Dear Daniela: Is Burning Candles Bad For Your Skin?

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,
Is it bad for your skin to burn candles? I love having them at home but I heard somewhere that they can fill the room with 'pollutants', which irritate your skin, or something. Please don’t make me give up my tealight habit!
Alex, 29
I’ve been doing this beauty thing for some time now, so while I’m still an absolute beginner at certain things (false eyelashes, even the magnetic ones – it ain’t happening), I feel pretty sure of myself with most topics. And then, every once in a while, I get a true curveball question, one that challenges what I know about beauty and skincare, and makes me wonder if I really can be sure of what I thought I was sure about. This question is one of those.
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I mean, I love candles, and I genuinely had never considered that they might be bad for anything other than maintaining a totally pristine white wall (soot marks are real). Short of the miasma theory, I was very perplexed about how they could be damaging, but it turns out that it's down to the ingredients in the candles more than anything else.
To break it down, candles can be made up of several kinds of wax, like beeswax or soy, but often they are made of cheaper paraffin wax. A byproduct of petroleum refining, paraffin is often referred to as a 'bottom of the barrel' offering, as even asphalt gets extracted before it does. Unglamorous roots aside, concerns around paraffin wax stem from the pollutants that burning it releases into the air, including some known carcinogens like benzene – a liquid chemical. According to Dr Johanna Ward, founder of Zenii, this substance constitutes indoor air pollution. Obviously, there are far more pressing concerns than your skin in that scenario, but as you can imagine, this particulate matter is also not great for your skin. Interestingly, board-certified dermatologist Dr Murad links particulate matter (as well as UVA/UVB rays, infrared and high energy visible blue light) to skin bugbears such as wrinkles, inflammation and a weakened skin barrier.
Another culprit with candles can be synthetic fragrances or colourants, which can irritate the skin if you’re more of a sensitive, reaction-prone skin type. I couldn’t find any dedicated clinical trials that showed concrete disturbance, but it’s something to bear in mind if you do spend a lot of time burning candles.
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The other thing (did you ever think you’d know so much about the anatomy of a candle? Are you excited to bust out these fun facts at your next dinner party?) is the wick. Some brands use what’s called a 'cored' wick, which is when the cotton is wrapped around something else like metal. The soot produced is terrible for your lungs, and the aforementioned white wallpaper – just ask any Victorian chimney sweep.
Illustrated by Olivia Santner
If you're concerned about any of these factors, you don’t need to swear off candles altogether. You just have to avoid artificial fragrances, paraffin and cored wicks (you can tell if a wick is cored by lightly pressing it), and that’s actually not very hard to do. Aromatherapy Associates and NEOM Organics do beautiful candles made from soy and vegetable waxes respectively. My favourite are probably Cocolux, which – as the name suggests – are made from coconut oil. Housed in copper tins that you’ll definitely want to rinse out and keep for storing trinkets, they smell utterly delicious and burn for such a long time.
Good luck!
Daniela
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email deardaniela@refinery29.uk, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.
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