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Scent may be invisible, but its ability to alter our mood and environment is undeniable. Since the start of the pandemic, most of us found solace in candles, a result of prolonged time at home as well as a self-care awakening. However, that can all be ruined when your candle starts to produce black smoke.

When we think about the dangers of a burning candle, it’s probably the risk of a fire that comes to mind and not the harmful effects of inhaling candle smoke. As it turns out, both of these are valid risks and concerns.

The same way we want to know what we’re putting on our skin – from researching ingredient lists to sifting through reviews – we want to know what we’re actually breathing in when we light a candle to unwind. Ahead, we’ll be giving you the 411 on candles, from the smoke they produce to the safer alternatives to try.

Is candle smoke toxic?

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We’ve got some bad news to share, folks. Apparently, the smoke from a burning candle could be as toxic as that from cigarettes or even diesel exhaust fumes. But it all depends on the type of candle wax you use, how long you leave your candle burning for, as well as how often you trim your wicks.

The type of candle wax plays a huge part when it comes to the production of black smoke. The most common culprit behind smoking candles is paraffin wax, which is made from petroleum. However, candles from luxury fragrance brands often use paraffin wax as they hold fragrance well and are easy to colour.

Another factor that can contribute to candle smoke is the duration of which you leave your candle burning. Candles are optimised to be burned for three to four hours, so a candle that burns for too long is similar to a car overheating. The wax will liquefy and start to burn at an accelerated pace. This creates an abundance of soot, which isn’t great for our lungs at all.

Compared to vegetable waxes, paraffin wax produces more black smoke when it burns for over three or four hours. If you don’t trim the wick, soot is likely to form. Besides that, certain fragrances, dyes, and other candle additives can also cause your candle to smoke.

In fact, an analysis from 2001 reported that scented candles actually produce more soot than non-scented ones because of the way solid paraffin wax reacts with liquid fragrance oils.

Candle smoke may impact your skin too

Farah Bashir, product formulator and founder of Sachi Skin, also pointed out that the smoke emitted from candles could also have an impact on your skin.

“I have close to 15 candles some unopened, some gifts, some scattered here and there, all not being used as much I would want to. The main reason is simply indoor AIR POLLUTION,” Farah wrote in the caption of her Instagram post back in 2019 (above).

“It is because of the impurities and “toxic” particle matter being released from these candles be it paraffin or soy candles being the main issue,” she explains. “Most studies of course [cite] paraffin candles as bigger culprits than soy candles in emitting different types of hazardous particulate matter.”

While candle smoke is largely a breathing concern, Farah says that air particle matter can negatively affect your skin too.

“In 2015, extreme pollution during my travels in SEA from Japan actually led to my third bout of acne,” she recalled in her Instagram post. “After having clear even skin for several years my acne flared up but this time with melasma and discolourations (since I already had a little hormonal imbalance). My face was itchy and scalp was burning.”

According to Farah, research papers have argued that burning several paraffin candles together can “elevate the fine particle matter to a hazardous level” too. When the haze comes around, it’s best to put your paraffin-based candles away and save them for another time to reduce air pollution.

Better candle options and alternatives

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If you can’t imagine your night routine without the flicker of a soothing candle, you’re not doomed. As with most things, moderation is key. According to experts, the occasional burning of scented candles is unlikely to cause problems, as repeated exposure and burning in unventilated areas is what’s most harmful.

For a safer burning experience, always light your candles in a well-ventilated area and choose candles that are made from beeswax or soy wax. Another option is to use aromatherapy and essential oils, which in addition to being safer, have their own health benefits as well.

Have a look at some of our top picks ahead:

Hush Candle Lavender Essential Oil Candle

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Hush Candle’s soy wax candles are scented using only natural essential oils carefully sourced from around the world. Each candle contains roughly 5 to 10ml of pure essential oils, so the candles not only smell lovely but also have therapeutic benefits for the mind and body.

Hush Candle Lavender Essential Oil Candle retails for S$18 (120ml) and S$32 (240ml) at Sephora.

Artisan of Sense Summer Rose

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No one does sophisticated and gift-worthy candles quite like Artisan of Sense. Gorgeous packaging aside, each soy wax candle is created with 100% pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils.

Artisan of Sense Summer Rose retails from S$30 at Artisan of Sense

Jo Malone London English Pear & Freesia Diffuser

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Understated and sleek, you can enjoy Jo Malone London’s bestselling scent in the form of a diffuser. It effortlessly and continuously adds an enveloping scent to any space, and you won’t have to worry about harmful candle smoke.

Jo Malone London English Pear & Freesia Diffuser retails for S$155 on Sephora.

How to prevent and reduce smoke from candles

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For a safer experience, here are four easy tips that can help to prevent and reduce hazardous smoke that’s produced from your candles.

1. Trim wicks to ¼ inch to reduce the release of soot.

2. Rather than letting the same candle burn throughout the day, light a new one every few hours to keep a steady burning pace. Burn container candles until there is a wax pool across the top of the candle, which should not be longer than four hours.

3. Pay attention to your candle flame. If it looks high and wild, you probably have to trim the wick. If it’s flickering or sooting and smoking, check for a breeze, draft, or other moving air sources near your candle. You should never leave burning candles unattended.

4. Use a snuffer to extinguish the flame, which will reduce the emission of black smoke.

Featured image credit: Cottonbro/Pexels