of our fragrances/do our research myself and would be more than happy to go over our ingredients with you!

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