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When you’re stuck at home and managing a lot of stress and emotions, the little things can make a big difference. Lighting an eco-friendly candle or burning some sustainable incense is an affordable way to help ground you when you’re feeling anxious, provide you with a ritual as you set an intention for your day, or create a warm and welcoming environment in your home.
The power of scent is more powerful than we often give it credit for. From an evolutionary standpoint, a negative scent can trigger a fight or flight response, whereas a positive scent (like brownies in the oven) can make us feel safe and calm. Our reactions to scents are often powerful and automatic. (No matter how long it’s been since you broke up, if you walk by someone wearing your ex’s cologne, you’re immediately taken back.)
Plus, fire holds a great deal of significance in most ancient traditions; it can symbolize renewal as we burn away past habits, stories, or relationships that are no longer good for us. And as we struggle to figure out what a “new normal” looks like for us, a small ritual could help as we grieve and let go of the “old normal.”
Or, if you’re not into all that: candles look and smell nice. And that’s enough.
But, it’s important to burn candles that are non-toxic. Most conventional candles are made from paraffin wax, which is also known as petroleum wax. It’s unsustainably sourced and potentially toxic when it’s burned. The actual wicks aren’t much better since it’s not uncommon for them to contain traces of toxic heavy metals, like lead. Most of them contain “fragrances” that companies are not legally obligated to be transparent about so you can’t actually know what’s in them. Plus, there’s often a host of other harmful dyes, phthalates, and other chemicals mixed in, from Acetone to Xylene.
Considering that indoor air pollution can be two to five times higher than outdoor air (partially due to “sick buildings” and lack of air circulation compared to the outdoors), the last thing you want to be doing is burning a candle that might be just as bad as breathing secondhand smoke. Here’s what to look for instead:
Beeswax: Beeswax is perhaps the best option for candles because it’s actually regenerative (and is also the only type of wax that is naturally-occurring). We all know that bees are in big trouble these days (which means our food supply is in big trouble too), so we would do well to support good beekeepers.
Soy: Soy wax candles are good because they are really easy to find and are also vegan. Soy definitely has it’s downfalls—soybeans are often grown using pesticides and there are chemicals involved in turning it to wax. But, it’s still a much better option than paraffin. Go for organic and/or GMO-free soy wax when possible.
Organic Coconut Wax: While a bit harder to find, organic coconut wax is your best bet for vegan wax. It’s a bit more sustainable and cleaner than soy.
Tallow: Sustainably-sourced tallow is another great regenerative option because it comes from pasture-raised cows. But, it is also rare.
Handmade: There is no shortage of candles that are made by hand by people working in safe conditions and being paid a fair wage, whether it’s by women who have been displaced by violence or by regenerative farmworkers in Ireland.
Materials & Packaging: Look for brands that use materials like metal-free cotton wicks, handblown glass jars that can be reused when you’re finished, and recycled cardboard boxes for packaging.
Here are some brands and shops we recommend for eco-friendly and handmade candles and incense:
We aren’t usually huge fans of subscription boxes because they can lead to excess products that we don’t actually need. But, we love the idea of having consciously made candles from small businesses sent each month so that you always have something to burn and brighten up your space. You can choose between three different sizes for your Vellabox, with the smallest one being just $10 per box. Every month, you get to experience new scents curated for the season, and every candle Vellabox sends is made by American artisans out of natural ingredients. Get a subscription for yourself, or gift one to a loved one or essential worker.
SΛM & LΛNCE offers a marketplace of ethically-sourced jewelry, skincare, and home goods made by women around the world. Their soy wax candles from Three Inches High have a dual-layer wooden wick for a long, clean burn. Enjoy luxurious, long-lasting scents while the crackling of these unique wooden wicks helps to create an ambiance of tranquility. Three Inches High grows and harvests their plant materials in their small urban container gardens and their team works diligently to ensure every part of the process is sustainably sourced, naturally formulated, and safe for you and your home.
BLK + GRN carries a variety of eco-friendly candles made by Black artisans. Choose from a variety of soy and organic coconut wax, all of which are plant-based and handcrafted. You can read more about BLK + GRN here.
Herbivore Botanicals carries sustainably crafted and biodegradable incense bundles from a few different artisanal brands. From hand-pressed Palo Santo to grapefruit-infused balsam fir to 300-year old Japanese Hiba wood, these sticks are sure to bring some more mindfulness to your space.
Madison Grace’s Signature Candle is made from 100% sustainable coconut wax blend with a lead-free cotton wick. Each one is hand-poured in California by adults who live with physical and mental disabilities and each candle provides 10 meals to children in need through Feeding America. Each 8 oz candle comes in a reusable glass jar and smells of warm vanilla, luscious cashmere, and fruity fig.
You’ve probably seen P.F. Candles before—they’re a staple at places like Anthropologie and cute boutiques. They are all made with 100% domestically-grown soy wax, fine fragrance oils, and cotton-core wicks. The fragrances they use are paraben-free, phthalate-free, and are never tested on animals. They have non-toxic incense, reed diffusers, and room sprays too.
United By Blue carries a variety of masculine, outdoors-y candles (including a citronella one). Some of them come in mugs, which means you can clean the wax out when you’re finished with your candle and reuse it over and over again. All of their candles are hand-poured in Philadelphia, PA out of GMO-free soy wax and a cotton wick. With each purchased product, United by Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways, and they also proudly hold a B Corp certification.
Earth Hero carries several candle brands like Hyggelight and Sanari Candle. Hyggelight candles are made from 100% pure soy wax that is free of additives, colorants, phthalates, and toxins, it features a lead-free cotton wick, and is hand-poured in small batches in Ohio. Their candles come in a handmade reusable ceramic plant pot, and some include a wildflower seed paper label made from recycled and compostable paper. Sanari Candles contain certified organic essential oils infused with a vegan coconut wax blend, which is then hand-poured into a reusable wine glass in small batches in Los Angeles, California.
Etsy has a great selection of handmade, eco-friendly candles made out of locally sourced ingredients. Check out BeEsom (handpoured in Atlanta Georgia out of locally sourced beeswax), Allie Bee Candle Co. (made out of beeswax from Cato, NY), and Wild Fern (handcrafted in small batches with soy, essential oils, and botanicals).
Untamed Supply makes non-toxic incense sticks made from charcoal, which help to actually clean the air. They don’t contain any additives like dipropylene glycol (DPG), parabean, or phthalate. Their non-toxic candles are made using 100% domestically grown soy wax, fine fragrance oils, cotton-core wicks, and no additives or dyes. They dip, pour, bag, box and stamp each one, all by hand out of paper sourced from a family-owned hydro-electric paper mill and letter press in Kansas City.
Brookfield Farm beeswax candles are hand-dipped and poured from pure natural beeswax directly from their farm hives in Ireland (they buy beeswax from some of their partner beekeepers as well). These candles fit all of the criteria: they are regenerative, organic, zero waste, non-toxic, hand-dipped/poured, and have a biodegradable wick.
Based in England, The Future Kept is a collection of consciously crafted, responsibly, and ethically sourced products for your home and lifestyle. They carry a variety of different candles and incense made from beeswax, soy, charcoal and more.
Summer Solace Tallow is a small, family-owned business dedicated to the production of slow-made, deeply nourishing, organic tallow-based skincare and home goods. Their slow-burning, sustainable tallow candles are crafted with the rendered fat of California pasture-raised cows, locally sourced beeswax, and a hint of evergreen essence.