How Do We Put This? Burning Scented Candles in Your Home May Be Really Harmful

Photographer: Diggy LloydNo Restrictions: Internal and Editorial use approved. OK for Native and co-branded use.
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd

Scented candles can help you unwind and give your home that soft, cozy glow — but if you light them often, you may be putting your health at risk.

"Most scented candles are made from paraffin wax," Payel Gupta, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist at ENT & Allergy Associates in New York City, told POPSUGAR. "When burned, paraffin wax can release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, including acetone, benzene, and toluene, which are known carcinogens or cancer-causing agents."

Even if that weren't the case, you might also be sensitive to the fragrance itself. "Research shows that a large percentage of people report headaches and breathing problems when around fragrant products like candles. This data is proof that these products cause harm to the body," Dr. Gupta said. "When you see 'fragrance' listed as an ingredient, that could be a mix of several dozen to several hundred chemicals — so figuring out which chemicals cause harm to people can be difficult, especially when these industries aren't regulated."

The symptoms you should watch out for when burning scented candles, according to Dr. Gupta, are headaches, difficulty breathing, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, worsening asthma symptoms, runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing. "If you experience any of these, you should stop using them," she said. But finding a "safe" scented candle to replace the ones you've been burning presents its own challenges, because there's really no way to know if the ingredient list is accurate.

"Candles aren't regulated by anyone, so [candle manufactures] don't need to disclose what is in them," Dr. Gupta explained. "Therefore, we might not even know what chemicals are in the candles." If you just can't give them up, you may want to choose candles that are unscented. "The best smell is probably no smell," she said. "But we don't really know how bad these things are for you. Some experts believe that unscented products are best, and that is what I recommend to all my patients with allergies and asthma."