Excuse me, do scented candles work?

Candles have become permanent fixtures in many homes and come in countless shapes and sizes: from cylinders to gilded cases, spheres, bell jars (our favourite), and more.


But have you ever stopped to wonder just how do scented candles work?


We mean, the goal is always the same right? To emit a subtle aroma to a room or home.


Well, that’s only part of the picture, friends!


In this blog post we will break down the chemistry of candle burning, address the question ‘are scented candles bad for your health?’ – and even answer, ‘can scented candles harm dogs?’ – our precious, greedy, fur babies.


How do scented candles work?

Have you ever walked past an unlit candle and noticed a gorgeous aroma emanating from it?


If you’re a candle lover, we bet you have. It’s such a pleasant experience and there’s a name for this; It’s called “the throw effect”.


This refers to the distance a candle can distribute its scent – no matter if the wick is burning or not.


Here’s a fact for you, an unlit candle’s scent will always be less strong than a candle that has been lit. This is because when you light the wick the flame starts to melt the wax, which holds all those beautiful scent molecules.


From there the wax is drawn into the wick, which is pulled upward by capillary action. Wax then gets vapourised by the flame releasing that scent into the wide world and transforming your home in the process.


More wax will melt the longer you burn the candle and so the scent will become stronger.


Bigger candles also release more scent as their surface area is bigger. For this reason, they’re recommended for larger spaces. 


That is the basic mechanism behind candles.


It has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. In fact, candles are believed to date back to the Ancient Egyptians – more than 5000 years ago. They made rushlights from the core of reeds and soaked this in melted animal fat.


This demonstrates our next point: not all candles are made equal.


Are all scented candles the same?


A candle may “do its thing” and burn away, but this does not necessarily mean it’s doing it well – or healthily.


Before we get into all that let’s go over the types of scented candles that are available.


Their core ingredient is wax, so there are quite a few options out there. Below is a list of the most common.


  • Paraffin wax candles
  • Scented soy candles
  • Beeswax scented candles
  • Coconut wax scented candles

Now, we need to make a very important point here: the amount of scent you get from a scented candle varies with the type of wax used. Paraffin is the most common option as it’s cheap and holds scent well.


With that said, it has some pretty nasty health effects (more on that later) and it’s not great for the environment as it’s a petroleum by-product.


For this reason, soy is the second most common candle wax used – and what we use here at Raw Beauty Box. It is a superior candle because it burns clean, is longer lasting, and most importantly, it’s not toxic. You can read more about the benefits here.

Are scented candles bad for your health?

So, if you were paying close attention to the above, we kind of gave the answer away, ‘are scented candles toxic?’ Yes, some.


And we’re pointing fingers here – we’re talking about paraffin-based ones.


Getting into the nitty-gritty of things, this wax is a by-product of the oil purifying process. It’s obtained from petroleum by dewaxing light lubricating oil stocks.


When burnt, paraffin wax releases up to 11 harmful chemicals into the air, some of which are known carcinogens – meaning they can cause cancer.


We’re talking chemicals like acetone, which is found in nail polish remover and benzene – that’s used to make plastics.


Here’s a list of those nasties.


  • Toluene: Affects the central nervous system, heart, liver, kidney, and can change DNA.  
  • Naphthalene: associated with hemolytic anaemia, damage to the liver, and, in infants, neurological damage. 
  • Benzene: A known carcinogen.
  • Tri-decane, tetra-decane, penta-decane, hexa-decane: Carcinogens.
  • Trichlorofluoromethane: Can irritate the skin and eyes, make you feel lightheaded and dizzy.
  • Acetone: Respiratory irritant, can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, a faster pulse, nausea, vomiting, effects on the blood, passing out, possible coma, and a shorter menstrual cycle in women.
  • Carbon disulfide: Causes changes in breathing and chest pains. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headache, mood changes, lethargy, blurred vision, delirium, and convulsions have also been reported.
  • Carbon tetrachloride: Causes kidney and liver damage, affects the central nervous system
  • Ethylbenzene: Eye and throat irritant.
  • Chlorobenzene: Can cause headache, weakness, lethargy, nausea, and vomiting.

It’s a scary business – and remember what can affect humans can also have a dire impact on our furry friends.


Can scented candles harm dogs?


Now, if you have a furry baby, extra care needs to be taken when buying scented candles as some fragrances and essential oils can be toxic to dogs and other pets. 


VCA Ark Animal Hospital lists wintergreen, tea tree, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, cinnamon, and citrus essential oils as some of the scents to avoid.


But there is an easy remedy for this: make sure the candle is in a high place so hungry pets can’t eat or touch it.


It is also best to make sure you don’t leave pets inside the home unsupervised with a burning candle. Access to fresh air is critical for their health.

Encourage wellbeing and self-care in your home

If you’re after a scented candle, please remember to buy soy as it’s one of the safest options for your family and the planet. You can find a selection here on our website.


And if you have found this candle guide useful why not check out this blog post: how to choose the perfect scented candle for your home.


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