I believe in natural products but I realize that natural doesn't always mean it's safe.
Candle Waxes Are Not Created Equal
I enjoy candles for any occasion because I think they add unique décor and ambience to a space. I typically bought candles based on size, color, and fragrance. It didn’t occur to me that the wax ingredient was important too. There is a marked difference between beeswax, paraffin wax and soy wax.
Definition of Beeswax
Beeswax is the original candle wax and can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. It’s a non-toxic, all-natural wax produced by honeybees and harvested from the honeycombs of beehives. Since no bees are harmed during ethical harvesting, beeswax is considered a vegetarian wax. It's not considered vegan.
Worker bees have eight glands in their abdomen which produces wax scales. The scales are used to build tiny, linked compartments to house their larvae and to store honey.
Beeswax is more expensive because supply is dependent on how much beeswax a bee colony produces. Ethical and environmentally responsible beekeepers won’t take more than a pound of beeswax for every 100 pounds of honey to avoid placing a strain on the hive.
Worker Bees in a Hive
Definition of Paraffin Wax
Paraffin wax is used to mass produce candles because it meets commercial regulation standards. It’s one of the cheapest waxes on the market and is petroleum based.
They are not considered clean burning candles because they are made from crude oil. When they burn, they emit soot and chemicals into the air. The general population is not affected by the emissions, but it could bother someone with respiratory issues.
Definition of Soy Wax
Soy wax is a soybean derivative and was invented in 1991 by an American candle maker named Michael Richards. Soybean oil is extracted from soybeans and the wax is a product of hydrogenated soybean oil. Hydrogenation stabilizers the oil, raises its melting point and allows it to be solid at room temperature.
Interestingly, soy wax candles are often sold as container candles because they lack the density of beeswax and don't do well as a free standing candle.
It's considered vegan because it's completely plant based.
Differences Between Beeswax, Paraffin Wax and Soy Wax
|BEESWAX||PARAFFIN WAX||SOY WAX|
Product of honeybees of the genus, Apis.
Product of crude oil also known as fossil fuel.
Processed form of soybean oil.
The flame produces bright warmer light that mimics natural sunlight.
The flame is whiter than beeswax.
The flame produces white light that mimics fluorescent lights.
Beeswax is dense and has a higher melting point than other waxes, therefore burns longer and more efficiently.
Burns faster than beeswax and soy wax.
Burns faster than beeswax. Added paraffin in soy wax candles also speeds up the burn time.
Has a melting point between 144 and 149 degrees Fahrenheit (62 and 65 degrees Celsius).
Has a melting point between 115 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit (46 and 54.5 degrees Celsius).
Has a melting point between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit (49 and 54.5 degrees Celsius).
Natural sweet smell which works well with added fragrances like vanilla or florals.
Almost no smell. The fragrance in paraffin candles is an added ingredient.
Almost no smell. The fragrance in soy candles is an added ingredient.
No added paraffin.
May be mixed with other waxes in candle making.
Typically, has added paraffin and may be mixed with other waxes in candle making.
Most expensive wax option.
One of the cheapest options.
Is cheaper than beeswax but may be slightly more than paraffin wax.
Not vegan but some may consider it vegetarian if bees are not harmed.
Comparison Between Beeswax and Paraffin Wax
Test the Wick for Lead Content
Although rare, some cheaper candles may still have lead in their wicks. A study of 100 candles found that 8% had lead in their wicks or wick cores. Lead in wicks or wicks cores has been banned in the USA since 2003. National Candle Association Members made a pledge 1974 to make lead free candles. Imported candles may still contain lead.
Check for lead with the following steps.
- Before you buy a candle look for a lead-free label.
- Before you light the wick on a new candle, rub the tip on a piece of paper. If you see an ashy grey streak on the paper the wick likely has lead in it.
Candle Safety and Labeling
The National Candle Association represents US candle manufacturers and suppliers. They are the only trade association and principle technical authority dedicated to candle manufacture, research and safety.
The NCA has introduced six safety standards for candle manufacturers. Two of these is fire safety and heat strength of glass candle containers.
When you buy a candle look for the safety label. Labeling should also list instructions on how to burn the candle. The NCA suggest that you avoid purchasing a candle that does not have a cautionary label because this may suggest that the candle manufacturer does not meet manufacturing safety specifications.
The National Candle Association currently as over 100 members. Each member must pledge to abide by industry standards. They must promote safe use of all candle products.
Candle Safety Label
Ethical Sourcing and Environmental Impact
Ethical beekeepers will confine the queen bee to the lower sections of a box hive so that she lays her eggs in the lower levels called the brood chamber. The beekeeper should then install a queen excluder shield. The holes in the shield are big enough for the worker bees to move between the brood chamber and the outside but the queen bee is larger and cannot move past the excluder. The worker bees will instinctively still build honeycombs above the excluder in levels called supers and fill the honeycomb cells with honey. The larvae free honeycombs in the supers above the queen excluder and above the brood chamber is what a beekeeper will harvest for honey and beeswax.
It's true that the queen be is trapped in the brood chamber, but she rarely leaves the hive. If she does then it’s to find a new hive.
Some plant-based waxes used to replace beeswax are harvested from areas that contribute to deforestation.
- Soy agriculture in the Amazon rainforest is responsible for crippling deforestation because large areas are being cleared for soy agriculture.
A better alternative
- Soy grown in the USA is regulated by the Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol. Soy farmers must adhere to strict conservation practices.
- If the soy product is imported, look for the fairtrade.net logo to ensure that you are buying a regulated product.
Candles create an ambience in a room and for some they are an important part of their religious experience. As with any product we owe it to ourselves to be vigilant about content and safety when we buy candles.
Mrs Apis Mellifera
American Bee Journal
National Candle Association
National Library of Medicine
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Celeste Wilson