The Power of Bees: The Benefits of Beeswax Candles
Imagine walking into a room where a burning candle has filled the air with the sweet, floral scent of spring or the warm, rich scent of the winter holidays. Depending on the scent, it can inspire a sense of peace, happiness, nostalgia, or any number of good feelings. It makes a home feel inviting and clean. Over the years, our family has sought out natural ways to freshen and clean our house. As a result, we started looking into the differences between various types of candles on the market. What we found was that standard, paraffin wax candles are more harmful than their sweet scents imply. On the other hand, the information we found about beeswax candles was much more positive. We were sold. Paraffin candles were out and beeswax candles, with their sweet, but subtle, scents took their place.
Around this same time, my husband and I were looking for a new product for the business we had been building, T&K Home Market. Previously, our focus was on handmade, wooden decor, but we wanted to expand into an area that would connect with our green living lifestyle. We decided candle making would be a fun project to explore and, naturally, we gravitated towards beeswax candles. Since this venture would take us beyond personal preference and on to developing a product we were going to sell to others, we wanted to make sure the information we had from our previous browsing was accurate. So while we learned and perfected the art of candle making, we also dove into the world of research.
The burning of common, paraffin wax candles has been found to adversely affect indoor air quality (Environmental Project, 2018; Pagel, Wierzbicka, Isaxon, Dahl, Gudmund, Swietlicki, Bohgard, Nilsson, Nilson, 2009; Orecchio, 2011). When burned, paraffin candles release fine particulate matter into the air, as well as carcinogenic compounds, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and alkenes (Massoudi, 2017; Orecchio, 2011). Scented paraffin candles have been found to emit acrolein and low-quality candles emit sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, as well as particulate matter (Cattaneo, 2014). Multiple studies indicate that if paraffin and low-quality candles are left burning in a room with poor ventilation, the accumulation of these chemicals may rise to a level that is potentially harmful to people (Orecchio, 2011; Massoudi, 2017; Cattaneo, 2014). As a result, the Environmental Project in Denmark recommends the use of high-quality candles (2018).
Research on beeswax candles provides more positive information. When paraffin candles burn in drafty conditions, they produce black carbon emissions, known as soot (Denmark, 2018). Beeswax candles, on the other hand, were found to have negligible soot emissions (Rezaei, 2002; Fine 1999). Furthermore, since beeswax is made naturally by honeybees, rather than being a petroleum-based product like paraffin, it does not create toxic compounds, including formaldehyde, while burning (Massoudi, 2017; Rezaei, 2002). Beeswax candles have also been found to have the smallest flame size and lowest burn rate when compared to paraffin candles and soy candles (Rezaei, 2002). These combined, result in longer-lasting candles. Finally, as long as there are honeybees, there is beeswax, which makes it a naturally renewable resource, unlike petroleum. While soybeans, from which soy candles are made, are also a natural and renewable resource, the environmental impact of soybean farming is of concern (Tickell, 2017). Soybeans are generally a monoculture crop, which is a type of farming known to lead to soil desertification and requires ever-increasing levels of fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals lead to a number of significant environmental and health concerns. Furthermore, additives are required in order to turn soybean oil into soy wax.
Throughout our search, we found many additional, anecdotal claims related to beeswax. Over and again we found that people experience feelings of relaxation while burning beeswax candles and find the scent to be naturally subtle and sweet. Beeswax candles are said to burn without dripping and with the purest, brightest flame when compared to other light sources. Due to the dripless nature of the wax, people find them to be safer than other candles. In addition, as beeswax ages, it naturally creates a white film, which is viewed as a desirable feature. Finally, many people claim that burning beeswax candles produces negative ions. Negative ions occur naturally around moving water sources, such as waterfalls and waves; sunlight, including ultraviolet light; corona discharges, such as thunder and lightning; and some plant-based release (Mann, 2002; Jiang, Ma, & Ramachandran, 2018). The negative ions attract and attach to positively charged compounds in the air, such as dust, which then become too heavy to remain airborne and fall to the ground, thus purifying the air. This is said to result in improved mood and reduced allergies. A study out of Columbia University indicates that people with winter or chronic depression found negative ion generators to relieve their depression as much as antidepressants (Mann, 2002). Furthermore, negative ions are believed to increase oxygen flow to the brain, which increases alertness, decreases drowsiness, and results in more mental energy. We were unable to find scientific research to support the claims that beeswax candles produce negative ions, but we are hopeful there will be studies conducted in the near future as this is an exciting idea.
The results of our research further strengthened our desire to use 100% pure beeswax in our candles. While the cost of beeswax, when compared to paraffin or soy is higher, it is justified. We are unwilling to create and sell a product that we would not use in our home. We want non-toxic, long-lasting candles in our house and, therefore, that is what we make for our customers. When we learned the process of making beeswax, we understood the higher cost of the wax itself. It is estimated that it takes 2 million visits to flowers to create 1 pound of beeswax, bees must fly 50,000 miles to collect enough nectar for 1 pound of honey, and for every 100 pounds of honey, only 1 to 2 pounds of beeswax is obtained. (Canadian Honey Council; Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research and Extension Consortium, 2005). It's quite a time-consuming process on the part of the beekeepers and, of course, the most important workers, the bees themselves. Finally, it has been documented that the bee population is decreasing at an alarming rate (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2019). Bees are a keystone animal for our planet and their decline threatens human food supply. Therefore, efforts need to be made to save them. We are hopeful that increasing the demand for beeswax may be one way to create greater protection for the bees themselves.
The next time you want to fill your home with the scent of a candle, we hope you choose a beeswax candle. By choosing beeswax, you can sit back, take a deep breath, and enjoy peace of mind.
Canadian Honey Council. http://honeycouncil.ca/archive/chc_poundofhoney.php
Cattaneo, A., Nano, G., Gelosa, S., & Cavallo, DM. (2014). Assessment of Modeled Indoor Air Concentrations of Particulate Matter, Gaseous Pollutants, and Volatile Organic Compounds Emitted from Candles. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, 20(4): 962-979. DOI:10.1080/10807039.2013.821902
Environmental Project. (2018) Environmentally friendly candles with reduced particle emissions. Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, Environmental Protection Agency
Fine, P., Cass, G., & Simoneit, B. (1999). Characterization of Fine Particle Emissions from Burning Candles. Environmental Science and Technology, 33 (14): 2352-2362.
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. (2019).Declining bee populations pose threat to global food security and nutrition. Rome.
Jiang, S., Ma, A., and Ramachandran, S. (2018). Negative Air Ions and Their Effects on Human Health and Air Quality Improvement. International Journal of Molecular Science, 19(10): 2966.
Mann, D. (2002). Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes. WebMD. Webmd.com/balance/features/negative-ions-create-positive-vibes#1
Massoudi, R. And Hamidi. (2017). Some candles emit hazardous materials for human health and are indoor air pollutants. International Journal of Tropical Disease and Health, 24(2): 1-10
Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research and Extension Consortium. (2005). Beeswax.
Orecchio, S. (2011). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in indoor emission from decorative candles. Atmospheric Environment, 45(10): 1888-1895.
Pagels, J., Wierzbicka, A., Isaxon, C., Dahl, A., Gudmund, A., Swietlicki, E, Bohgard, M., Nilsson, E., & Nilson, E. (2009). Chemical Composition and Mass Emission Factors of Candle Smoke Particles. Journal of Aerosol Science, 40: 193-208.
Rezaei, K., Wang, T., & Johnson, L. (2002). Combustion Characteristics of Candles Made from Hydrogenated Soybean Oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, 79(8): 803-808.
Tickell, J. (2017). Kiss the Ground: How the Food you Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body, and Ultimately Save the World. New York: Enliven Books.