Candles: A guide to wax and what to look for in making an eco-friendly choice

Candles are used throughout homes for many purposes – for decoration, for magical purposes, for providing light and even for heating a space.

Sales of candles are estimated at approximately $3.2 billion annually in the US alone, excluding sales of candle accessories such as holders. While Britons spend £90m on scented candles every year.

There are many different types of candles – votives, tapers, container candles and pillars – and many different types of wax or blends. However, many of the different types of waxes are in fact toxic or are made from ingredients that are not environmentally friendly such as palm oil and petroleum-based.

There is much choice out there when it comes to candles, but if you want to be more eco savvy about the candles you purchase, check out this guide to the various waxes.

Beeswax is 100% natural and contains no harmful additives. It is the original and oldest form of wax used in making candles.

Beeswax can be used in almost any form, is easily mouldable and doesn’t droop. It is also non toxic when burning.

Beeswax has a natural honey scent. Beeswax candles are not easy to scent, so if it’s scented candles you desire, then check soy wax candles instead.

Beeswax is the most expensive to source. Beeswax is also a relatively rare and precious natural raw material so only a small share of the global candle production comes from this product.

Soy wax

Soy wax is simply hydrogenated soybean oil and is predominately used for container candles.

Soy wax burns longer and cooler than other waxes.

Soy as a plant has been around for thousands of years. It is biodegradable and a renewable resource. Soy wax doesn’t release toxins when burned. And it is water soluble too, so it’s easy to clean off surfaces.

There has been criticism about the soy industry in recent years. The US, Brazil and Argentina are producing around 80% of the world’s soy, some of which the crops have been planted using Monsanto seeds which are GM (genetically modified). Forest Trends estimates that 50%-70% of soy exports have displaced forests in Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

When buying soy wax candles, check if the soy is responsibly sourced and is GM free. Also check if there are any other ingredients added. Soy wax is a very soft wax, and some manufacturers often mix it with palm oil to make it firmer.

If you can, buy soy wax pellets and make your own candles from scratch.

Paraffin wax

A majority of candles are made from paraffin wax, a by-product of the crude oil refining process. Petroleum, which is in limited supply, is not a renewable resource.

Paraffin wax candles are cheap and come in all shapes, sizes and colours, with scents added, yet are highly toxic when burned. Using paraffin wax candles exposes you and anyone in your household to toxic fumes, and long-term use causes damage to your home and decor, as soot from the candles smear walls and furniture.

Paraffin is considered as dangerous as petroleum. It also burns hot and very fast.

Studies have shown paraffin candles release 11 known toxic carcinogenic chemicals into the environment, including toluene and benzene, contributing to global warming.


Stearin candles are being sold in stores throughout the world, marketed as plant-based candle wax, however this “plant-based” candle wax is in fact a derivative of palm oil.

The environmental impact of using any palm oil products is devastating. Deforestation, indigenous peoples being displaced and their natural habitats wrecked, and the loss of Orangutan species are just some of the major concerns.

Stearin is cheap to source, and although non toxic when burned, the cost to the environment is huge given its hugely negative impact.

Manufacturers also use stearin to harden other waxes as a wax blend, therefore always check the ingredients before you purchase candles.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, wellbeing, and entertainments. Rosa also works as a psychic, counsellor, intuitive reader and spiritual life coach helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives:

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