When I was writing my book, Vegan Style, the chapter on vegan home décor brought many questions: is furniture not vegan? What about accessories for the home? Or…scented candles?
Everyone’s favourite home accessories, scented candles, are not all made equal. What my readers were unaware of is that some “luxury” candles on the market today are made from a very non-vegan ingredient: beeswax.
The main tenet of being a vegan is caring about the rights of all animals to live a life free from oppression. It logically follows for most vegans that if you care about cows, pigs, fish and chickens, then you would also care about bees. Even though they are an incredibly important part of our environment, bees are commonly mistreated in the industries that use them. By partaking in the process of pollination, bees help plants grow, which preserves ecosystems. If they disappeared, we would be in serious trouble. This does not stop humans from exploiting them for products such as honey and beeswax.
Related Post: 10 Ways to Protect Bees and Safeguard Food Security
Beeswax is made by melting, straining and cooling honeycomb, the wax that bees build to store honey and pollen. Bees exploited by humans are subjected to many of the same things that happen to cows on dairy farms – one of them is artificial insemination, using a miniature version of the “rape rack” used to inseminate cows. Haphazard handling by farmers also means that often, bees’ wings and legs are torn off. Commonly the queen bee’s wings are cut off to prevent her from leaving the colony. If the queen is moved to a new colony, “bodyguard” bees join her, but if they survive transport, bees in the new colony are likely to attack and kill them.
Okay so no more beeswax then – so what makes a candle vegan? Unfortunately, the most common beeswax-free option for scented candles is paraffin, which is cheaper than beeswax and therefore more commonly used. But it might not be the safest choice when it comes to human health: a study at the University of South Carolina found that paraffin wax can diffuse fumes linked to illnesses like asthma and lung cancer.
Luckily, there are options on the market that don’t involve beeswax or paraffin. Soya wax is perhaps the most prominent one – a natural, petroleum-free option, it comes from a renewable resource which makes it more eco-friendly than paraffin, and certainly healthier. No animals had to die for soya wax, but best to look out for GMO-free wax, as some of it can be made from GMO crops. Many luxurious candles from upscale eco-friendly brands are made from this natural wax.
Another wax that’s gaining traction is wax made from coconuts. A fully vegan product, coconut wax doesn’t come with any of the GMO issues tied to soy, is non-toxic (so it beats paraffin) and is of course free from the cruelty of beeswax. Added bonus: it often has a longer burn time than other waxes.
Sometimes, coconut wax is blended with other plant-derived materials to make up what is generally referred to as “vegetable wax”. This kind of blend often contains different oils and is commonly also mixed with soy. House of Medicinals a wellness brand specialising in eco-friendly, plant-based bath and body products produces a range of pure essential oil candles made from natural soy and coconut oil wax. Outperforming paraffin wax, this is another winner for the plant-based candle lover.
As vegan living grows in popularity, interest for areas beyond food will increase – and companies offering vegan (and planet-friendly) versions of items like scented candles are certain to gain ground.
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Cover image by Mathilde Langevin.