7 Health Issues Caused by Chemicals Found In Paraffin Wax

7 Health Issues Caused by Chemicals Found In Paraffin Wax

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Updated: 5/13/2022

You might have heard that many of the mainstream candles you’ve grown to love aren’t all that good for you. Depending on its wax base and added ingredients, this might be true. For instance, many people are unaware of the chemicals in paraffin-based wax and what potentially toxic health effects can occur when you breathe them in.

Today we’ll clear the air about what paraffin wax is, answer the burning question of “Is paraffin wax toxic?”, share common health issues caused by paraffin chemicals, and introduce you to healthier alternatives you can use to replace those not-so-good-for-you fragrances.

Is Paraffin Wax Toxic?

Paraffin wax is commonly used to make candles and wax melts because it is generally cheaper to produce than soy wax. Since paraffin wax is derived from petroleum, coal, or shale oil, it has been found to contain known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) such as benzene. CNN reports that researchers at South Carolina State University found that melting paraffin wax-based candles emitted toxic toluene and benzene, while soy candles & wax did not.

Toluene is a colorless, water-insoluble liquid that occurs naturally in crude oil. It is emitted from gasoline fumes, vehicle exhausts, and cigarette smoke. Toluene is used as a solvent to make paint products, nail polish, lacquers, glue, and adhesives. Benzene is also a colorless liquid derived from natural gas & crude oil that is used as a solvent. 

Let’s discuss the health detriments associated with exposure to toluene and benzene found in paraffin candles.

7 Potential Health Issues Caused By Chemicals Found in Paraffin Wax

#1. HEADACHES

Have you ever brought out your favorite scented candle, hoping to unwind after a long day at work, only to find that after lighting the candle, you started getting painful headaches or migraines? If your candle is made of paraffin wax, the headache could be because of the toluene found in the paraffin. 

The chemical toluene found in paraffin wax mainly affects the central nervous system in the brain. Toluene enters your body when it evaporates into the air that you breathe.

According to The Department of California’s Hazard Communication Standard/OSHA regulation, toluene can cause damage to the central nervous system, resulting in headaches, nausea, dizziness, and insomnia. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also reports that even the mildest level of exposure to toluene can cause frequent headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

OSHA reports exposure to toluene can cause headaches.

#2. CANCER

The American Cancer Society reports that benzene is known to cause cancer. Rates of leukemia—particularly acute myeloid leukemia—have been found to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil-refining industries. 

Some studies by the American Cancer Society also suggest links to childhood leukemia, as well as acute lymphocytic leukemia and other blood-related cancers in adults. The American Cancer Society also reports that benzene has been shown to cause chromosome changes in bone marrow cells in the lab. 

The National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is formed from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has also classified benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen.”

The American Cancer Society reports benzene is a known carcinogen.  

#3. KIDNEY DAMAGE

The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that toluene exposure through inhalation or skin contact can cause long-term damage to the kidneys. When you breathe toluene, it is taken directly into your blood from your lungs. Following absorption, toluene is rapidly distributed throughout the body.

The National Institute of Health reports exposure to toluene can cause kidney damage. 

#4. BIRTH DEFECTS

Inhalation of toluene—and subsequent distribution throughout the bloodstream—can also cause effects to the fetus in pregnant women. According to the Administration of Public Health in England, toluene can cross the placenta and is found in the fetus at concentrations of approximately 75% of that present in the maternal blood. 

According to the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health (NIH), a number of case reports describe neonatal effects that have been attributed to toluene abuse during pregnancy. What’s more, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that exposure to toluene during pregnancy can cause growth retardation, premature delivery, congenital malformations, and postnatal developmental retardation. 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene. 

#5. BONE MARROW DAMAGE

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), excessive exposure to benzene has been known for more than a century to damage the bone marrow, resulting in decreasing numbers of circulating blood cells and, ultimately, anemia. The American Cancer Society reports that benzene has been shown to cause chromosome changes in bone marrow cells in the lab. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also reports that benzene works by causing cells not to work correctly. For example, it can cause bone marrow not to produce red blood cells, which can lead to anemia.

The CDC reports that exposure to benzene can cause changes to bone marrow cells. 

#6. RESPIRATORY ISSUES

Just like South Carolina State University reported earlier, OSHA also reports that you can be exposed to toluene by breathing it in. OSHA then states that repeated exposure to toluene can cause respiratory depression

Acute exposure to toluene vapor can irritate the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. With repeated exposure, the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry reports that accumulation of fluid in the lungs and respiratory arrest may ensue.

OSHA reports that exposure to toluene can cause respiratory issues.


#7. NAUSEA

Paraffin wax is the nasty by-product of gas and oil refineries with potentially severe consequences. Researchers at South Carolina State University found that two harmful chemicals, toluene & benzene, are released into the air when melting paraffin wax-based candles.  

The Centers for Disease Control performed a study that found that chronic toluene exposure at less than 200 parts per million (ppm) has been associated with headache, fatigue, and nausea. Workers repeatedly exposed at 200 to 500 ppm have reported a loss of coordination, memory, and appetite.

Are Wax Melts Toxic?

Like candles, wax melts may be considered toxic or non-toxic depending on their wax base and additional ingredients. For instance, while paraffin wax is known to contain cancer-causing chemicals, vegetable waxes (think soy and coconut) and beeswax are sustainable, naturally sourced options considered safe for your health. 

Fill Your Space With Happy Wax Soy Wax Melts

If there’s one thing that we pride ourselves on here at Happy Wax, it’s the fact that our wax melts are made with 100% all-natural soy wax, free of parabens, phthalates, and paraffins, and known to be a non-toxic, sustainable, and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional paraffin wax melts and candles. 

Rather than emitting chemicals like paraffin-based products, our plant-based soy wax melts are made with high-quality essential oils that are non-toxic when used as instructed and can actually help clean the air of toxins!

Shop Happy Wax wax melts today to find the go-to aromas you can feel confident using in your home or office.

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written by

Katie Zimmerman

Katie Zimmerman is the Marketing Manager at Happy Wax headquartered in Hillsborough, NC. Katie brings 15+ years of marketing experience and a passion for making luxury soy wax melts accessible to everyone. When Katie isn’t hard at work, you can find her filling her home with her favorite Happy Wax scents Vanilla Sandalwood and Pine Forest, traveling the world, volunteering at her alma mater, and encouraging her two young children to try new things.