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A Meditation on Candles – To Burn or Not to Burn?

I have a candle problem.  Votives, tea lights, pillars, travel tins and even lanterns – you light it, I love it.  I collect candles for every mood.  I have frilly girly candles for around my bath tub, tall serious candles for my table and of course romantic candles for my bedroom. I do scented candles, too.  Since smell is intimately connected with the primitive brain, a candle’s aroma can impact emotions without the involvement of  conscious mind.  This is because our sense organs are linked to the limbic system, the primitive part of our brain that governs what we perceive as friend or foe.  Maybe it’s a cave-girl thing but I also find the flickering of a flame – any flame – irresistible.  Strike a match and the safety and security of cave and clan burst into being.

So, imagine how upset I was to learn that scented candles may actually contribute to fertility and health problems! Unless a candle is scented with 100% essential oils it is likely that the aroma blend contains  a group of compounds called pthalates that can interfere with the function of our reproductive system.  In addition, candles apparently create soot and for that reason they are now under investigation by consumer health groups as a cause of breathing problems and allergies.  There’s a heated debate about soy vs. paraffin wax and which burns cleaner (both make soot, but apparently soy makes white soot, or less soot, or something like that.  The debate is confusing and there’s isn’t a lot of concrete research for either side). If that’s not enough confusion I recently learned that despite regulation against the practice, the wicks of many candles still contain lead.  When burnt, lead wicks may raise the amount of  lead in a living space to unsafe levels.

If you’re an occasional candle user I don’t think there’s a huge need for concern.  However   I’m not an occasional user of scented candles – I am a heavy user. While I don’t feel the necessity of going cold-turkey, I have implemented some steps to cut down that I can share:

1.  Burn only candles made with 100% essential oils.  Most “all natural” candles will be made with a soy or beeswax base.  Until a more definitive answer arises, soy seems to be the choice of environmentally conscious candle makers and users.  Look for soft (cotton or cloth) wicks rather than stiff wicks.  The good news/bad news is that this step comes with a built-in deterrent.  Candles made with soy and essentials are expensive!   At an average of $20 a pop for a small pillar candle, these high-end beauties get a promotion to “special occasion only.”

2.  Switch to essential oils for your everyday aromatherapy needs.  The soot output of a soy-based tea light is less than a bigger candle.  Better yet – use an electric essential oil burner to diffuse aroma throughout your home.

3.  For that cave-girl desire for flickering fire?  Experiment with electric candles.  Like stevia, no one is going to believe it’s real sugar, but the design of electric candles is getting better every day and we do use them in our centers.  They flicker and glow – and can add mood in a pinch.

4.  Finally, I have found that Christmas lights aren’t just for the holidays any more.  A string of little Italian lights hung around my bedroom on a special night provides a bit of spice that may even surpass candles.

So that’s it ladies.  For that anniversary, that special special romantic dinner and for make-up sex, it’s still going to be real flames for me.  For other occasions I think I can find ways to create mood without fire.  Any Martha Stewart types out there have any suggestions for me?