Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing.
She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.
— Henny Youngman
As we weave our Yule magic of wreath and candle, I will be sharing a little lore each day, and lighting a candle or two of knowledge with you.
Hundreds of years ago, candles were primarily made either of beeswax, which was very expensive and only affordable to the wealthy, or else tallow, which is rendered animal fat. Smoke from a tallow candle smells very unpleasant, creates a lot of oily soot and produces noxious fumes, although improvements were made over the centuries.
So it was progress when, in the 1850s, paraffin was made available, originally from coal-tar. Paraffin candles are now the most common and readily available candles on the market.
Paraffin today is made from the sludge at the bottom of barrels of crude oil, which is then treated and bleached with benzene, a known carcinogen, and other chemical solvents to “clean it up” for use in candles.
Since burning this petrochemical paraffin is like burning diesel fuel, it is then loaded with synthetic fragrance oils, many of which are irritating and even toxic themselves when they’re burned.
Even products labeled “fragrance-free” may, in fact, contain substantial amounts of synthetic fragrance. According to the FDA’s guidelines, fragrance free “implies that a cosmetic product so labeled has no perceptible odor. Fragrance ingredients may be added to a fragrance-free cosmetic to mask any offensive odor originating from the raw materials used, but in a smaller amount than is needed to impart a noticeable scent.”
That’s for cosmetics, of course. Neither the FDA nor any other impartial governmental or regulatory agency oversees the use or content of the petrochemicals in non-cosmetic products. The fragrance industry itself is self-regulating, its oversight is confidential, and its own guidelines are purely voluntary.
If that‘s not enough to give you pause, you should also bear in mind that these oily chemical residues stick to walls, ceilings, and ventilation ducts and are re-circulated in your home through your heating/cooling, long after the candle is extinguished.
So what are some better choices? I’ll share those tomorrow!