Beautiful and Healthy by Candlelight

A candle on the dinner table can make hot dogs and baked beans seem romantic.

The light charms us, and it actually has several health benefits. Burning candles also carries some minor, and avoidable, health risks.

To start with the good, candles make almost everything better in so many ways…

Soft light from candles is good for sleep.

Blue-light from TVs’, laptops, phones, and light bulbs disrupts our circadian clock. In nature, blue light means it’s daytime. Switching off the bright lights and settling down by candlelight in the evening can help your body produce more the hormone melatonin that encourages good sleep.  

Candles create good rituals.

Lighting a candle for special occasions, holidays, even just to mark the end of the day    can reinforce the good they do. That’s because each time you light candles, you are likely to evoke memories of past occasions and the joy they brought.

Candles are calming.

Candlelight makes the sharp edges of everything else recede and look softer. Some people meditate by looking at a candle flame. Whether you do or not, focusing on the flame reduces your visual input. That gives your busy brain a break.

Candles can benefit a good mood.

In addition to their calming light, scented candles can add to the benefits. We are often told that lavender is calming and lemon is good for depression.

We do have strong emotional responses to smells, but some scientists believe that our reactions are learned. It’s not that scent of lemon is innately happy, it’s that we associate it with good things. So if what makes you happy is cinnamon or sandalwood or lemon, light a candles and enjoy is.

4 Points to Consider for Candle Safety

These issues are not as obvious as the danger of a candle tipping over, catching a curtain on fire or mayhem possible when the cat wanders through the tapers.

But following these pointers will keep your candlelight experience as safe as it is beautiful.

1. Don’t Burn Lead. In 2003, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of candles made with lead-cored wicks. It was a problem most of us didn’t even know we should worry about. These wicks emitted lead at seven times the rate that could cause high lead levels in children.

If you happen to have any heritage candles that old, check them. 

How will you know? Rub the tip of a clean wick on a piece of white paper. If it leaves a gray smudge, don’t burn it. It probably has lead.

2. Skip the Phthalates.This chemical occurs in some scented candles. If the candle is labeled for contents, look for 100% essential oils as fragrances. Phthalates are more likely to occur in candles that use artificial fragrances.

The other clue is that the candle is labeled “non-toxic.” This may be even more realistic and easier. Many candle makers do not list ingredients. That’s an optional step. Plus, some artificial fragrances are fine when they are simply chemical copies of natural ingredients.

3. Take Care with All Scents. A candle that smells like cookies in the oven or a snowy forest is the other best reason to light a candle.

Candles made with safe essential oils and non-toxic scents are fine for most of us. Before sharing your favorite with everyone, though, be aware that some people react badly to strong fragrances.

People with asthma can have an intense asthma attack brought on by perfumes and scents. Even at a less reactive level, they may have a stuffed nose, more difficulty breathing, and headaches.

4. Paraffin, Soy, or Beeswax. Those bees make the world a better place thanks to all the flowers they pollinate and the honey they manufacture. They also make great wax. A beeswax candle will normally cost more, but it is healthy and burns beautifully. It will probably emit a gentle honey smell, too.

Soy, coconut and other plant-based waxes are also good.

That brings us to the majority of candles in the world… the ones made of paraffin. Those are probably what you have in your home unless you purposely shopped for another kind.

Paraffin is a petroleum product. They can emit volatile organic compounds; VOC’s like toluene and acetate. How dangerous they are is open to debate. In 2009, a study that has been widely cited scared everyone into thinking paraffin candles were harbingers of doom. That was a long time ago, and no one has replicated or confirmed the danger.

If someone in your home has breathing issues that even low levels of VOC’s could worse, then avoid paraffin candles. If you use them, limit how long and make sure the room is large enough for good airflow and good ventilation.

What’s in your candles? Unless you shopped for soy or beeswax on purpose, it’s probably paraffin. That’s what is in most popular brands sold in gift, card, and bookstores and Yankee Candle shops.

Unless you have breathing issues, you don’t have to dump all your paraffin candles. But do use sporadically and with good ventilation. Choose something else to burn behind closed doors when you take a bath or in your bedroom.

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