Candles, Essential Oils, and Diffusers
I'm a recovering candle addict. The fragrance... the ambiance... it soothed me. But I will never forget the day that I purged our home from conventional candles. A few years ago, I lit a pumpkin spice candle or two and the fumes were finally enough. As the headache set in, I rummaged through my home and put all 22 of my candles in a box on my front porch and sold them on an online garage sale for $1 each.
The Problem with Conventional Candles
Before 2003, conventional candles were made with lead-core wicks. These candles would release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children, exceeding the EPA pollution standards for outdoor air according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Now, zinc and tin are generally used instead. However, all metal-core wicks release trace amounts of heavy metals into the air when they are burned. And wicks with zinc and tin cores can still release small amounts of lead particles.
Conventional candles are often made with paraffin wax which is a petroleum byproduct that releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air including acetone, benzene and toluene, which are known carcinogens. These are the same chemicals found in diesel fuel emissions and are known to cause allergies, asthma attacks and skin problems. A study by the University of South Florida showed that candles made of paraffin wax emit low levels of benzene even when they are not lit. In addition to releasing toxic chemicals, burning paraffin wax produces soot with particles that can remain suspended in the air for hours. The University of South Florida study showed that these ultrafine soot particles are similar to diesel exhaust in both their size and composition. They penetrate deeply into the lungs and are absorbed into the blood stream. Ultrafine particles are associated with allergies, asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as heart attacks, strokes and even cancer. And a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that soot emissions from candles containing fragrances are significantly higher than those from non-scented candles.
Most scented candles use synthetic fragrances and dyes that give off dangerous VOCs even at room temperature. Commonly emitted VOCs related to the scent in candles include formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, alcohol and esters. These harmful chemicals can cause health problems ranging from headaches, dizziness and allergy symptoms to asthma attacks, respiratory tract infections and even cancer.
I still get to have the ambiance of a flickering candle thanks to beeswax! In fact, 100% beeswax candles are the only candles we use in our home. Just like salt lamps, beeswax candles release negative ions as they burn. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but negative ions have a positive effect on the human body while positive ions are harmful. Negative ions are abundant in nature, especially around waterfalls, on the ocean surf, at the beach and after a storm. On the other hand, in polluted cities, crowded areas and in confined spaces such as offices, industrial areas, schools and cars, you will find the highest concentration of unhealthy positive ions. The most important benefit of negative ions is that they clear the air of airborne allergens such as pollen, mold spores, bacteria and viruses. They also clear the air of dust, pet dander and cigarette smoke.
What an incredible transition you could make for the health of your environment by replacing conventional candles with beeswax candles that help you breathe cleaner, healthier air! 100% beeswax candles require no added fragrances or dyes, because the pollen and honey content of the wax offer a natural orange color and light, sweet fragrance.
Soy and Other “Healthier” Candles
Hands down, beeswax candles win the competition with their air purifying qualities, but a lot of brands are creating “healthier” candles using soy or other waxes scented with essential oils. Soy is a better choice than paraffin, but I’ve still got some issues. I’ve noticed that most soy candles being sold are not 100% soy and are blended with other oils such as palm, cottonseed, coconut or mixed with palm wax, beeswax or paraffin. Mineral oil or petrolatum may be added as well. Now that’s a step up from 100% paraffin, but not ideal when creating a healthy home environment. There are no third party organizations that regulate how much soy wax has to be in a candle to be labeled as a 'soy candle’ so they can contain as little as 20% soy wax.
The major issue with soy in the United States is that over 90% is genetically modified. Genetically modified soy crops are heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides, causing harm to both the harvesters and the soil. Soy candles are chemically processed from saturated hydrogenated genetically modified soy oil and this is a purely chemical process. Since the chemicals used in processing soy wax are proprietary, and the ingredients used in making soy candles are proprietary, it's difficult to know what chemicals are in a specific soy candle, but highly chemically processed and genetically modified soy products are in no way natural.
Interestingly, essential oils are not safe options for candle fragrances, either. Any candle scented with essential oils will be heated by the flame which causes the release of toxins through combustion changes in the molecular structure of these oils.
Here’s a simple healthier lifestyle principle to keep in mind: Try not to inhale what you would not eat. When you buy paraffin candles, you are spending money to poison your home. Beeswax candles, like I discussed, are a healing investment and worth the higher price tag. I would rather go candle-free than settle for anything less than 100% beeswax.
Why I cancelled my Young Living membership
I was introduced to Young Living essential oils during my first trimester of chiropractic school in the fall of 2014. I went to the parties, heard the claims and testimonies, and bought in. I believed in the company so firmly that I even had 20+ friends and family members join my team (downline). Ultimately, this is what launched me into investigating the quality and safety of all the products in our home. The more I researched, the more questions I had about the quality of Young Living’s products so I started asking questions.
Why aren’t they calling their ingredients organic? I would ask my up-line and then they would ask their up-line and my questions would work their way up the ladder but I would always receive the same response: “Seed to Seal” is greater than organic.
That didn’t sit well with me. There is a certification that exists for greater than organic: Demeter’s Biodynamic Certification. Many representatives will argue that these certifications are too expensive and I understand that. I support many small businesses that cannot afford any certifications for their products, but they still list the ingredients as organic. Even if they don’t have the means to pursue certification, why aren’t they saying anything about organic ingredients?
In order to label a product as “organic”, the product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and the remaining 5% must be listed as USDA’s allowed ingredients. But let’s say that maybe their products don’t meet that standard and that’s okay! You can still label a product as “made with organic ingredients” if it contains at least 70% organic ingredients. The remaining 30% must be listed as USDA’s allowed ingredients or non-organic agricultural ingredients. Products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients do not qualify for organic labeling. These products can contain any level of organic ingredients and there are zero restrictions on other ingredients, although they can list organic ingredients in the ingredients section. If Young Living wanted to list any of their ingredients as organic in the ingredients section, they could do so for free. I don’t believe that the USDA Organic Seal is the gold standard in labeling but it does show a product's commitment to healthy people and a healthy planet.
In the midst of me having these unanswered questions, I came across GC/MS test results for Young Living’s cinnamon bark essential oil. The report stated, “The sample has been adulterated with synthetic cinnamaldehyde, indicated by the presence of phenylpentadienal isomers. Synthetic linalool may also have been added.” This is obviously not congruent with their “Seed to Seal” claim. I found additional GC/MS test results for:
Cinnamon bark essential oil with the same lot number as the original report
Cinnamon bark essential oil with a different lot number
Thieves essential oil blend (which contains cinnamon bark essential oil)
And all came back with the same synthetic result. I’m not saying that Young Living is purposely adulterating their essential oils. But this makes me question if cinnamon bark is grown and distilled by Young Living. Through a public record import log, I discovered that large amounts of essential oils are being imported from places such as China so my trust in Young Living having their own farms was dwindling. While researching this supplier in China, I also stumbled across a bill of landing for DoTERRA.
Young Living issued a statement regarding the quality of their cinnamon bark essential oil after these third party test results were brought to their attention. The statement contains a lot of information, but unfortunately, no documentation to back it up. With the claim of being the “world leader in essential oils” consumers and customers hold Young Living to a high standard and expect the transparency that the company so commonly proclaims.
The truth is that I loved Young Living and they immersed me into the world of aromatherapy, essential oils, and nontoxic living, but as an advocate for health and high quality products, I refuse to sweep this all under the rug. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by staying silent about this. I could continue to grow my team, build my business, and earn passive income.
I don't want to get into a brand battle because I use a variety of brands for a variety of things. My only recommendation is to do your own research and find an organic essential oil that works best for you. I have zero affiliation with any of these companies and I’m not interested in selling you anything. These are the brands I have thoroughly vetted, support, and utilize:
I don't recommend store-bought essential oils because you don't know how long they've been sitting on the shelf, exposed to intense artificial light. This is the same reason why I don't buy my olive oil from the health food store. There is no governing body that certifies essential oils and there are no grades of essential oils based on their quality. The FDA does not provide a certifying label despite what some companies may claim. So basically, "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade" means nothing in the essential oil world. That is a commercial trademark that DoTERRA has specifically registered and paid a fee to use.
Be an Informed Consumer
When you're researching essential oils to buy, make sure the label reads "100% pure" and "organic" when possible. Also make sure it is not blended with jojoba, almond, or another carrier oil because that means the essential oil is diluted and you want the pure essential oil. You can dilute it yourself later, if desired.
To Ingest or not to Ingest?
The only companies that say it is safe to ingest essential oils are in the multi-level marketing industry. You have to do your own research and do what works best for your body. I used to add peppermint, lemon, or grapefruit essential oils to my water, but after reading Hope Gillerman's book, Everyday Essential Oils, I no longer ingest essential oils. This is my personal preference for my health. It makes sense to me that one drop of an essential oil is very potent and can equal 75 cups of tea of the same herb so I prefer the physical herb.
I think every person who owns or utilizes essential oils should also own the book Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. There are a few ways I like to utilize essential oils in my home: ultrasonic diffusers and nebulizers. Let me break it down for ya!
An essential oil diffuser uses water and whatever drops of essential oils you place into it to fill the air in your home. That means it doubles as a humidifier! The key to finding a great diffuser is to make sure it's ultrasonic. Otherwise, the diffuser will be using heat and that destabilizes the essential oils. You never want to heat essential oils. They typically diffuse anywhere from 1 to 10 hours, depending on the settings. I have used many ultrasonic diffusers through the years. Yes, I've tried the amazon and groupon deals, but they break easily and don't last as long, so these are my tried-and-true (I literally use them everyday) favorites:
Now, a nebulizer is very similar to an ultrasonic diffuser except it doesn't use water at all! This is the only nebulizer I have and I use it in our largest open space (living room, dining room, entry way, and kitchen).
Organic Aromas gifted me this nebulizer and I've been a fan from day one! My favorite thing about it is that it's all glass. The essential oil never comes into contact with plastic — heck yeah! It also has an elegant wooden base. It looks beautiful no matter where you place it in your home and that's refreshing since some of those ultrasonic diffusers look like alien spaceships. I also think this nebulizer works best in the larger area of our home (compared to an ultrasonic diffuser) because water isn't used which dilutes the essential oil. This Organic Aromas nebulizer packs a powerful punch and has no problem filling our space.
Word on the street is that nebulizers break and need to be cleaned frequently. While I believe this nebulizer to be the most effective and least maintenance on the market, it still requires more care than an ultrasonic diffuser. But that's me being super lazy. It runs for 2 minutes and then pauses for 1 minute for approximately two hours and then automatically shuts off. It needs to rest for at least 60 minutes or it'll burn out the motor. You have to physically turn it back on again to run another 2-hour usage cycle. I really only run this thing 2 hours a day and our home (that tends to smell like animals since we have one Great Dane, a revolving door of foster Great Danes, and a cat) is vibrant, peaceful, and refreshing!
Organic Aromas recommends cleaning the reservoir once a week by diffusing rubbing alcohol and deep cleaning once a month by soaking in warm water and gentle soap. The funky thing is, both methods say the diffuser is ready when it's dry but in my experience, it has taken a few days for that thing to dry! The tubules are so delicate and tiny that water seems to get stuck in there and won't dry. One time I got impatient and used it anyways and it started spitting at me. Oops! Also, make sure you don't use essential oils that contain a carrier oil such as jojoba, almond, or grape seed oil or thicker essential oils such as sandalwood, cypress, or frankincense because like I said, those tubules are delicate!
I hope this information encourages you to toss the conventional candles and start using healthier options like beeswax candles and essential oils in your home!
This post contains affiliate links which means that I receive a percentage of commission if any products are purchased through them. As always, these are brands / products / services I have used personally, believe in and support. Receiving a sample(s) of any of the above products in no way influences my opinion. Thank you for supporting me, Dr. Courtney Kahla, through your purchases!