Bath and Body Works is a popular store that has been around since 1990 and sells gloriously scented personal pampering products—everything from skincare to candles. It would be hard to find a household in the United States that doesn’t have (or has never had) a Bath and Body Works body wash, lotion, or scented candle.
Candles from Bath and Body Works make popular gifts and are well known for providing a warm ambiance and a beautiful fragrance throughout the home. But it seems there may be a sinister presence lurking in the shadows… or should we say in the air?
When burning BBW candles in the house, there are chemicals emitted that can be potentially hazardous to one’s health, especially for children, pets, and others who are more sensitive or vulnerable to these chemicals.
Let’s delve a little deeper to answer the question: are Bath and Body Works candles toxic? Can they be bad for you, your kids, or your pets?
IN A NUTSHELL:
- Bath & Body Works candles are made primarily from paraffin wax. When burned, they release particulate matter and VOCs, which include toxic BTEX chemicals.
- Bath & Body Works is not transparent about what ingredients are included in their candle “fragrances.” There are ~4,000 different chemicals that could be included under this umbrella, including hormone disruptors like phthalates.
- In addition to paraffin wax and mystery fragrances, Bath & Body Works candles also contain other additives like dyes and stabilizers, some of which are linked to health concerns.
- Some populations are more vulnerable to the short- and long-term effects of scented candles, but the indoor air pollution created by most conventional candles is not great for anyone’s health. While many of the environmental toxins around us are out of our control, avoiding candles (or choosing to burn cleaner ones) is one thing consumers can actually do to reduce their expsoure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, carcinogens, and allergens.
Table of Contents
- IN A NUTSHELL:
- The Bath & Body Works Brand (Is It Greenwashing?)
- A Closer Look at Bath and Body Works Candle Ingredients
- #1. The Wax
- What Is a Paraffin Candle? Is Paraffin Wax Toxic?
- What Are Vegetable Wax Candles Made Out Of?
- #2. The Fragrance
- Are There Phthalates In My Bath and Body Works Candle?
- #3. Other Additives
- #4. The Wick
- Scented Candles, Particulate Matter, and PAHs
- Who Would Be Most Affected By The Toxins From Burning Candles?
- Are White Barn Candles Toxic?
- Are There Safer Options To Bath And Body Works Candles?
- Ways To Make Burning Candles Safer In Your Home:
- TL;DR: Are Bath And Body Works Candles Toxic?
First, a Quick Note:
We recognize that Bath & Body Works is one of those brands to which many people feel loyal. Maybe you have been using and loving Bath & Body Works products for years, and you might find comfort and joy in the scents they offer and the memories associated with them. Our goal is not to take away those joys, but simply to provide you with some information so that you can decide what’s best for yourself and your family. These days, so many people are dealing with things like asthma & allergies, autoimmune conditions, chemical sensitivities, cancer, and other chronic illnesses, which can be caused or exacerbated by the ingredients in our personal care and home products. We believe consumers deserve to know what’s actually in the products they buy and to be empowered to avoid them if they choose.
The Bath & Body Works Brand (Is It Greenwashing?)
First, a quick history about the brand…
Bath and Body Works was introduced in the 1990s as a bath and beauty line in Express clothing stores. Within a year, the company opened its own storefronts, but the product packaging and coloring were very similar to The Body Shop‘s bath products. This similarity made some people at The Body Shop upset enough to file a lawsuit. So, the Bath and Body Works “heartland” theme was born and, along with it, the fictional country girl “founder,” Kate.
Kate comes with a whole (fictional) backstory: she grew up on a farm where she made skincare from fresh ingredients, she was a biology major in college, and she eventually grew up to provide homemade beauty products to customers through Bath and Body Works stores. Kate was the “conscience” behind the brand and the embodiment of country goodness, nature-based products, and solid values.
Most shoppers were not aware of the “Kateness” behind the brand, but employees were trained in the lore of who she was and the values she stood for. Her customers were to be treated as guests. Even the stores were decorated as “Kate’s” welcoming country home, with red and white gingham, wooden barrels, and styled with a country living feeling.
Although you probably don’t even think about it when you visit a Bath & Body Works store these days, back in the ‘90s, it was really quite innovative to be able to go into a store and sample all of the products while browsing around without pressure to buy.
While it may not seem like it matters that much, “Kate’s” story might be considered by some to be an example of greenwashing—how brands use “nature-inspired” branding to discretely communicate to consumers that their products are “natural” and “non-toxic,” when that may not truly be the case.
A Closer Look at Bath and Body Works Candle Ingredients
What kinds of candles does Bath & Body works sell, and what are they actually made of?
There are four main components to Bath & Body Works candles that we’ll take a look at:
- The Wax
- The Fragrance
- Other Additives
- The Wick
#1. The Wax
Let’s start with the wax. There are two main types of wax Bath & Body Works uses for their candles: vegetable and paraffin.
The brand says their “Signature Collection Candles” are paraffin-free and contain a blend of vegetable and soy wax. The website states: “Our Signature Collection Candles are considered vegetable wax candles,” however, they don’t indicate what kind of vegetable wax is used. They do state that soy is used, but they cannot be considered soy candles.
The only problem: we can’t find their paraffin-free Signature Collection Candles on the website.
For the sake of being thorough, I opened a chat directly on Bath and Body Works’ website, and I requested the Customer Service Representative to direct me to the candles without paraffin. Unfortunately, they were not able to point us to any paraffin-free candles and we have not received any follow-up information from them since.
Instead of being paraffin-free, the primary formula they use in the majority of their candles is a combination of hydrogenated soybean oil, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated palm oil. Over 40 ingredient descriptions were perused throughout writing this article, and none were found that didn’t contain paraffin. (If you ever find any BBW paraffin-free candles, please let us know!)
For now, anyway, it appears that Bath & Body Works does not actually carry any paraffin-free candles.
What Is a Paraffin Candle? Is Paraffin Wax Toxic?
Paraffin is a petroleum-based wax. It is made from refined slack wax, which is the direct by-product of petroleum oil refinement (or shale oil or coal). This slack wax contains high oil levels, and once it is thoroughly refined, the oil content is lower and becomes paraffin wax.
Almost all petroleum-derived products come with some sort of health risk, especially when they build up in the body over a long period of time. When paraffin wax candles are burned, they release toxic BTEX chemicals: benzene (a carcinogen), toluene (a reproductive toxin), ethylbenzene (also a carcinogen), and xylene (an irritant). Together, these chemicals can also cause things like headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, and problems with neurological and immune function.
So in short, burning paraffin candles is basically like burning fossil fuels in your home… it’s not good for your body or the environment.
To make the rest of the candle, the paraffin wax is mixed with synthetic fragrance, synthetic glosses, chemical fixatives, colorants, and a wick (which may be made from wire, cotton, and/or wood).
What Are Vegetable Wax Candles Made Out Of?
This one is a little misleading. A “vegetable” wax candle is actually not made from vegetables, but rather other plant oils such as soy, coconut, palm, rapeseed, and sunflower, to name a few.
Simply put, the oils from these plants are treated with hydrogen gas so that the oils become saturated fatty acids with a higher melting point. When combined with a few other ingredients, these oils then become the “vegetable” wax blend that’s used in many conventional candles.
The “vegetable” part of Bath & Body Works’ wax blends are mostly hydrogenated soybean oil and hydrogenated palm oil. Though these types of wax are generally considered healthier then paraffin in terms of what’s emitted while they’re being burned, palm and soybean oil/wax are not the most sustainable options, as they can both contribute to deforestation.
#2. The Fragrance
The next major ingredient to consider in Bath & Body Works scented candles is the fragrance.
The problem here is that the laws around the labeling of “fragrance” ingredients are different from what is required for all other ingredients. In what is known as the “fragrance loophole,” companies are legally allowed to withhold the actual ingredients in “fragrance” because they’re protected as “industry secrets.”
The label of “fragrance” (or “parfum”) is actually an umbrella term. Even though it’s listed as a single entity on the product label, it can actually be comprised of so many things. There are about 4,000 chemicals that can be generically labeled “fragrance,” and that one word can consist any number of them at one time.
Some of those 4,000 chemicals are natural and others are synthetic. Some are perfectly safe while others are known hormone disruptors, allergens, and carcinogens. They include things like phthalates (more on that below), limonene, petroleum distillates, alcohol, esters, and more. Many essential oils are included on that list, too.
When one word can represent several thousand ingredients, consumers have been denied the opportunity to make an informed decision. How can one know if what they are bringing into their home may hurt them, their family, or their pets if they can’t actually figure out what’s in the product?
Plus, to make matters worse, while some of these volatile organic compounds are not only toxic on their own, they react to the ozone in the air in these confined spaces in our house and create a secondary pollutant, formaldehyde.
Are There Phthalates In My Bath and Body Works Candle?
Consumers can’t actually know for sure whether or not Bath & Body Works candles contain phthalates because this is one of the chemical categories that can be hidden under the “fragrance” label.
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are a class of chemicals that are used in many different consumer products. They are commonly used as plasticizers as well as in fragrance products for various purposes.
Phthalates help fragrance bond to the candle wax and allow the scent to linger. According to EWG research in 2002, over 70% of products with “fragrance” on the label have phthalates hidden in the product.
DEP (Diethyl Phthalate) and DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate) are solvents that help to extend the scent(s) in the fragrance oil and reduce brittleness, respectively. However, these chemicals are toxic. They are known endocrine disruptors that are linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity and cancer.
The problem here is that consumers have essentially no way of knowing whether or not their Bath & Body Works candles have phthalates in them or not, since they would mostly likely be hidden under the umbrella term of “fragrance” and therefore not actually listed on the label.
Those who would prefer to play it safe may want to avoid candles, personal care products, air fresheners, and cleaning products that do not transparently list all of their and/or are not explicitly “phthalate-free.”
#3. Other Additives
If you start digging through the ingredient lists on the candles, you’ll not only find paraffin wax and “fragrance,” but a lot of other synthetic additives as well. These include things like BHT (which is linked to various health concerns), other allergens (like linalool and hexyl cinnamal), and dyes.
Of course, not all of these additives are toxic chemicals. But these longer (and hard to find) ingredient lists just make it more difficult for consumers to know whats in their products in order to decide if they want to use them.
#4. The Wick
Good news here! Bath & Body Works does not use lead in their candle wicks.
In 2003, The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the manufacture and sale of lead core wicks and candles with lead-cored wicks.
The ban is also supposed to cover manufacturing and importing candles with lead-cored wicks; however, several imports from China and Mexico with candle wicks still contain lead. So to be safe, always be sure to read the label and know where your candle was manufactured.
Scented Candles, Particulate Matter, and PAHs
When candles are lit, they begin to release particulate matter (PM), which contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These particulates are released into the room as indoor air pollution, with the potential to lead to oxidative stress, cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and more. Since paraffin candles are petroleum products, this form of indoor pollution is consistent with fuel exhaust and cigarette smoke.
Volatile organic compounds are potentially harmful chemicals (depending on the specific one) that vaporize at room temperature. Not only are they in candles, but they’re also present in lots of other products in our home, including furniture, paint, and carpeting. These gases in the air can cause headaches, irritation, and allergic reactions. You can read more about VOCs here.
This type of particulate pollution happens within the home when paraffin wax candles are burned. One could certainly argue that the amount of PM released from a paraffin wax candle is going to be much smaller than the amount released from, say, a diesel truck. However, paraffin candles are most often burned in closer quarters and without adequate air circulation.
(Conscious consumers will also want to consider the cumulative impact of breathing in all of the air pollution around them. Even if the amount of PM from one candle is small, we are also inhaling PM from a lot of other sources throughout our days. While we have limited control over most of those sourced, candles are one thing we are actually able to make decisions about.)
Do Bath And Body Works Soy Candles Produce Less Soot?
This question is asked quite often. Are soy candles better than paraffin when it comes to indoor air pollution?
Let’s start with a quick breakdown on soot. As candle wax melts, the wick draws the liquified wax up. Then wax then reacts with the flame, which provides the energy to keep the wick burning. The flame/heat causes the carbon in the wax to react with the oxygen in the air. This chemical reaction creates carbon dioxide and water vapor in the form of steam.
If the candle isn’t burning “clean” because the chemical reaction is incomplete (some of those carbon atoms are not burned), they are released into the air with the water vapor in the form of black smoke, or soot.
Black soot particles can be ultrafine; the size and makeup are similar to diesel exhaust. This particulate matter penetrates deeply into the lungs and is absorbed into the bloodstream. As we noted above, PM is associated with allergies and asthma, but it can also contribute to other respiratory diseases, heart attacks, and even cancer.
So do Bath and Body Works soy candles produce less soot? Well, currently on their website, they are not actually offering “soy” candles, per se. As of the time of publication, every candle ingredient list on their website showed “evenly meltingsoy wax blend.”
As mentioned previously, the “soy wax” blend for each candle contained these three ingredients in the following order: hydrogenated soybean oil, paraffin, and hydrogenated palm oil. Soy wax is reported to burn “cleaner,” but in this case, these three waxes are mixed, and paraffin is not a clean-burning wax.
Not only that, but according to the EPA, it is also well established that waxes with more fragrances produce more soot. This is what BBW candles are known for—the fragrance.
So the short answer is no, Bath & Body Works’ “soy” candles do not produce less soot.
Who Would Be Most Affected By The Toxins From Burning Candles?
The majority of migraine sufferers will likely tell you that heavy scents or perfumes can trigger an attack. Some people can’t even go down a laundry detergent aisle in a supermarket or step into a Bath and Body Works store because they are sensitive to fragrances.
These fragrances and VOCs can affect asthmatics, the elderly, and children because they can be more susceptible to the effects of burning candles. The EWG warns asthma sufferers: “…fragrance formulas are considered to be among the top 5 known allergens, and can trigger asthma attacks.”
Anyone sensitive to pollutants, chemicals, or fragrances, as well as immunocompromised individuals can have adverse reactions to candles and other scented products. (And let’s not forget our four-legged family members; they may show signs of distress as well.)
Symptoms To Look For When Burning Candles:
Burning Bath and Body Works highly scented candles can trigger allergic reactions and acute symptoms. These can include:
- sore throat
- itchy and watery eyes
- blocked nasal passages
- itchy skin
- asthma-like conditions
If you have respiratory allergies or asthma and are sensitive to these fragrances, you can experience more severe reactions.
Of course, these are only the short-term and immediate potential effects of candles; this doesn’t take into consideration the longterm effects of inhaling endocrine disrupting chemicals and carcinogens, as discussed above.
Are Burning Candles Bad For Dogs?
Burning toxic candles can have several different effects on your pets. Many fragrance oils are irritating and harmful to dogs, such as cinnamon, citrus (d-limonene), peppermint, tea tree, and pine to name a few. You also may have to consider that the scent may be appealing to your dog, and it could try to eat the candle (which would be bad).
Just keep in mind when you light a candle, if your pet begins sneezing, itching, rubbing its face on the floor or furniture, scratching its face or muzzle, shaking its head, or acting crazier than usual, I think it’s time to put the candle out. Try to ventilate the area right away and don’t be afraid to call your vet if you’re worried.
Are White Barn Candles Toxic?
White Barn and Body & Body Works are actually owned by the same company, and all of the above can be applied to White Barn candles as well. White Barn’s candles tend to have more of a classic and neutral aesthetic to them, but when it comes to the wax, fragrances, and lack of transparency, it’s all the same.
Therefore, White Barn unfortunately cannot be considered non-toxic either.
Are There Safer Options To Bath And Body Works Candles?
Even if you buy an unscented candle that doesn’t contain harmful fragrance chemicals, it’s still likely to be paraffin-based. The good news is that there are plenty of safer alternatives to use instead of Bath & Body Works candles.
The three most commonly used types of wax that are more eco-friendly and non-toxic than paraffin are soy, coconut, and beeswax. You can read all about why these are better options in our ultimate guide to non-toxic candles.
Good: Soy Wax Candles
Click here for our recommendations for the best non-toxic soy candles.
Better: Coconut Wax Candles
Coconut wax has its pros and cons, which you can read more about in our guide to non-toxic coconut candles right here.
Best: Beeswax Candles
If you’d like to go with beeswax candles, here are our picks for the best non-toxic and sustainable brands.
Ways To Make Burning Candles Safer In Your Home:
If you just aren’t convinced yet and want to hold on to your favorite Bath and Body Works candle even though it could be toxic, here are a couple tips to help reduce VOCs and burn your candles more cleanly:
- Always cut your wick to ⅛ inch before you use it (each time)
- Remove any “mushroom” wick ends and do not allow them to fall into the wax.
- Burn candles in open spaces with good ventilation (but not drafty).
- Do not put a candle in a high-traffic area.
- Make sure no fans or A/C vents are affecting the flame.
- Keep the candle out of the reach of little ones.
- Don’t place a candle where a four-legged furniture fumble could occur.
- Instead of blowing it out, use a candle snuffer or lid to extinguish. (Or take it outside to blow out, but don’t blow directly into candle)
- Use a high-quality air purifier.
TL;DR: Are Bath And Body Works Candles Toxic?
Due to the fact that they are made primarily of paraffin wax, contain other petroleum-based additives, and are not transparent about what’s actually in their fragrances, Bath & Body Works candles unfortunately cannot be considered non-toxic.
On a daily basis, we are exposed to a toxic load in our homes from off-gassing furniture, cleaners, perfumes, radiation, and more. Any time you can find a way to reduce harmful exposures with easy “use this, not that” options, it just makes sense!
As consumers today, we don’t have to be at the mercy of fancy advertising and seductive scents. Ultimately, you will have to make your decisions on what is best for you and your family and pets.