3 healthier alternatives to scented candles

candles; scented

Can you imagine how thrilled I was to read that UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs and member of the Conservative party, Michael Gove MP, kicked off 2019 declaring war on scented candles (and wood burning stoves) in a bid to reduce 36,000 deaths a year caused by toxic air in our homes? 

The move is part of the UK Government’s Clean Air strategy, a key focus of which is improving air quality in homes for the sake of our health. Manufacturers will be told to reduce emissions from scented candles, household cleaning products, carpets, laminate flooring and glues, because of the toxic gases they can create. 

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said air pollution was the single greatest environmental threat to human health.

He added:
“Breathing dirty air is associated with a host of health problems, from asthma to cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, and all too often it is the most vulnerable – children, older people… who are hit hardest. In short: clean air helps you live longer.

I have to put my hand up and admit I used to be a collector of scented candles, until I realised I was releasing toxic gases into my home every time I lit one for a bit of ambience and a pleasant smell.

I can’t help but have a chuckle at the $87 Diptyque that sat at my bedside table for a few years because I thought it was too good to burn. Now, I can’t believe how much money companies get away with charging, and people are willing to pay, albeit unknowingly, for something that is so toxic to our health.

What’s the problem with scented candles?

The first problem lies with the scent. Under Trade Practices Acts, product manufacturers can use up to 3,000 ingredients under the words ‘fragrance, perfume, or parfum’ without listing what they are because it is deemed the intellectual property of the product manufacturer. Twenty six key ingredients commonly used in fragrances sold in Australia have been been in Europe because they are known to be hormone disrupting and carcinogenic and the World Health Organisation will not deem them safe. Charming, hey?

Most candles are made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum. It’s made from the sludge at the bottom of a crude oil barrel and bleached with industrial strength bleach to turn it white, and then more harmful chemicals are added to the wax. The emissions from paraffin candles contain many of the same toxins (carcinogens such as benzene and toluene) produced by burning diesel fuel. Can you imagine starting a Diesel engine in your living room?

The centre of a candle wick can contain lead, which releases unsafe levels of lead into the air when the candle is burning. According to product safety Australia, lead poisoning in unborn babies, small children, and pregnant women can lead to: impaired growth, hearing loss, behaviour problems, respiratory problems, impaired short-term memory, reproductive disorders, memory loss, nerve disorders. A cotton wick is a far better option.

Soy candles are pitched to us as the environmentally friendly, healthier candle option, but the majority of the world’s soy is genetically modified and farmed with pesticides (i.e. glyphosate). If you’d prefer not to feed the pockets of companies like Monsanto and would like to vote with your hip pocket for a world without in which our food, parks, gardens and sporting grounds aren’t sprayed with cancer causing pesticides, you may want to avoid soy candles.

What’s more, the glass, metal and plastic that the candles come in often aren’t recycled and end up in landfill, all for the sake of a few hours burning time.

Huge congrats to the UK Government for becoming the first major economy to adopt tough World Health Organisation standards. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Australia to follow suit, but I am making it my mission to spread this important message.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to blow the candles out altogether, nor steer clear of making your home smell nice. There are three healthier ways to give ambience to your home, and make it smell lovely…

  1. 100% pure beeswax candles are hands down the ‘healthiest’ option when it comes to candles, you want to be certain it is 100% pure and not mixed with paraffin though. You also want to make sure it has a lead free (i.e. cotton) wick, and it shouldn’t be fragranced with anything other than pure essential oils.
Northern Lights 100% Pure
Australian beeswax candles

Simon Mulvany from Save the Bees Australia recommends Northern Light Australian Beeswax Candles. As well as being 100% pure beeswax, fragrance and lead free, they are chlorine free. Unless a manufacturer says their candles are free from chlorinated water, there’s every likelihood the wax has been melted in, and absorbed chlorinated water, which will release toxic chlorine gas into your home. Of course, you can also make your own beeswax candles too.

Image via Pinterest

2. Diffuse essential oils

This is now my preferred way to make my home smell lovely and also to support how I want to feel. Essential oils really shouldn’t be burned if you want to experience the therapeutic benefits (heat destroys these). For example, I diffuse uplifting oils during the day to help me feel energised, alert and focused (like lemon, wild orange, peppermint, rosemary), and calming and grounding oils at night time to help me sleep (I love lavender, vetiver, frankincense, doTERRA’s Balance grounding blend and Peace reassuring blend).

I use doTERRA’s Lumo diffuser, the creme de la creme of diffusers, their petal diffuser is great too. (You can order these through me wholesale, by following the steps outlined here, or drop me a line and I’ll be happy to place an order for you over the phone – the latter option is much easier).

doTERRA lumo diffuser

The quality of the oils that you use is important, which is why I use doTERRA’s 100% pure certified tested grade oils. There are no synthetic fillers or fragrances, pesticides or heavy metals, just the world’s purest and most potent essential oil. They are also the most transparent essential oil business in the world when it comes to what is in their oils (you can go to www.sourcetoyou.com type in any single oil batch code and it will tell you the exact chemical make up of that bottle of oil.

3. Make your own diffuser sticks

All you need is some bamboo skewers, a glass jar or vase, 1/4 cup oil oil (i.e. fractionated coconut oil – it has no fragrance and doesn’t solidify) and 15 drops of your favourite essential oils. Add the oils to the glass and pop the sticks in, yes it’s that simple!

Image via apartmentherapy.com

And there you have it my friends, three really simple and cost effective ways to make your home smell lovely, without adversely impacting air quality in your household.

If you found this article helpful I’d love you to help me spread the word on the health impacts associated with scented candles, that way we can all breathe a little easier and know that we’re doing our bit for the planet too.

If you’d like to learn more about essential oils and how they can be used for so many more things than making your home smell lovely, from supporting your physical and emotional health, to cleaning your home and making your own skin care products and DIY gifts, come along to one of my “Essential oils for healthy homes and healthy bodies” workshops, held monthly in Melbourne and Sydney.

Not based in Melbourne or Sydney but want to learn more? Feel free to reach out via zara@ohmygoodness.net and arrange a Skype or phone chat. I’ll be running workshops in other Australian cities and New Zealand from Feb to May 2019 – if you’d like me to come to your neck of the wood, do give me a holler and let’s see if we can make it happen.


Zara is a healthy home coach and keynote speaker on a mission to empower 1 million people to takes steps towards a healthier home. Zara learned about the link between our homes and our health after going through two different types of cancer. Zara is passionate about shining the spotlight on what she believes to be the least understood health challenges of our time, and sharing the things she wishes she had known, that could have prevented the illnesses she has been through. Recognised as one of Australia’s leading health influencers, Zara was a finalist in the 2014 Bupa Health Influencer of the Year Awards. She has appeared on TEN News, Today Show and The Project, been featured in the Herald Sun, I Quit Sugar, and contributed Medibank’s Be. Magazine and Fairfax health online publications. Zara contributed to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s first comprehensive report on breast cancer in young women in Australia.

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