The truth about chemicals used in scented candles, according to a toxicologist

The truth about chemicals used in scented candles, according to a toxicologist
Scented candles are not harmful unless you have chronic lung conditions, according to a pulmonologist.Getty Images
  • Claims that scented candles cause cancer have gone viral on social media.
  • But a toxicologist told Insider concerns that candles emit dangerous chemicals are overblown.

Pine and gingerbread scented candles ring in the holidays — and maybe cancer, according to some social media users.

Toxicologist Yvonnne Burkart went viral on TikTok for sharing five reasons she does not burn candles.

Burkart claims candles, particularly scented ones made of cheap wax, emit the cancer-causing chemicals formaldehyde and benzene to the air; contribute to indoor air pollution; can disrupt the body's hormones; and irritate people with allergies. (Burkart did not respond to Insider's multiple requests for comment.)

Though some of Burkart claims are technically true, another toxicologist and lung doctor said the amount of chemicals released by scented candles won't harm you.

A 2021 study Burkart sourced in her video found candles made of palm oil, animal fat, and paraffin emitted benzene and formaldehyde, two chemicals the US recognizes as cancer-causing.


But Hans Plugge, a toxicologist and principle at the consultancy Safer Chemical Analytics, said the amount of formaldehyde released by candles isn't enough to cause cancer. Formaldehyde is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat. Only lab animals and people who work jobs that expose them to large amount of formaldehyde have gotten cancer through exposure to the chemical, per Plugge and the National Cancer Institute.

"You already eat or ingest things that are carcinogenic and it doesn't cause carcinogenicity," he said. "If you're exposed to very low levels of formaldehyde continuously, you probably won't see any affects."

Burkart also claimed scented candles release "toxic fragrances" that can cause cancer and disrupt the body's hormones, but the toxicologist linked to a survey which did not find evidence scented candles released these kinds of chemicals.

Dr. Sobia Farooq, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, said some research shows hydrocarbons might pose a risk for people living with or in remission from bladder cancer, or with chronic lung conditions, but the vast majority of Americans needn't worry about a pine scented candle.

Burkart suggests boiling fragrant spices and plants instead of using scented candles, but Hans said this alternative can be just as irritating to people with allergies. Chemicals in cinnamon and orange peels appear on the FDA's list of fragrances that are common allergens.


Indoor cooking contributes to air pollution had has a stronger link to respiratory illness more than scented candles, per Farooq.

Farooq said though pulmonologists speculate paraffin wax primarily used in cheap candles could emit more dangerous chemicals in the air, these claims haven't been proven to have adverse health effects. The 2021 study in Burkart's video found paraffin, palm oil, and animal fat candles emitted about the same levels of formaldehyde.

"There is no imminent danger," Farooq said in a release. "You just have to be mindful about investing in high-quality candles and keeping them in well-ventilated areas."