Millions of Americans incorporate the beauty of candles in their homes -- for celebrations, romance, spiritual purposes and even just for relaxing. The National Candle Association (NCA) tells us that 7 out of 10 American households use candles regularly, and sales are increasing at 10-15% per yearÖ They also tell us that the candles are completely safe, when used "properlyÖ" But there are dangers in these rituals and celebrations, unless you enjoy them with the right kind of candles.


Hereís how you use a candle properly: Keep the wick trimmed to º" and avoid drafts and other potential disturbances from children and pets and donít leave candles unattended. Okay, you may have heard all that before, and those instructions are usually on the label.


But scientists at both the University of Michigan and NASA and reports from the Healthhouse Project of the American Lung Association have found that some candles can emit significant, sometimes harmful amounts of dangerous chemicals into our homes, even when used properly. Hereís where being informed can make all the difference.


Since 1976, the Consumer Products Safety Commission has warned the industry about the dangers of lead based wicks, and the National Candle Association members have voluntarily done away with them for years. But a University of Michigan study has found that lead is still emitted from the zinc-based wick at levels that can exceed E. P.A. air quality standards ñ a particular danger to pets, children and vulnerable adults. There are still a few fully leaden wicks out there in imported candles, particularly from China, according to the U of M and a current Austrailian study. They pose the greatest danger.


Now hereís where it gets even trickier: You may already know about wicks, but most of us ñ and even most manufacturers until recentlyóhave been unaware of the chemicals emitted from refined and scented paraffin wax itself. NCA says that all of the major waxes used in candle making are safe. But those same NASA and U of M Scientists again differ, siting that chemicals used in the paraffin, particularly the heavily scented ones emit known toxins, allergens and even carcinogens, like benzene, acetone, mercury, toluene and a host of other much harder to pronounce. The effects can be damaging to the cardiovascular, neurological and immune systems.


SIMPLE SOLUTION #1: choose an all cotton wick over a metal core wick (zinc, tin or lead, or chemical impregnated). You can tell by examining the wick. You can easily see the shiny metal core or feel a stiff core that is sometimes white that has been impregnated with unknown chemicals, unless it is a soft, braided cotton wick. Best choice? Buy candles that actually say "100%" cotton wick. Beeswax candles generally use 100% cotton. Sometimes the wick is under a wrapper or stuck down onto the candle. If you canít examine it, buy another candle.

SIMPLE SOLUTION #2: Choose beeswax or other pure vegetable waxes like the new soy wax candles over paraffin. Avoid scented paraffin candles. If you have candles to use up, you will greatly reduce its harmful emissions with proper use as above. But limit the duration of use and ventilate the area.


If you want scent in the house, use pure essential oils with a diffuser (even a beeswax votive in the warmer) and avoid cheap air fresheners and even incense, which also release harmful soot.


Thereís no government agency even pretending to look out for us when it comes to candles. So now that youíre informed, itís up to you to use your instincts. You can look at some of these studies I mentioned by logging on to

Remember: The air in your home can contain up to 500 times the toxins of outdoor air, due to countless factors like the ones we just mentioned. But you can systematically eliminate these very controllable threats so your home can become a place to nourish not only our spirit, but our physical well-being, too.


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