Image of multicolored candles with the text, “Which candles are nontoxic?”

Nontoxic Candles: Natural vs. Synthetic Ingredients

Nontoxic candles are all the rage, and for good reason. But what exactly makes a candle nontoxic?

You might think that natural candles (the ones made with only natural ingredients) are the healthiest choice, but that’s not always the case. Believe it or not, candles made with sustainable synthetic ingredients can be even safer and more environmentally friendly. 

Whatever your preference, this handy reference guide will help you find the perfect candles that are healthy for your space.  

Waxes To Look For: Coconut and Beeswax vs. Soy Candles

Several natural waxes are commonly used in candle-making, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. The most common ones are:

  • 🫛 Soy wax. Soy candle wax is a popular eco-conscious choice made from hydrogenated soybean oil. Soy candles are biodegradable and burn cleaner than paraffin wax. You might even find ones made with organic soy wax, which are free from pesticides and GMOs.
  • 🥥 Coconut wax. Like soy wax, coconut wax is made from hydrogenated oil, but from coconut oil instead of soybean. This eco-friendly alternative has a lower melting point than soy or beeswax and is often blended with other plant waxes. 
  • 🐝 Beeswax. Produced by honey bees, this option is known for its pleasant honey scent and long burn time. While beeswax candles are naturally nontoxic, they can be pricier than plant wax candles, like those made from coconut or soy.

Candles made from these natural waxes generally burn cleaner and produce less soot than paraffin wax candles. But even candles made with these waxes can contain some not-so-friendly additives. So, always opt for reputable brands committed to using nontoxic candle ingredients.

Essential Oils vs. Synthetic Fragrance

Many people choose essential oil candles over artificially-scented candles as a natural alternative. Learning how to make soy candles with essential oils can also be a fun, eco-friendly project. But while natural candles are often the go-to for a nontoxic and eco-friendly option, candles with synthetic fragrances might be a better choice in some cases. I’ll break down the differences to inform your next candle haul.

Essential Oils: Is Natural Always Best?

Essential oils have a few key advantages for scenting candles:

  • 🍃 Natural origin. Essential oils come entirely from natural plant sources, making them 100% natural.
  • 🧖‍♀️ Aromatherapy. Many essential oils have been linked to therapeutic benefits like relaxation and mood-boosting.
  • 🧪 No artificial chemicals. Health conscious consumers like to steer clear of these.
  • 💭 Intuitive blending. It’s easier to understand the distinct aromatic profiles of essential oils compared to synthetic fragrance ingredients (think “lavender” versus “linalool.”), making blending a breeze. 

While natural essential oil candles have their benefits, they have their downsides when used in candles:

  • 👃 Poor scent throw. Candles scented only with essential oils can have a surprisingly subtle scent throw (how strong the scent is and how far it travels). 
  • 🔥 Heat sensitivity. Essential oils have volatile compounds (VOCs) that break down quickly when exposed to heat. So, their scent doesn’t have much staying power in a lit candle, and a lot of it even gets burned off during the candlemaking process.
  • 🦨 Weird odors. Some essential oils can actually take on an off-putting smell when burned in a candle. Some citrus oils even smell like gasoline when lit!
  • 💰 High cost. Be prepared to pay top dollar for candles made with 100% natural essential oils and resins. These tend to be way more expensive than most synthetic fragrances.
  • 🌎 Sustainability concerns. Some essential oils and natural resins come from overharvested or endangered plants, such as sandalwood, frankincense, palo santo, and agarwood.

Essential oils have safety risks, too. Both essential oils and synthetic fragrances have volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can affect the air quality in your home as they evaporate like they do when burned in a candle.

But essential oils aren’t regulated, and they can contain dangerous chemicals like acetone and methanol (which can cause headaches, dizziness, and respiratory issues) or acetaldehyde (a carcinogen). These ingredients aren’t commonly used in synthetic candle fragrances.

Nontoxic Synthetic Fragrances

Sustainable synthetic candle scents have a few advantages over their natural counterparts:

  • 🥽 Safety. Synthetic fragrances can be formulated to avoid allergic reactions or respiratory issues. And unlike essential oils, synthetic fragrances are regulated — their ingredients are subject to more stringent labeling and safety requirements, providing consumers with more reliable information.
  • 🌿 Sustainability. Using synthetic alternatives to natural fragrances can help reduce the overharvesting of scarce resources like sandalwood, rosewood, and agarwood.
  • 🤑 Affordability. Speaking of price, essential oils and natural resins are way more expensive than most synthetic fragrances, and candles made with them can be super pricey. 
  • 👃 Better scent throw. Who doesn’t love a room filled with their favorite fragrance? Synthetic fragrances can really make a candle’s scent pop and linger longer than natural ones.
  • 🕯️ Longer burn time. Candles made with synthetic fragrances often have a slower burn rate, giving you more bang for your buck.
  • 💗 More scent options. Love a candle that smells like fresh air after a thunderstorm or a delicious gourmand scent like coffee, chocolate, or caramel? Good luck finding one that’s 100% natural!

Like essential oils, synthetic fragrances have a few downsides as well:

  • 🦠 Potential allergens. While synthetic fragrances are regulated, they can still contain ingredients that trigger allergic reactions or respiratory issues in some people.
  • 🛑 Lack of transparency. The specific ingredients in many synthetic fragrance blends can be hidden behind the term "fragrance" on product labels, making it harder for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting.
  • 🧠 Scent complexity. It can take many more synthetic fragrance ingredients to create a nuanced, multifaceted aroma profile compared to using essential oils or natural resins. 

Perfumers and fragrance developers are highly skilled at choosing these ingredients and using them to create candle scent blends. These are just a few examples of the nontoxic synthetic fragrances they often use:

  • Ambroxan. This alternative to natural ambergris has a rich, warm, and amber-like scent.
  • Galaxolide. A popular musk-like ingredient with a soft, powdery, floral scent that makes fragrances smell fresh and clean.
  • Hedione. Its fresh jasmine-like fragrance with a hint of citrus adds a bright, radiant touch to fragrances.
  • Cashmeran. This warm, soft, and slightly spicy woody-musk fragrance can make a scent feel comforting.
  • Ethyl linalool. A popular addition to relaxing scent blends, this one has a fresh, citrusy, and lavender-like scent for a delicate floral note.
  • Vertofix coeur. With its rich, woody, and earthy scent, this one makes a great alternative to endangered sandalwood.

These artificial fragrance ingredients are often a better choice than their natural alternatives. By choosing sustainable synthetic candles made with nontoxic ingredients, you can enjoy a safe, eco-friendly candle experience without compromising on scent quality or performance.

Looking Beyond the Label

Candles almost never list every single ingredient on the label because companies that make scented products, like candles and cosmetics, tend to keep their proprietary fragrance blends a secret. That’s why they label some ingredients as “fragrance” or “parfum,” even though they can include dozens of different aroma chemicals. 

The U.S. also has pretty relaxed fragrance regulations, meaning candles can have many potentially harmful ingredients. That’s why, if you want to make sure your candles don’t use any ingredients that may pose health risks, including phthalates, carcinogens, and ingredients listed in California’s Proposition 65, you may need to check the company's website or reach out.

Safety Data Sheets

A safety data sheet (SDS) is a document with all the details on the properties, hazards, and proper handling procedures for a chemical substance. SDS sheets were introduced to give workers and emergency personnel clear, comprehensive info on safely handling and using hazardous chemicals. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires U.S. employers to have them on hand for every chemical in their workplaces.

I’ll give you SDSs for the fragrances in any of my candles by request, and you can also ask for them when shopping for nontoxic candles from other brands. If you see any of the following symbols on an SDS, the product may be toxic.

Candle Safety Red Flags 🚩

SDS sheets use icons to show you if any dangerous ingredients are in a scented product. Products are allowed to contain a certain amount of these substances as long as they comply with regulatory standards for safety and labeling requirements.

This pictogram of a surface and hand being damaged by a liquid means the product contains ingredients that may cause corrosive damage to skin, eyes, or metals.

The skull and crossbones below is the most concerning symbol you should avoid when it comes to candles. It means the product contains acute, potentially fatal toxins.

This next symbol of a torso with a craggy star shape in the center means the product contains ingredients that may cause serious health effects in certain concentrations. When it comes to candles, however, their concentration must be within regulatory limits deemed safe for use.

Phthalates are another major red flag when it comes to candle safety. They’re often used to make materials more flexible and long-lasting, and you can find them in all kinds of products, including candles. When phthalates get into your bloodstream, they can stir up allergy symptoms and asthma and even mess with your hormones. So, it's best to only use candles made with phthalate-free fragrance.

Candle Safety Green Flags ✅

Once you’ve made sure none off the above symbols are on an SDS sheet, here’s what else you need to know.

The following symbol just means the product contains ingredients that can cause irritation or an allergic response in someone who’s allergic or sensitive to them:

These low-risk effects are temporary, not severe, and can be caused by most candle fragrance ingredients, artificial or natural. For instance, essential oils, natural resins, and aroma chemicals can all pose these risks, too. But even low-risk ingredients can cause reactions in sensitive individuals, so it’s important to look at a candle’s SDS if you have any allergies or skin/respiratory sensitivities.

The concentration of these ingredients in a candle is also important, since even common substances can be irritating at high enough levels. The SDS tells you how much of any ingredient classified as potentially hazardous is in the product, plus guidelines on proper ventilation and usage to avoid risk.

Choosing the Safest Candles

Want to know which candles are safe for your health? Check the product packaging or the brand’s website for info on their ingredients. Knowing what to look for and what to avoid when figuring out what candles are nontoxic helps you confidently choose safe, environmentally friendly candles for your home. 

Prioritize candles made with high-quality, nontoxic ingredients, whether they’re natural or synthetic. Steer clear of candles containing dangerous chemicals like phthalates. Companies that care about their customers’ health will happily provide you with the SDS sheet for any product you ask about. Healthy candles will have SDS sheets without any of those red-flag symbols I showed you earlier.

By prioritizing these factors and supporting nontoxic candle brands, you can find the safest and healthiest candles for your home, whether you prefer natural or sustainable synthetic options. Once you learn what candles are safe, stay up to date with your favorite candle maker’s latest releases so you’ll always have a stash of healthy candles to burn!

Nontoxic Candles for Your Health and the Planet

Choosing nontoxic candles is a simple but important step towards creating a healthier and more eco-friendly home. The healthiest candles are those made with nontoxic, eco-friendly materials, whether natural or synthetic. By supporting brands committed to transparency, sustainability, and safety, you can make a positive impact on your home and the environment.

Looking for safe candles to burn at home? The Glow Co. has a nontoxic, sustainable, beautiful candle for every mood. I make candles with U.S.-grown soy wax, nontoxic scent blends, reusable glassware, and compostable packaging. Check out my selection of clean candles, other home fragrances, and natural body care products designed with your health and the planet in mind. 

Nontoxic Candles FAQ

Are natural candles nontoxic?

Although natural candles are often seen as nontoxic, not all natural candles are inherently safe. Some contain harmful additives and low-quality ingredients, even if they’re marketed as having natural scents. To play it safe, ask for the SDS sheet and stick with candle brands that prioritize nontoxic materials and transparency.

Are nontoxic candles soot-free?

Non-toxic candles, whether they’re natural or synthetic, can still produce some soot depending on factors like wick length, air currents, and how long you burn them at a time. Want to minimize soot production? Keep your wick trimmed to about 1/4 inch before each burn and avoid burning candles in drafty areas.

Can candles be organic?

Absolutely! Candles can be made with organic ingredients, such as organic soy wax or organic essential oils. Take organic soy candles, for example — they’re crafted using soy that’s been grown and processed without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. But to be a totally “organic candle,” all of its ingredients need to be organic, including the wick material and fragrance ingredients. 

What are the most eco-friendly candles?

The most eco-friendly candles are made with sustainable ingredients and minimal packaging. Look for candles made with natural waxes like soy, coconut, or beeswax, or sustainable synthetic materials designed to minimize environmental impact. Reusable containers and eco-friendly packaging materials are also a great way to reduce waste.

What is the healthiest candle wax?

Healthy candles are made with waxes that don’t contain any harmful additives. Natural waxes like soy, coconut, and beeswax are the most common healthy candle options out there. They produce less soot and are biodegradable, making them some of the cleanest candle wax choices. For the safest, cleanest burn, choose candles made with high-quality, pure waxes.

Are soy wax candles toxic?

Pure, high-quality soy wax candles are generally considered nontoxic. However, some sneaky soy candles may contain harmful additives or be blended with paraffin wax, which can produce toxic chemicals when burned. To avoid any unwanted surprises, always check the ingredient list and choose brands that use 100% pure soy wax.

What does it mean if a candle is vegan?

A vegan candle is made without any animal-derived ingredients, such as beeswax, stearic acid, or animal-based fragrances (like civet, ambergris, and castoreum). When you see a candle labeled as vegan, it means all of its ingredients come from plant-based sources. Vegan candles are typically made with plant-based waxes like soy and coconut and can be scented with essential oils or synthetic fragrances. By choosing vegan candles, you’re supporting cruelty-free and ethical production practices.

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