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Behind The Fragrant Facade Of Scented Candles

February 6, 2019

Scented candles typically contain hazardous chemicals which can spread through the air of your home when lit.

As a biting wind whips outside your window on a cold winter’s evening what could be more comforting than curling up on the sofa with a good book and a mug of tea, perhaps inhaling the sweet aroma of the vanilla-scented candle you received for Christmas as it flickers gently in the corner?

This scene may sound like the epitome of hygge but behind the fragrant facade of scented candles lies a rather less pleasant reality.

Indoor air pollution

Air pollution is typically associated with outdoor threats such as road traffic fumes and those emitted by power plants and factories.

Yet indoor air pollutants can also have a negative impact on your health. Particulate matter – microscopic particles of dust and dirt in the air – and certain chemicals can lead to poor indoor air quality, which has been linked to lung diseases including asthma and lung cancer, the British Lung Foundation warns.

Scented candles may smell nice but, along with various other everyday household goods from upholstery to paint they contain what are known as non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), which, according to the European Environment Agency, can be hazardous to human health.

Gove snuffs out scented candles

This week Michael Gove unveiled “ambitious” plans to tackle air pollution in the form of a Clean Air Strategy, which details ways to reduce emissions both inside and outside the home.

Proposed measures that would apply to UK households include banning the sale of wood- and coal-burning stoves and fireplaces that do not comply with tough new eco stamdards from 2022.

The government also aims to shine a light on the dangers of NMVOCs in the home and how the public can reduce their exposure to these compounds.

Goop essential

It’s a tough blow for the UK candle market, which is said to be the largest in Europe. Britons spend a reported £90m per year on scented candles, with more than a quarter of households regularly buying them, according to analysts Kantar.

British brand Jo Malone is renowned for its luxury scented candles, with prices starting at £47 a pop for a standard 200g offering and going up to as much as £300 for a 2.1kg version (“the ultimate home accessory”).

Gwyneth Paltrow’s frequently ridiculed lifestyle brand Goop also does a nice line in candles, of course.

Its “Church” creation, named, somewhat bafflingly, for a set of “centuries-old floorboards in a mountain chapel somewhere in Yugoslavia” could be yours for £66.

Non-toxic alternatives

There are other options for those concerned by toxic air warnings who aren’t prepared to extinguish scented candles from their lives entirely.

Seek candles free of artificial scents made from 100 per cent beeswax, soy or other natural vegetable waxes, instead of paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum.

And avoid candles that contain wicks with metal down the middle as these contain lead.

It can also be helpful to increase ventilation in rooms where candles are burning, while being careful to keep the candles away from draughts.

‘Scent of the Year’

In an unfortunate public relations clash, in the same week that Mr Gove and the Environment Department revealed their intention to snuff out the nation’s love of scented candles, one of the leading purveyors of these wax light-throwers proudly announced its “Scent of the Year”.

Named “One Together”, the fragrance that apparently “defines 2019” is “beautiful, compelling and embodies the desire we have as individuals to connect with the world around us while still being accepted for who we are,” proclaimed the US company Yankee Candle, whose whose candles-in-a-jar usually retail at £23.99 and come in an astonishingly broad range of scents (snow-dusted bayberry leaf, anyone?).

In case you’re not immediately able to conjure up from the above description the precise bouquet of One Together, its comprises “luscious floral wrapped with soft woods, suede and amber…combined with mandarin, nectarine and sandalwood”.

Tempting as such a concoction sounds, consumers could be forgiven for feeling wary not just about the health implications of burning scented candles within their homes, but also of their wider environmental impact.

Environmental damage

Candles often come wrapped in plastic and encased within plastic, metal or glass holders. More often than not the public fails to recycle the remnants of their cosy evenings in, meaning countless chunks of plastic are sent to landfill where they will languish for the next thousand-odd years after burning for just a few hours, the firm BusinessWaste.co.uk has said.

Mark Hall, a spokesman for the firm, urged candle burners to recycle the remaining plastic, metal or glass when the wick has run out, after scraping out any wax left inside the case.

“If you’re going to buy them, the ethical, responsible thing to do is to put the case in the recycling,” he said.

In his opinion, though, the long-term impact of candles, scented or not, “is just not worth the brief enjoyment they bring”. 

Source: i News The Essential Daily Briefing @kt_grant