Autumn is the time of big teacups, soft and comforting scarves (wool-free, of course) and all things cosy. Scented candles are a key element in the autumnal atmosphere – they help create an inviting ambiance that instantly upgrades any home. But what many of you may not know, as you light the wick and inhale the fragrance, is that not all scented candles are made equal – and many are not vegan or cruelty free. Here's what to avoid, and how to choose vegan and plant-based candles for a natural, cruelty-free home.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
Why to Avoid Beeswax
Bees are a crucial component of our environment – through the process of pollination, they are integral to helping plants grow, thus preserving ecosystems. Even so, bees are routinely mistreated in industries that use them, which includes honey (not even all vegans are aware of the exploitation and damage behind honey) and beeswax. The latter is obtained by melting, straining and cooling honeycomb, and is a frequently used component in more upscale scented candles.
Many people who don't consume dairy are conscious of the ways in which cows are abused in the dairy industry. But not many are aware of the fact that some of the exact same things happen to bees – including artificial insemination through a miniature version of the “rape rack” used by farmers to inseminate cows. Often, farmers cut off the queen bee's wings to prevent her from leaving the colony – and if she is moved to a new colony, “bodyguard” bees accompany her, but if they survive transport, they will be killed by the bees in the new colony. Many bees are also killed, or lose their wings and legs, by haphazard handling.
Let's also remember that honey is something that bees make for themselves, to give them strength and energy to survive the winter. But at commercial bee farms, when honey is taken from the bees, it's replaced with a sugar substitute, which doesn't have all the nutrients that bees need.
In short, if you care about cows, pigs, fish and chickens, it also makes sense to care about bees. But if you avoid beeswax, does that mean that you need to use the most common alternative, which is paraffin? You might not want to: a study at the University of South Carolina found that paraffin wax can give off harmful fumes linked to diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. Paraffin is quite low-priced, which is why many brands use it instead of beeswax. But vegan friendly candles that are kind to both animals and your health do exist. Look instead to the benefits of soy wax candles.
Vegan & Plant Based Candles
The most popular alternative are soy wax candles. Used by brands such as The Nomad Society, soy wax candles are a natural option for those who don't want to use beeswax or paraffin. Petroleum-free soy wax candles are made from a renewable resource – soya – which makes them infinitely kinder to the planet than paraffin, with the added bonus that no bees or other animals were exploited in the production process. A word of warning: soy wax can derive from GMO crops, so if you are wary about that, choose a brand that uses GMO-free soy wax, like The Nomad Society. Another great choice are the delicately scented soy candles offered by ANI Skincare – handmade locally in the Cotswolds, these soy candles use pure essential oils to create atmospheric aromas.
Although some candles can be toxic, choosing a soy candle made from eco-friendly materials is completely safe and is much better than the wax alternatives.
Another vegan wax option is coconut wax. An all-around winner, coconut wax is free from the GMO concerns of soy, toxic effects of paraffin and animal cruelty of beeswax. Coconut wax has a clean, slow burn with a burn time that is often longer than that of other waxes.
Coconut wax is sometimes blended with other waxes, such as vegetable wax from different plant sources. Vegetable-blend waxes often carry at least one oil, such as rapeseed oil, and sometimes soy in a process that solidifies oil into wax. Brands like Sun.day of London and Lola's Apothecary create fragrant vegan candles (in gorgeous packaging) using a blend of plant waxes that outperform paraffin and rival soy.
Scented candles are a great way to elevate any environment – and today, vegan friendly candle options are abundant, luxurious and eco-friendly.
By Sascha Camilli
About Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is the founder of the world's first digital vegan fashion magazine, Vilda Magazine and the host of fashion podcast Catwalk Rebel. She was selected as one of Glamour UK's Most Empowering Nu-Gen Activists and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of vegan fashion and material innovation. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, read our interview with her here.
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