Are Scented Candles Dangerous to Your Health?

What could be more delicious than filling your house with the aroma of pumpkin spice at Thanksgiving, peppermint and pine at Christmas, and lilacs during spring? Scented candles have long been a popular and inexpensive way to infuse your surroundings with the fragrances of the season. And since smell can evoke such potent memories and emotions, scented candles can put you and your guests in a festive, warm mood. But you may be wondering: Are they safe? Do scented candles release chemical fragrances that are actually toxic? Are candles safe to use at all?

Recently, the American Chemical Society released a study indicating that paraffin wax-which is made from petroleum and is used in many scented candles-releases carcinogens when it's burned. The main problem? Lighting candles in unventilated spaces, such as bathrooms, or lighting them every day over a period of time. According to the study's authors, occasional use of scented candles, such as around the holidays, should not cause any problems. So go ahead and infuse your family room with essence of holly if that's what puts you in a holiday mood. But open the windows if you can, at least for part of the time. And if possible, look for candles made from beeswax or soy, which don't cause such harmful emissions.

The National Candle Association maintains that paraffin wax is non-toxic and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food, cosmetics and medicine. According to the NCA, the amount of soot produced by one candle is minuscule and similar to the soot emitted by kitchen toasters and cooking oils. It is not chemically comparable to the soot produced when gasoline or diesel fuel burns. Nevertheless, the association encourages people to use scented candles wisely. Among their suggestions:

  • People with allergies or asthma may want to steer clear of scented candles, or particular scents that may trigger reactions.
  • Scented candles should be used in well-ventilated rooms.
  • Candles of all types should not be left burning unattended.
  • Buy candles from reputable candle manufacturers only. Homemade or craft-fair candles may contain fragrances that are not approved for use in candles, or may contain too much fragrance. This can cause candles to burn in an unsafe way.


American Chemical Society, www.acs,org,
National Candle Association,