As soothing as scented candles are, it turns out they might be hazardous to your health. These candles (the citrus-scented candles in particular) contain a substance called limonene, which provides that fresh, citrusy scent we all love so much. Unfortunately, when it’s burned and exposed to air, it turns into formaldehyde.
Limonene is also found in a variety of cleaning products and air fresheners. By itself, it’s a safe ingredient that’s even used to flavor food. In some circumstances, however, it can react with the air to turn into formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.
Exposure to formaldehyde can also cause symptoms like watery, itchy eyes, coughing, wheezing, nausea, and irritated skin.
Although the connection between limonene and formaldehyde has been known for a long time, research by Alastair Lewis of the National Center for Atmospheric Science at the University of York shows that the limonene contents in scented candles are actually 100 times higher than previously thought. This makes them a bigger threat than previously imagined, particularly in areas that aren’t as well-ventilated.
“The really surprising thing is just how high the concentrations of some fragrances are now in people’s homes […] Fragrance chemicals now completely dominate the inside of most homes,” said Lewis.
Formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen by the EPA since 1987, and may cause cancers of the hematopoietic and lymphatic systems.
In response to this news, the National Candle Association issued the following statement:
The National Candle Association assures consumers that candles, whether scented or unscented, when used properly, are safe…
…Consumers can be confident that a well-made and properly burned candle, whether scented or unscented, will burn cleanly and safely,” the statement said. “Although there are no known health hazards associated with the use of scented candles, unfounded concerns about the safety of man-made fragrances vs. “natural” fragrance materials and essential oils continue to pepper popular media and Internet. The fragrances approved for candle usage – whether synthesized or “natural” – do not release toxic chemicals.
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