Are Palm Wax Candles Really Eco-Friendly?
I get asked this question a lot! And rightly so! There's a lot of incredible information out there about palm wax/palm oil, like negative campaigns, but is it all true? Also what elements make for a good burning candle?
When I first started getting into making candles I was asked where are my candles at craft shows? Over ten years ago, I was doing all kinds of art and craft shows selling sold potpourri, lavender bath teas, and room sprays, but not candles. When I was asked why not sell candles, I responded with, "with so many other brand name companies making them, what's the point? There's already too much competition." But ever single person I responded with that answer quickly came back with, "I love your scents, I wish you did because the candles I burn leave a lot of soot - not just in the jar, but all over my walls and even ceiling - it's a costly mess" and others shared how the scents from other leading brands don't last long. Hearing all these complaints, I read a lot of articles about candles, wondering what companies used to make their own branded candles, etc. I learned two key elements to make a good candle:
1. The more natural the wax and ingredients, the better the quality of the candle.
2. The raw materials need to be good quality that works well with all candle ingredients.
First, let's talk about what "more natural" ingredients means. Candles need feel in order to burn. That fuel comes in the form of various items like tallow, petroleum, bees wax, plants like soy and palm. Petroleum, the main ingredient in paraffin candles, tends to be the dirtiest because it creates highly toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene Tetrachloroethene, Chlorobenzene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Xylene, Phenol, and so on. When burned these chemicals create carcinogens. Carcinogens, often heard in texts about tobacco and smoking as well as asbestos and so on, are cancer causing agents. However not all carcinogens cause cancer. But the more you are exposed to carcinogens the more likely that exposure can lead to cancer.
Natural plant based waxes - which include bees wax, greatly reduces the chance of encountering these harsh chemicals. Soy candles, aren't entirely pure - while they are 100% plant based and natural, the refining process is not eco-friendly. Hexanes and other alcohols are needed to bleach and refine soy into the product used in candles and cosmetics and so on. Additionally many news reports share scientific data regarding the dangers of GMO soy linked to pesticides such as Monsanto in the hopes of creating better crops of soy.
Then there's palm wax. In one google search you can find a TON of negative press about how endangered animals and deforestations is linked to palm oil plantations. But living in a world of "fake news" is it all true? Some but not all. Some countries are behind in raising standards regarding farming eco-friendly palm oil plantations and some articles are dated 10-15+ years where standards today are far better than years past. Also, in reading the articles I noticed some articles are written and paid by rival oil crop industry owners where facts and figures are inflated or exaggerated, not backed up by credible sources. Some articles do not even state sources to back up claims.
However, to understand why natural waxes such that of palm is the way to go, let's look at the irrefutable facts. All articles do tell how eco-friendly palm oil plants are regarding how they are planted, harvested, and refined. The plants are farmed in agricultural designated lands that were left fallow due to the harvesting of exotic tropical woods like rubber. Also high standards have been set by the RSPO (Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil for Malaysia) and the MPOC (Malaysian Palm Oil Council) set to protect the endangered animals with the help of the WWF in the area of these plantations, environmentally safe farming practices that do not danger the land and natives who live nearby, etc. The harvest of the palm oil does not affect the trees. The palm oil trees are left to grow for over 25 years while only the fruit bunches are harvested by hand with sharp hook type tools. Then the fruit is transported to refineries where the fruit is pressed, steamed and spun in centrifuges to separated husks and extract the oils - no harsh chemicals are needed to refine the oil, just water in the form of steam is needed. Byproducts like the husks are reused and turned either into electricity or turned into pulp to make paper and mulch.
In other words, less chemicals equals less risk for poor performing candles.
The other aspect to consider materials used in candles. Just like a great tasting meal requires a tried and true recipe, the same goes for candles. Materials like wicks, fragrance oils and the like also play a key role in having a great performing candle. Lead wicks are outlawed in the USA but many over seas production facilities still use them. Lead core wicks notably produce soot and release toxic chemicals where over time can create upper respiratory health concerns. When it comes to scents it is important to learn if the candles you choose to burn contain candle grade fragrance oils or essential oils or other types of oils not safe for candles. Many candle makers proudly share they use essential oils to scent their candles. This is a no-no because essential oils are meant to be used for skin contact not to be burned. Essential oils are very flammable! When subjected to a flame or high heat the chemical make up changes causing explosions and large flames. Additionally breathing in essential oils that are used in candles also causes bronchial issues and allergic reactions or worse. The same results can happen with candles that do not use candle safe fragrance oils too as some oils are only good for certain types of waxes used in various candle types.
When picking a brand to go with that meets these standards consider my company's products - Destinations Scented Candles. Applying my knowledge I use 100% palm wax sourced from RSPO certified plantations in Malaysia, high grade fragrance oils specific for natural waxes, and 100% cotton core wicks which are made in the USA. I guarantee all of my candles and if anyone has any issues whatsoever, they can get a full refund!
Lastly, one of the safest alternatives to burning candles is using wax tarts/melts. Wax melts/tarts are wickless candles where block of scented wax is placed on a dish on top of a wax melter that heats up due to the help of a plug inserted into an electric outlet or tea light so the scent is released into the air. Some wax melters have a flickering light to give the effect of a real flame but without the danger.
Interested in more information about palm wax candles, wax melts and the like, visit the About page for Destinations Scented Candles which contains links to articles and scientific studies on these topics and more.
- Written by Michelle Sholund, owner of Destinations Scented Candles