Spreading Holiday Cheer Without Toxic Fear

A Guide to Safer Candles & Scents

As the cold of winter slowly creeps into the air, we find joy in the search for ways to add warmth to shorter days. Warmth in family and friends joining our homes, and warmth in seasonal products which heighten our senses.


A common item we may associate with these cozy feelings are candles. Our cultural obsession with candles has made them available wherever we choose to shop, with plenty of scents and styles to choose from. It makes perfect sense that when faced with choosing a gift for a picky aunt or friend, we go with an item we know evokes a sense of coziness and warmth and can be used by almost everyone. And really, what’s not to like about candles? Well a few things…

Read on for more about toxic substances in candles and safer shopping.

What Are We Really Burning?

Indoor Air Pollution in a Confined Space
When we burn candles containing toxic components, we create a confined space in which pollutants can accumulate. Without outdoor air diluting the particles emitted, these toxins can build up in our homes. Indoor air pollution from candles can include substances such as particulate matter, which can enter the lungs when of small enough size. 

Another critical aspect of candles is how scent or fragrance contributes to indoor air quality. Fragrances emit substantial amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including those classified as toxic or hazardous by federal law. The toxic substances these fragrances emit are not only harmful on their own, but in the confined spaces of our homes, can react with ozone in the air and form harmful secondary pollutants such as formaldehyde.

With scented candles, the ingredient list typically provides little to no explanation about what’s in a particular scent, or where it comes from. Instead, the scent will be listed as “fragrance” or “parfum,” which provides no information to the conscious shopper. While listed as a single entity on product labels, “fragrance” can be comprised of many different undisclosed natural substances or synthetic chemicals. Some chemicals behind these vague terms have been linked to developmental and reproductive harm, endocrine disruption and allergens.

Among the many ingredients that fragrance is comprised of, phthalates are especially harmful. Phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption, including lower sperm count in males. Phthalates can also cause damage to the female reproductive system and have been known to cause a variety of birth defects and reproductive impairments.

Carcinogenic Components
Conventional candles can release toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, acetaldehyde, which is a probable human carcinogen, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), some of which are known or suspected human carcinogens.

Paraffin wax makes up the wax portion of candles and is derived from petroleum. Paraffin, as its origin suggests, is not clean-burning nor biodegradable in our environment.

Candles made from paraffin are suspected to release toxic chemicals including toluene and benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen and toluene is linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity. The chemicals released from paraffin wax over an extended period of time could contribute to the development of cancer, allergies and asthma

Lead Wicks
Although a common concern among consumers, you can take a deep breath knowing that lead core wicks have been banned from being manufactured, sold, or imported into the United States since 2003. However, not all countries have this ban, so be wary of products purchased outside of the U.S., unless that country has a similar restriction.

Tips for Safer Candles and Fragrance

Worried your house now won’t feel or smell as cozy this holiday season and beyond? Don’t fret, there are ways to seek safer candle alternatives and keep your home smelling and feeling like a winter wonderland.

Tips for Purchasing Safer Candles

  • Unscented candles may not contain harmful fragrance chemicals, but they are often still paraffin-based. Instead, look for 100% soy, coconut or beeswax-based candles. Make sure it’s not a mixture, as paraffin can be added to keep prices down. 
  • Look for 100% cotton wicks.
  • Find candles made with 100% whole essential oils rather than mystery “fragrance.” (Remember, avoid any essential oils to which you are allergic or sensitive.)
  • Skip the colored candles. Pigments used in candles can be toxic to humans and the environment. 

Discover MADE SAFE® Certified Candles and Wax Melts


    Simmer Pots & Potpourri 
    Easy and effective, simmer pots and potpourri use natural fruits and spices when boiled to create powerful plant-based scents to enrich your home. Check out the simmer pot recipe ideas below:

    • Orange and Balsam Simmering Potpourri: For a refreshing scent on cozy winter nights, try simmering thick cuts of orange, several sprigs of fresh balsam and rosemary, cinnamon sticks and vanilla extract in a large pot.
    • Woodsy Winter Forest Simmer Pot: Slowly simmer pine needles, berries, and cinnamon. 
    • Balsam Fir Scented Sachets: Place Christmas tree or any pine tree trimmings in fabric sachets. The smell of fresh pine can be a great addition to closets and drawers.

    DIY Essential Oil Sprays
    Follow these simple recipe steps or get creative making limitless combinations of holiday spray bottle scents. (These are also great gifts!)

    Try these recipes at home or design your own to include your own personal favorite scents. Mix the components together in a glass spray bottle and spritz away!

    More holiday room spray recipes.

    Home for the Holidays:
    • 10 drops orange essential oil
    • 10 drops nutmeg essential oil
    • 10 drops cedar wood essential oil
    • 5 drops clove essential oil
    • 3 drops cinnamon bark essential oil
    • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3 oz vodka or distilled water
    Winter Wonderland:
    • 20 drops pine needle essential oil
    • 10 drops peppermint essential oil
    • 10 drops wintergreen essential oil
    • 3 oz vodka or distilled water

    * Remember to avoid any essential oils you are sensitive or allergic to. Always dilute essential oils properly.

    Discover MADE SAFE Certified Essential Oils for DIY Candle Alternatives


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