Blowing in the wind

It is not uncommon to light candles at home, either when there is a power cut or for decorative purposes. But what most people don’t know is that the colourful (and seemingly harmless) candles we use, be it tealights, sticks or the cylindrical ones, pose a threat to our health and environment.

Majority of the candles we use on a regular basis are made from paraffin, a by-product of petroleum refining. It is basically the sludge at the bottom of a barrel of crude oil that has been refined for use. So, not only do they emit carcinogens that slowly destroy the respiratory system, but also cause walls and ceilings of a house to blacken with soot. The overuse of these toxins is also harmful to one’s immediate surroundings.

In reaction to this, many entrepreneurs and crafters are attempting to use alternative forms of wax in candles, like soy wax, bees wax, coconut wax, palm wax and sunflower wax. They not only reduce pollution, but also act as cures for many respiratory diseases. Suman Lata Malik, founder of ‘Indian Earthy Naturals, uses bees wax and soy wax to make candles. “Natural waxes are healthier because there aren’t any harmful toxins in them – even the wick is made out of cotton coated with wax instead of synthetic material. Candles made from bees wax are known to help asthmatic patients as they reduce the pollutants in the air.”

Sumathi Vinod, founder of ‘Niska’, uses palm wax, along with soy and bees wax. She says that although it is difficult to get the waxes in India, it is worth it for the health benefits.
Suman agrees and calls it “labour intensive work”. “I get the bees wax from bee farms around here but they don’t process it. It takes a lot of time to get the wax ready,” she says. Sumathi adds, “I have to put the wax in a double boiler, heat it to a certain temperature and pour it into a metal mould. The mould has to have something sealing the base, so that the wax doesn’t leak, and I use ‘atta’ for this.” While bees wax is available around the City, soy wax is the hardest to find.

While we are used to scented and coloured candles, these aren’t the best either. “Bees wax generally gives out a honey-like scent on its own. Other than that, one can use essential oils instead of fragrants. For some of the tealights, I use lemongrass and citronella, to make them mosquito repellents as well,” says Suman. Manveen Kaur, who also makes organic candles, says, “Ideally, beeswax should not be mixed with colours or scents as it has natural aroma to it.” Though essential oils are better than fragrants, they can be harmful too as the natural properties of the oils change on combustion.

Although healthy, most people are unwilling to use organic candles because they are priced higher. “Organic candles are about two to three times more expensive than paraffin ones, and this is why people are hesitant to buy them. But what they don’t realise is that paraffin candles are generally mass-produced, while these are handmade, one at a time. I spent about 15 to 20 days, trying different permutations and combinations, to come up with good tealights. During Diwali, almost 5,000 were sold, but this buying is restricted to me neighbourhood,” says Suman. Manveen says that the price of bees wax depends on purity.

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