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Every home style vibe — from minimalist modern to rustic country — has one decorative element in common: candles. And they aren’t just pretty accents; candles can create a relaxing atmosphere that transform any room into a sanctuary.

They can also harm your health. The candle industry is unregulated, so there aren’t strict safety guidelines candlemakers need to adhere to. Because of that, most candles on the market are scented with synthetic fragrances that can contain dangerous chemical ingredients. That said, you can find “clean” candles made with natural, unadulterated ingredients that are nontoxic — if you know what to look for.

Below, experts tell how to spot a safe pick:

Natural Wax

Many traditional synthetic candles are made of wax that is chock-full of chemicals. Two of the most common ones found are benzene, which is known to cause cancer, and the neurotoxin toluene, which affects the central nervous system, notes environmental toxin expert Tonya Harris.

Sophia Ruan Gushée, author and host of The Practical Nontoxic Lifestyle podcast, adds: Hormone-disrupting phthalates and paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum, are two other toxic ingredients often used in synthetic candles.

So what type of wax should you look for? Harris recommends soy wax, beeswax or coconut wax. The key is that 100% of the candle is made from these natural waxes, as some companies blend in paraffin wax to make production more cost effective, warns Harris.

A Cotton Wick

Wicks may seem insignificant, but they can be a potential health hazard as well. "Wicks can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including lead," says Gushée.One study discovered that burning traditional candles with lead wicks can result in indoor air concentration of lead above EPA-recommended thresholds. For that reason, Gushée and Harris both recommend buying candles with 100% cotton wicks.

Pure Scents

Any time you see the word "fragrance" on a candle, be wary— even if it's marketed as a clean candle. Why? "Fragrance can contain hundreds of chemicals," says Gushée. Companies are not obligated to disclose all the ingredients that are in their fragrances. (Nuts, right?)

Some people can have an allergic reaction (headaches, rashes, difficulty breathing) to artificial scents in candles, says Harris. “Those who don’t enjoy the fragrance from synthetic candles are probably sensitive to those chemicals," says Gushée, who advises avoiding added coloring dyes for this same reason.

The safest option is an unscented candle, but if you crave an aroma, look for candles that are scented with natural ingredients, such as 100% pure essential oils.

Pro tip: Naturally scented candles may not smell quite as strong as traditional synthetic candles, but there are simple ways to amp up their aroma. Try lighting them in smaller rooms to contain the scent and place them away from air vents and open windows.

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Breathe Easy

Lighting a candle can be a powerful and meaningful part of celebration, meditation, self-care rituals, religious ceremonies and more. But it pays to do your research before hitting "Add to Cart." Look for companies that are transparent about the ingredients they use (especially fragrances), even if the FDA doesn’t hold them to it.

THE WELL's Sun Salutation Candle ticks all the safety boxes — and has a divine mellow citrus scent.

  • 100% plant-based wax (coconut and sustainably harvested palm)
  • Lead-free cotton wick
  • Fragranced with pure essential oils and flower extracts (neroli, bergamot, sweet orange, lemon)
  • Free of parabens, phthalates, petroleum and added color
  • Bonus: You can repurpose the ceramic vessel as a planter, pen holder and more.

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