Let me start by saying that when I set out on my journey to find out whether candles are part of the long list of household items that could lead to death, I didn't have to look very hard. Google's new "allow me to fill in the blank because I know exactly what you're about to say, based on what thousands of other people have already said" feature led to this situation:
All I had to do was type in "are candles..." and my options included: "toxic," "safe," "vegan," "bad for babies," and "dangerous." Since toxic was first, the answer is probably, "yes." Since I was framing this as a question and "safe" came second, the answer to that is probably "no." As for "vegan," candles could be vegan and that still means nothing, because vegan cheese (really, wtf) is made in a lab and is awful, of this I am sure. If something is "bad for babies," just assume it's bad for everyone. And "dangerous" is the same as "toxic," so we've come full circle. And the circle was pretty shitty the whole way around.
I know what you're thinking. WHICH ONE DID SHE CHOOSE? Let me tell you. I chose "toxic" since that's where I was headed to begin with, and Google knows me like, really well. Allow me to elaborate on what I found next.
Candles are, in fact, probably fucking toxic.
I should also say, before I get into the nitty gritty of why I will be throwing out all of my candles, that I love candles. I think they smell nice. I think they make great gifts. They illuminate a room. You light a nice candle and that's a statement to the world that you hate bad smells and love good smells, which by default, means you're cultured and probably well-traveled. All in all, they're fucking cool, and they also emit toxic gases that will harm your lungs and your brain.
South Carolina University has done a lot of research and testing on different types of candles. Candles containing paraffins are apparently super fucked up - they release benzene, alkans, alkenes, and toluene... Toluene affects the central nervous system, so if you find that you get headaches whenever you burn candles, stop fucking burning them. Benzene, like everything else, is linked to cancer. Paraffins also create carcinogenic soot that settles all around your house. Candles are basically just jumbo sized, vanilla-scented cigarettes.
Paraffins are in the wax itself, but the wick is a whole other ballgame. According to Green America, candles used to be made with lead-core wicks, because they would hold up against the softening oils in the wax. The problem with using lead in your wicks, is that you're using lead in your wicks.
Earlier this year, I read an article in New York Daily News that said citrus-scented candles and cleaning products can lead to breathing issues and certain cancers. Limonene, which is a citrus perfuming agent, mixes with ozone in the air and effectively creates formaldehyde. And then that shit is just sitting on your couch with you. You know things are bad when cleaning your house and relaxing with a nice candle is the equivalent of inviting the Grim Reaper over for fried Oreos.
It should be noted that not every candle is bad. Vegetable-based wax candles are actually generally okay, and if you're cool with unscented candles (although that seems a little like decaf coffee or unsalted pistachios: fucking dumb) then you're double okay. South Carolina University even proved that they are better, with science and stuff:
You can probably trust candles that are made with beeswax, vegetable wax, hemp oil wax, or soy wax, or any combination of those. You have to make sure they tell you the percentage breakdown if they are not 100% one type of wax, because the sneaky bastards could be spiking your candle with paraffins. If you're trying to avoid bees (which I get, because bees might need to be left the fuck alone so they can just waltz in peace and build their empires back to full capacity), then don't do beeswax. If you see a candle and it doesn't say anything about ingredients, it's because they can't list "carcinogens" as an ingredient, but if they listed others and not that, legally, they'd be lying.
It's not a lie if you just omit all information and charge less for it.
As for Yankee candles, the jury is out. From what I can tell, they claim to use "refined" paraffins, thereby removing the hazard, but I am not totally convinced by this. Refined sugar is like, worse for you, I think (memo to self... figure out what refined sugar is). Yankee does use cotton wicks, but the state of the paraffins in Yankee's wax is still a little too ambiguous for comfort, in my opinion. I'm going to keep rolling into farmers markets and cruising through Instagram, pining over those $25 hand-poured, soy wax candles, until I start making them myself one day. This is also an option, you can find all the fixins on Amazon and use old jam jars to hold them.
This image and the primary thumbnail image for this post were both taken from this list of creative candle designs on Bored Panda. Please note that I have no fucking idea what these candles are made of.