| light it up | Everything You Should Know About the Toxic Chemicals In Your Candles & the Better Candle Options Out There


There is nothing like a good candle to set the mood this Valentine’s Day. The soft glow. The dancing flame. The soothing scent. The toxic soot? Wait a second.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good candle as much as the next gal, but some of the byproducts of a lot of the candles out there, well, they just don’t really do it for me.

Let’s start with the wax. The majority of candles out there today are made with paraffin wax. Paraffin is actually a byproduct of petroleum — meaning not only is it coming from a non-renewable resource and it is not biodegradable at life’s end, but it also causes more pollution when it is burned.

I don’t want to sound dramatic or anything (I mean, I kind of do), but the soot that is left behind from burning a paraffin candle is similar to the emissions released by diesel-burning vehicles — only in your house. And the EPA has warned that burning multiple paraffin wax candles can exceed their standards for chemical exposure and poses an increased risk for cancer due to the contaminants left behind — formaldehyde (carcinogen), toluene (another carcinogen), benzene (also a carcinogen) to name a few.

Another one of the issues is the wicks. A lot of candles used to use lead core wicks. Lead core wicks were used to make the wicks stand up straight (who knew good posture could be so harmful, I mean, I tried to tell my mom but she never listened, but I digress). Studies have shown that lead wicks emit lead when burned, which can result in indoor lead levels higher than the folks at the EPA would deem appropriate No bueno. While lead wicks are now banned in the U.S., a lot of imported candles still use them, and it’s very hard to regulate.

Scented candles also tend to be more polluting. I know, big bummer. The fragrant oils that are used to scent candles are often synthetic and petrochemical derived.

Moral of the story? Don’t buy candles for Valentine’s Day.

Just kidding, you can totally buy a candle. But when you do buy, here’s a few pointers:

  • Look for candles that are made from 100% natural wax (no blends), like beeswax or soy-based wax. It’s also good to note that soy has some issues of its own, but if you seek out soy that is organic, GMO-free and from U.S. soy crops or an RTRSA certified plantation and you should be good.
  • Try to find a candle that burns clean — i.e. isn’t burning a trail of black smoke.
  • Go for the non-scented. If that really doesn’t float your boat, at least steer clear of candles using synthetic fragrances. Look for candles scented with organic or pure essential oils.
  • Stay away from candles with lead wicks, they should be labeled lead-free but the tell-tale sign would be a dark line in the white wick. Organic cotton or hemp wicks are best.
  • Pay attention to the packaging. Buy candles in glass containers or aluminum (i.e. tea lights), both of these can be recycled. Avoid candles that have unnecessary plastic packaging.
  • Buy local if you can. This will reduce packing waste and reduce impact of shipping/transporting across the country.

Now that we’ve got the basics down, here are a few of my favorite candles from some of my favorite places to find said candles.


Love Potion #9 Candle, $35, from Brooklyn Candle Studio

I think it’s only fitting that I start with the most Valentine-y of the group, amirite? Made in Brooklyn with 100% soy wax (American grown soy beans), lead free cotton wicks, and premium grade fragrance oil, the Love Potion #9 candle has exotic notes of jasmine blossoms, calming lavender and bright mandarin. The small batch (production is limited to batches of 9-10), hand-poured, deliciously scented candle also has a wonderful vintage feel as it is housed in cocktail tumbler with a very minimalist label. I’m not sure what Love Potion #9 is actually supposed to do, but I think I’m sold.


Mine Design Co Premium Copper LARK Candle, $36, from Ames and Oates

Every candle from L.A. based Mine Design Co., is small batch poured and clean-burning, using plant derived wax, lead-free cotton wicks and expertly combined fragrance oils. And I know I said go glass or aluminum, but the intent of the copper vessel (it’s a beaut!) is to reuse it. And with notes of wood, a hint of tobacco leaf and a touch of neroli, it makes a great gift for him or her. Extra bonus, when you make a purchase from Ames and Oates, you’re giving back. With their Gift Good/Do Good model, Ames and Oates donates 10% of each gift ordered to provide children access to quality education through their partnership with Pencils of Promise.


Larchmont Candle, $22, from Raven + Lily

True to Raven + Lily’s mission to alleviate poverty among women, the Larchmont candle is hand-poured in Los Angeles by women who have transitioned out of homelessness, providing them with an employment opportunity that gives them skills to break the cycle of poverty. Infused with scents of black currant tea and in a 100% recycled glass jar, there’s not much to feel bad about when it comes to this candle.

Oaxaca Hand Blown Candle, $40, from Apolis

Entirely crafted in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Oaxaca Hand Blown Candle is a testament to Apolis’ business model of advocacy through industry. Apolis, a B Corporation (meaning they meet higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability), tries to make a social impact by giving people better lives through more access to the global marketplace. They also know the importance of local sourcing and manufacturing (they partner with manufacturers from Uganda to Peru to Los Angeles). To that end, the team spend last year with Studio Xaquixe observing and studying to see how they could help preserve the art of glass blowing. The end result was collection of 100% recycled glassware, hand-blown by artisans in Oaxaca. Each of these pieces helps to sustain one of the last glassblowing factories in Oaxaca, through a fair wage and ethical treatment. The candles uses lean-burning soy wax, an all-natural cotton wick and perfume grade frangrance in one of their best selling scents, Cypress Fig.


Moonlight Surnad Candle, $40, from Ethics Supply Co.

Ethics Supply Co. products are often adventure inspired, so it’s no surprise that the Moonlight Surnad Candle, hand poured in California, using all-natural coconut wax with a cotton lead-free wick is a nod to all things Big Sur. Infused with essential oils of native bay laurel, lemon verbena, Douglis Fir and Jeffery Pine, the candle attempts to capture the “ringed firelight and outdoor claw foot tubs that beckon under dark star filled night skies obscured only by giant plush coastal redwoods and elegant cypress trees as the air sings with salt from the sea below.” The stuff of dreams, right?


Honest Aromatic Soy Candles, $19.95, from Honest Co.

Honest is known for their toxin-free body care products and wholesome family goodness, but they also make a pretty mean candle. Available in Gardenia Jasmine, Lavender Vanilla or Orange Cypress, the scented candles are made using GMO-free, U.S grown soy wax, essential oils and unadulterated plant essences — meaning no synthetic fragrances or perfumes. They’re also hand-poured in small batches, use 100% unbleached cotton wicks and comes in a reusable recycled glass tumbler.


Indulgence Candle, $29, from Candlessentials

If you were looking for a candle that had plantable packaging (no? oh well!), you’ve come to the right place. Every candle from Candlessentials is hand-poured in Southern California, using 100% soy wax in combination with cotton wicks and high-quality fragrances and essential oils. The Indulgence candle is a blend of bergamot, vanilla and oakmoss with notes of bourbon to create a bold aroma, equal parts woodsy and spicy. And did I mention the packaging was plantable? Each box features embedded wildflower seeds, so you can plant the packaging in your yard, garden or window box.


California Redwood & Salted Sea Candle,$35.95, from Meroë Home

If that name didn’t get you, I’m not sure I can write anything that would make you want this candle, but here goes. At Meroë Home, there’s a big focus on the environment, which is why they source only the purest ingredients that won’t harm the environment or emit toxic fumes when burned — every candle they make is vegan, made from 100% cosmetic-grade soy wax, 100% cotton wicks and with the highest quality fragrances. And with every purchase, Meroë donates a portion of the profits to Friends of the Earth International, a charity dedicated to toxic cleanup around the world, conservation of biodiversity and combatting deforestation. Back to the candle, with a blend of Indian Sandalwood and California Cedar with a bit of Salted Sea and a hint of Fig Tree, the scent attempts to transport you to the Northern California coast with cliffs dotted with Evergreens, Redwoods, Cedar and Eucalyptus. Um, yes please.


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