Q: I was reading your recent column that tackled exfoliant-obsessed Becky’s microbead quandary and it dawned on me that I also have an otherwise innocent addiction that may be bad for the Earth: scented candles. I love ’em — cranberry votives, cilantro lime pillars, pumpkin spice tapers, lavender floaters, you name it … every time I get within a 10-mile radius of Ye Olde Candle Shoppe, I get heart palpitations. I keep on seeing soy candles around and hearing about how they are “better,” but I’m not exactly sure why. Wax is wax, right? Care to fill me in?
Ali, Reseda, Calif.
A: Put down those kitchen matches for a minute, get yourself into a Zen state of mind, and listen to the soy wax sensei. I, like you, have a thing for scented candles and will openly admit that I once bought one from a fancy French brand that starts with “D” and ends in “E” that cost me approximately $70. I must have been wearing my bad idea jeans that day …
Anyway, buying and burning candles isn’t the most eco-egregious thing you can do out there. They’re relaxing (especially with a little John Tesh on in the background), they smell good (most of the time), and they make for interesting interior décor items (especially when molded into the shape of animals). But yes, those rumors you’ve heard about soy wax candles are indeed correct. They are “better” and you should be buyin’ and burnin’ them instead of standard wax varieties.
Here’s why: Candle wax is made from the petroleum byproduct, paraffin. Burning a paraffin wax candle, even if it smells like scrumptious apple pie, is like inviting a diesel truck into your home to let off some exhaust … the soot from both diesel fuel and paraffin wax contains a noxious mix of carcinogenic petro-carbon nastiness that can mess with your health, blacken the inside of your home, and emit toxic chemicals like benzene and toluene. Gross. And as you probably know, petroleum isn’t exactly renewable.
Vegetable-based soy wax isn’t 100 percent perfect (as with many agricultural products) but it’s a heck of a lot better than “gas wax.” They’re longer burning (with none of that soot), come in just as many tantalizing scents, and often the companies who produce soy candles go all out by using recycled-content packaging and lead-free paper/cotton wicks. Most candle shops and home boutiques should carry soy candle lines and if they don’t, make a request. Just make sure they’re 100 percent soy wax.
In my own home, I’m burning hand-poured-in-Philly soy candles from Duross and Langel. They’re affordable and come in a ton of potent scents; I recommend pear, acai and monkey grass. And in my fantasy home, I’m burning spendy, stunningly packaged (in vintage tin) Le Labo soy candles.
You see, Ali-san, it’s pretty straightforward. Unless you dig indoor air pollution, choose soy — once an underdog but now a formidable opponent in the natural vs. chemical candle wax showdown. Go on and burn bright, my friend. My training here is done.
Photo: Courtesy Duross and Langel
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