Are scented candles bad for you? Experts reveal what lighting a candle at home could mean for your health

Is burning scented candles a health hazard? Experts advise whether it’s safe or if you should stop

A group of lit scented candles on a rustic shelf
(Image credit: Future PLC/Maxwell Attenborough)

For many, lighting a scented candle is a part of a wellness ritual helping them relax at the end of a long day. So it’s confusing to say the least when an act of self-care is now said to be potentially posing a health risk. But are scented candles actually bad for you?

There is a lot of information flying around the internet about even the best scented candles being potentially harmful to our health. So to clear things up, we put it to our panel of health professionals to clarify whether we should continue burning candles at home or stop all together. Or is the best practice somewhere in the middle?

Are scented candles bad for you?

It’s important to remember that there are several factors and variables when it comes to the topic of scented candles being a health hazard. 

‘Burning scented candles is generally considered a low health risk for most individuals. When candles are burned, they release particulate matter (soot) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including known carcinogens such as formaldehyde and benzene,’ says Navin Khosla, pharmacist at Now Patient.

‘However, the concentrations of these particles and chemicals in candle emissions are typically minimal, often insufficient to result in a noticeable impact on health.’

Built-in living room shelves displaying lit scented candles and other decorative objects

(Image credit: Future PLC/Richard Gadsby)

He continues, ‘The level of air pollutants and exposure is influenced by factors such as the number of candles burning, ventilation, and proximity to the fumes. In comparison, indoor air pollution from candles is notably lower than that generated by a wood stove.’

But whether scented candles could be harmful to you depends on your health and existing underlying conditions. If you suffer from asthma, allergies or sensitivities to fragrance, then the risk posed to you is much higher. 

‘These compounds can contribute to indoor air pollution, raising the level of particulate matter in the air and increasing the likelihood of experiencing respiratory problems such as allergic reactions and asthma,’ says Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica.

A floral arrangement with lit candles against a patterned wallpaper

(Image credit: Future PLC/Maxwell Attenborough)

Not all candles are created equal

The potential danger of your best home fragrance also depends on the materials it’s made from, particularly what wax was used.

‘Specific types of candles, particularly those crafted from paraffin wax, warrant attention,’ Navin warns. ‘It's essential to acknowledge that paraffin, derived from petroleum, is the predominant wax used in candles and may carry potentially harmful effects. These candles, often more budget-friendly, may contain higher levels of volatile organic compounds, posing a slightly elevated risk.’

Therefore, experts recommend looking to alternative, more natural waxes like soy or beeswax instead.

But Carolina adds, ‘Natural waxes burn cleaner and are less likely to emit harmful chemicals, however, they can still be harmful depending on the wick and fragrances used in them.’

A group of lit scented candles on a rustic shelf

(Image credit: Future PLC/Richard Gadsby)

Why scented candles are more irritating than unscented ones

According to Adnaan Ayoub, professional clinical exercise physiologist and specialist in cancer exercise rehabilitation at Max Health Living, is more worried about the fragrances in the candles over the actual wax.

‘The candle wax itself is less problematic than the lab-created fragrances, which release potentially irritating volatile organic compounds into the air when heated. Therefore, unscented candles are less likely to cause issues. For asthmatics or those with sensitivities, however, any additional source of smoke should still be avoided.’

Claudia Winkleman x Cannaray CBD Power Down CBD Candle

(Image credit: Cannaray CBD)

What are safer ways to fragrance your home?

If you’re wondering how to make your home smell nice safely and without the use of scented candles, then there are some alternative recommendations, which includes using the best reed diffusers.

‘For a safer home fragrance option, consider diffusers using essential oils, which can be a less harmful alternative. Natural potpourri and beeswax candles with cotton wicks can also be effective and healthier ways to add fragrance to your home. The key with any fragrance product is moderation,’ Carolina advises.

Adnaan adds a few more home fragrance alternatives, ‘I typically recommend natural options like fresh flowers, essential oils, opening windows to let fresh air circulate, or using fragrance-free air purifiers. These avoid introducing synthetic chemicals, smoke particles, and lung-aggravating soot to your indoor spaces.’

The bottom line is that as long as you don’t suffer from asthma or other sensitivities, you can keep burning your scented candles at home. But perhaps opt for ones made with natural materials and make sure you use them in moderation and ventilate your home regularly to be safe. 

Sara Hesikova
News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home and interiors. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors. She feels the two are intrinsically connected - if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.