’Tis the season and although it is not quite the snowy days of winter here in Phoenix, everyone loves to bring out their favorite candles. They provide great ambiance and the scented varieties can have your house smelling delicious in moments. Your home can be transformed to smelling like warm apple pie, a Christmas tree, or a pumpkin spice latte in seconds!

And while I adore all those smells, there are many of us who are simply too sensitive to scents to enjoy these candles. So please don’t feel alone if you can’t walk down the candle aisle at Target without burning eyes and nausea! 

Candles have been used for thousands of years and until the early 1900s, they were the single source for artificial light. They also have a rich tradition in religious services in many faiths throughout history. The first candles were made from tallow extracted from cattle and sheep by the early Egyptians and Romans. These early candles burned poorly and probably smelled even worse. During the Middle Ages, beeswax was more commonly used but also more expensive then tallow, limiting it to clergy and the upper class. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the first patented candle making machines were introduced allowing candles into homes of all classes. Today candles are made of paraffin, vegetable waxes, oils, beeswax and gels.

Although I know candles are loved, there are chemicals to consider. Regular scented candles are a source of indoor air pollution and have been related to second-hand smoke. Paraffin candles do release a fair share of chemicals such as benzene and toluene when burned (known carcinogens) and paraffin itself needs to be chemically bleached before being made into wax. In the United States, candle wicks are supposed to be made out of cotton or paper, which is good. However, some are still made from lead, which can be very toxic when released into the air.

Out of all the natural varieties of candles, beeswax candles still offer the best option as they also help to clean indoor air. Some people now use essential oils for scent while using the beeswax candles for the glow. Or there are also organic scented candles that use essential oils for fragrance. Soy-based candles are a wonderful option as well … just check that they are 100 percent soy. Maybe this holiday season you can give one of these options a try!  

Happy Candling! 

— Sara Lemons Vaules is the founder of Lemon and Light, which offers consulting, products and strategies for moving with ease into an organic, chemical-free lifestyle.