Can lit candles be toxic?

Ask a Therapist

Q. I really enjoy the presence of a lit candle, but I keep hearing that some are toxic. Can you enlighten me?

A. “There is nothing like the inviting glow of a candle to make us feel relaxed, guide us into a meditative state, or harmonize the ambiance of a room,” Glynnis Osher says. She’s a certified ayurvedic practitioner and founder of The Mystic Masala Ayurvedic Aromatherapy. “With all these life-enhancing attributes, it is troubling to think that many candles are toxic and doing more harm than good.

Candle Cautions

Healthy Alternatives to Paraffin

Last year, while rearranging the paintings in her living room, Cathy Crystal noticed black smudges on the walls around the frames. Baffled, she looked around and discovered similar “ghostings” surrounding the electrical outlets and air conditioning vents. “We don’t allow smoking in our house, and we have a vent over the stove,” recalls the herbalist and nutritionist in Santa Cruz, Calif., “so it didn’t make sense.” It wasn’t until a week later, while lighting a constellation of votive candles on the mantle for an evening soiree, that the source of the soot suddenly dawned on her.

Lighting a Fire, Dousing a Flame

News Note

Setting the mood with candles could mean setting yourself up for respiratory problems. According to Andrew Weil’s Self Healing newsletter, the burning of the fragrant oils in scented candles can create significant air pollution, potentially comparable to that produced by diesel fuel exhaust. The produced soot particles can lodge deep in the lungs, especially a concern for young children, the elderly and those with asthma or other already established respiratory problems. Weil recommends unscented beeswax candles with cotton wicks when adding ambiance.