Does burning candles affect the air you breathe?
For some of us, there’s nothing better than lighting a candle or two to cozy up our home. And with fall and the holidays just around the corner, the comforting smell of spiced pumpkin, apple cinnamon, pinewood and Frazier fir will soon be warming us up inside as the crisp night air cools outside.
But have you ever wondered if burning candles might pose a health risk to your lungs?
Scientists in Denmark looked at answering that question. In a project to help develop environmentally friendly candles with reduced particle emissions, their research study findings were published by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.
In the study, the researchers evaluated several of the most common candles used in households. They measured emissions from the burning candles, including the amount of ultrafine particles, water soluble salts (used to treat the wick), black carbon (an indicator of soot), metals such as lead and nickel, and volatile organic compounds.
Results showed that the burning candles did emit fine particles into the indoor air. The number of emitted particles depended on the burn rate and the amount of salts used for wick protection. However, when the candles were protected from draft as manufacturers recommend, almost all the particles were water soluble salts, which your body can easily excrete after breathing in.
When protected from draft, the candles also emitted very low amounts of black carbon or soot. No heavy metals were detected in the emissions of the candles tested and the levels of volatile organic compounds also were very low.
These results add to the evidence from other research studies that indicate emissions from burning candles isn’t enough to cause health issues.
“In fact, candles can be very calming and help improve your health,” said family medicine practitioner Dr. Denise Elizondo, who specializes in integrative medicine at Aurora Wiselives Center in Wauwatosa, WI. “The gentle flame and soft illumination make them perfect to use with any relaxation technique, like meditation, deep breathing exercises or yoga – or anytime. And research studies suggest that a scented candle can offer aromatherapy benefits to help relieve anxiety and lift your mood.”
There are some right ways to burn a candle to get the most out of its health benefits. If burned improperly, carbon can collect on the wick and “mushroom.” This can cause the flame to become too large, the candle to smoke and soot to be released into the air and inside the candle jar.
When burning candles, Dr. Elizondo shared these tips:
- Use high-quality candles made from natural sources such as beeswax, soy wax or vegetable wax.
- Consider candles with essential oils like lavender, bergamot, jasmine, lemongrass or ylang-ylang to help relieve stress.
- Protect candles from draft during burning.
- Keep the wick trimmed to a quarter inch.
- Don’t burn a candle for more than four hours.
- To avoid smoke when extinguishing the flame, use a snuffer or wick dipper instead of blowing it out.
Looking for an app that has guided meditation? Check out the LiveWell with Advocate Aurora app.
About the Author
Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.