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Scented candles can fill our homes with lovely smells and are popular gifts around the holiday season, but are they safe? When candles burn, they can emit undesired chemicals which can be harmful.

The greatest health concern with candles involves the potential for lead exposure. Metal was originally put in the wicks to help them stay straight as the candle burned. After evidence showed that burning lead-based wicks resulted in increased lead concentrations in indoor air, most candle manufacturers voluntarily stopped using lead-based wicks in the 1970s. Candle wicks manufactured and sold in the United States are required to be lead-free, but that’s not necessarily the case in other countries. Research groups and consumer protection agencies have shown that a small number of candles imported to the U.S. contain lead in the wicks.

Lead wicks aside, burning candles can expose you to potentially hazardous chemicals, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein. Though these chemicals can be dangerous, studies conclude that exposure to these chemicals when burning candles is too low to present a direct health hazard. If you are concerned about chemical exposure, candles made of natural waxes, such as soy or beeswax, are better choices than the more common paraffin wax.

More research needs to be done to better understand candles and any associated health risks. Until product labeling rules are implemented, it is difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are getting.

Tips for Safe Candle Burning

  • Peel apart the wick; if you see metal, find another candle. There are other metals (like zinc) that are used to strengthen wicks, but without proper labeling, there is no way for consumers to know if it is lead or another metal.
  • Choose candles made of natural waxes- such as palm, soy or beeswax.
  • Get rid of candles altogether and freshen the air with essential oils and an electric diffuser.



Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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