Candles have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used reeds soaked in molten tallow made from animal suet for torches, while the Romans developed the wick candle, which made lighting safer and more portable and easier to use for travel at night, in homes and in places of worship.
In the Middle Ages, beeswax was used for candles. Beeswax did not produce the acrid odor or smoke like tallow, instead it burned clean and pure. But, beeswax candles were expensive and few people could afford them.
In the 18th century the most popular form of candle wax was derived from the sperm whale. The whale oil was crystallized into wax. It was harder than beeswax or tallow and did not soften or bend in hot weather.
In the mid 19th century it was discovered that paraffin could be made as a byproduct of the residues of refined petroleum products. It would burn clean and odorless. It was found that stearic acid, made from either animal or vegetable sources, could be added to counter paraffin’s low melting point and thus made it the popular and inexpensive candle we know today.
Comparison of Wax Choices
While paraffin is the most widely used material in the manufacturing of candles, it is not the only, nor necessarily the best choice. Each of the following waxes has their pros and cons.
Paraffin – Paraffin burns cleanly and scent free. While many would deride its relationship to the petroleum industry, paraffin, as it is used in candles, is considered to be biodegradable. Opponents claim that burning paraffin gives off toxic fumes similar to auto exhaust. Though paraffin candles are the least expensive, they also burn faster than other types of candles and need to be restocked more frequently.
Soy – Soy wax is made from hydrogenated soybean oil, leftover from the processing of soy meal and soy products for human consumption (like tofu or soy milk). Soy may be mixed with other waxes for a smoother consistency. One drawback for some is the fact that most soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. If you want a soy candle that meets vegan standards, contains no Genetically Modified Organisms and does not rely on the petroleum industry, look for candles made of 100% organic soy.
Beeswax – Proponents of beeswax claim it burns brighter, longer and cleaner than any other candle wax. They also claim that beeswax is the only candle fuel to produce negative ions, which have been found to improve air quality air, enhance relaxation and even lessen the severity of asthma attacks. Beeswax candles also have a natural scent influenced by the nectar of the flowers the bees feed on. Opponents of beeswax feel that commercially raised bees are often treated badly and forced to overproduce beyond their natural proclivity causing a lot of stress within the hives.
All sources of candle fuel may be scented either with artificial fragrances, essential oils or a combination. Essential oils should be used in therapeutic settings to lessen the chances of allergic reactions in your clients.
Whatever type of candle you choose, perhaps one of the best places to purchase them is at a small, privately owned candle shop, where the candles are handmade and the owners are knowledgeable about the products they sell. It comes down to knowing and having confidence in your sources.
If you choose to have traditional candles in your office or treatment room, here are a few safety precautions:
- Never leave a burning candle unattended and keep it within sight at all times.
- Burning candles should be kept away from any kind of air current such drafts, vents and fans.
- Never put a lighted candle near anything that can catch fire, such as drapes, bedding, carpets, books, papers or wall hangings.
- Always use a container or holder meant for use with candles. A candleholder should be heat resistant, sturdy and large enough to contain any drips.
- Make sure the candle and holder are placed on a stable, heat resistant surface. A candle placed on a table that jiggles every time a truck goes by is not very safe.
- Use a candlesnuffer to put out the flame. Blowing on the candle or using water to put it out may make the hot, melted wax splatter.
- Trim wicks to approximately ¼ inch before lighting. A long wick can cause uneven burning and a sooty flame,
- Make sure your room is well ventilated. Like any flame, a lit candle consumes oxygen, and while one candle in a large room may not pose a problem, many lit candles in a small room can.
Alternatives To Candles
It can get expensive to constantly replace candles. However, there are now many alternatives that can provide soft lighting, therapeutic scents or both.
Flameless Candles – These are usually made out of the same materials as traditional candles, some sort of wax with a wick. The difference is that buried somewhere within or at the base of the candle is a hollowed out space where a battery-operated light is placed. They come in all varieties of shapes and sizes. Some have added fragrances, some are on timers and some come with a remote control. They offer the same ambiance without the dangers.
Scent Diffusers – If you are using scent either therapeutically or as an air freshener, there are several ways to go. Scent diffusers come in many forms. There are light bulb rings in which you can place several drops of fragrance oil. There are steam diffusers and ceramic burners. One of the most popular items used is the reed diffuser, where several absorbent reads or sticks are placed in a small bottle of scented liquid. You can even simply place a few drops of essential oil in a bowl of water. As the water evaporates it will carry the scent with it.
The Final Decision
You may choose to offer soft lighting with candles or low wattage electric lighting. Or, you may choose to create a pleasant, even therapeutic scent in your office with candles or some other scent diffuser. Whatever you decide, always keep the comfort and safety of your clients in mind.
“Beeswax: The Miracle Fuel.” Green Home Environmental Products. 31 Mar 2009 http://www.greenhome.com/info/articles/Beeswax:_The_Miracle_Fuel/142/.
“Beeswax vs Paraffin.” Beeswax Co. LLC. 31 Mar 2009 http://www.beeswaxco.com/beeswaxVsParaffin.htm.
“Candle Safety Rules.” National Candle Association. 31 Mar 2009 www.candles.org/safety_rules.html.
“Elements of a Candle.” National Candle Association. 31 Mar 2009 http://www.candles.org/elements_wicks.html.
“History of Candles.” Candle Comfort. 31 Mar 2009 http://www.candlecomfort.com/historyofcandles.html.
“How is Soy Wax Processed?” Green Scents. 31 Mar 2009 http://greenscents.com.au/pages/soyprocessing.php.