Last Updated on August 25, 2022 by The Filtery Staff

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 candles.  

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 Bath and Body Works candles in the house, there are chemicals and other ingredients emitted that can be hazardous and even toxic to your health. Many of these substances can affect people and pets who are sensitive to these chemicals.  

Fortunately, there are alternative options available for deodorizing the air in your home without resorting to harmful fragrances and chemicals, so you don’t have to risk exposing yourself or those you love.

Let’s delve a little deeper to answer the question: are Bath and Body Works candles bad for you? A little background first… 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.

Who Is Bath & Body Works And Where Is “Kate?”

The Bath and Body Works brand 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 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 back 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 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.

What Kinds Of Candles Does Bath And Body Works Sell? What Are They Actually Made Of?

There are two main types of wax Bath & Body Works uses for their candles: vegetable and paraffin. (We’ll talk more about paraffin in a minute.)

Apparently, the brand’s “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 (who was named Chloe) to direct me to the candles without paraffin. Tik tok, tik tok… a much longer than expected wait time. 

Then, she very cheerfully replied that she had sent the question to customer care and they would call me to talk to me about the products that do not contain paraffin. Uh, no. I asked for an answer via email instead, which she graciously granted but insisted that a last name be provided to receive a response. 

Trying again, I politely asked, couldn’t she, the Bath and Body Works online representative, please just explain where to find the paraffin-free “Signature Candle Collection?” A very terse, “I’ve sent your question up, and you will be contacted by email with a list of the products that are without paraffin.”


As of today, there has been no email response…Tik tok, tik tok. (I’ll be sure to update this article when or if I get one.)

The primary formula they use in the majority of their candles is a combination of hydrogenated soy 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.

What Is A Paraffin Candle?

A paraffin candle contains… well, paraffin wax. 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 chemicals like benzene and toluene, which are known carcinogens and can also cause headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, and birth defects.

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 candle, the paraffin wax is mixed with synthetic fragrance (some not even meant for burning), synthetic glosses, chemical fixatives, colorants, and wire/cotton, wood, or 100% cotton wicks. 

[P.S. You know what else paraffin wax is used for? Crayons.]

What Is A “Vegetable” Wax Candle?

This answer might surprise you! 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.

bath and body works candles ingredients

What Makes A Bath And Body Works Candle Toxic?

The toxicity part of Bath And Body Works candles starts with paraffin wax (as mentioned above), although it doesn’t end there. Other chemicals and synthetic ingredients that make those candles smell so lovely and look so pretty also add to the chemical cocktail of air pollutants. Beyond the decorative aspect of a pretty candle sitting on your coffee table, we all enjoy the warm glow, gentle flicker, and pleasing fragrances of candles, especially Bath and Body Works candles… but at what cost?

The reality is that no matter how “clean” a candle is, the whole purpose of a candle is to burn it. That means whatever is in that candle is being released into the air.

Believe me, candles with paraffin in them are not something you want to own or burn in your home, even if it is a glorious smelling Bath and Body Works candle. Candles made from paraffin wax have been shown to release toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

If you’re burning it, you’re breathing it! Gases and soot (volatile organic compounds and particulate matter) are released into the air due to the chemical reaction of combustion. This combustion/burning causes the wax to vaporize and react with oxygen, thus creating air pollution. Many of the substances released during this process are toxic, and some are known carcinogens, which means they can cause cancer. These volatile organic compounds and particulate matter are drawn into our lungs when we breathe, and from there, they enter the bloodstream. Yikes!

Related: Are Bath & Body Works Wallflowers Safe? Or Toxic to Humans, Dogs & Cats?

What Is Particulate Matter And What Are VOCs?

When most candles are lit, they immediately begin to release particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the room as indoor pollution. With paraffin candles, this form of indoor pollution is consistent with diesel fuel exhaust and cigarette smoke.

Any time you have a mixture of solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in the air for a significant amount of time, those are called particulates or particulate matter (PM). It might be easier to think about dust storms, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, or even smog and how it hangs in the air. This type of particulate pollution happens within the home when paraffin wax candles are burned. Although on a smaller scale, it can sometimes be just as intense, especially considering the lack of air circulation inside an average home.

Volatile organic compounds are very hazardous chemicals that evaporate at room temperature from many of the products or furnishings used in our homes. New furniture, paint, and carpeting all give off these VOCs, a process known as “off-gassing.” These gases in the air can cause headaches, irritation, and allergic reactions.

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 cause other respiratory diseases, strokes, 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 melting soy wax blend.”

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. And seriously, this is what Bath and Body Works candles are known for—the fragrance.

So the short answer is no, Bath & Body Works’ “soy” candles do not produce less soot.

Does Bath And Body Works Use Lead In Their Wicks?

No, they do not. In 2003, The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the manufacture and sale of lead-cored 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.

bath and body works candles toxic

What Is In A Bath And Body Works Candle That Makes It Toxic?

Well, we’ve established that paraffin wax is derived from petroleum, coal, or shale oil, and it contains several known carcinogens. Paraffin candles are also known to create BTEX when they are burned, which is a special combination of the chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. This is especially true of candles that contain “fragrance.” 

The Bad And The Ugly

Benzene is a known carcinogen, and exposure is linked with an increased risk of leukemia and hematopoietic cancers.

Although toluene and xylene are non-carcinogenic, when you have chronic exposure, even at low concentrations, they can produce adverse reproductive effects. 

The EPA study referenced previously also notes that even without lead-core wicks, burning 30 candles in a 146 square foot room for four hours exceeds the set standards for safe exposure. The high levels of toxins pose an increased risk for cancer because of acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, and acrolein levels. (And none of that is good stuff to breathe!)

Is My Bath and Body Works Candle Really Toxic? The Most Toxic (and Worst) Ingredient In A Bath and Body Works Candle Is… 

Fragrance. What? Fragrance. Why?

After all that stuff we just learned, fragrance might not be what you thought I was going to say. I’m going to work backward on this one, so let’s start with two words:

“Informed Decision”

You can look at a label and see what kind of wax or “blend” of wax is used in the candle. You can also assess the ingredients, the stabilizers, the colorants, and even the few token essential oils thrown in the mix. What you cannot do is figure out what is actually in that candle that has been filed under the umbrella term, “fragrance.” This is because the laws around “fragrance” allow companies to withhold the actual ingredients used because they’re protected as “industry secrets.”

In Bath and Body Works’ Product Ingredients lists, the fourth ingredient for their candles is Fragrance, or “Parfum.” Let’s say you’ve just looked at the name of the candle, Sugared Lemon Zest. To describe the scent, they use words like “Sorrento Lemons, Cane Sugar, Lemon Zest with Essential Oils.” Sounds delish and refreshing, right? 

So when you’re going down the list of ingredients, it’s quite easy to slide right over “fragrance (Parfum)” because you just read lemons, sugar, and essential oils. The problem? There is no explanation of what’s inside that scent/fragrance or from where it comes. Worse yet, just because “fragrance” is listed as a single entity on the label, it can be comprised of so many things; because there are almost 4,000 natural substances or synthetic chemicals that can be generically labeled “fragrance!” 

When one word can represent several thousand ingredients, we’ve been denied the opportunity to make an informed decision as concerned consumers. How can we know if what we are bringing into our home may hurt us, our family, or our pets?!

What The Heck Is “Fragrance?”

In 2010 the Environmental Working Group (EWG), published an article entitled, “3,163 Ingredients Hide Behind The Word “Fragrance.(This is the original EWG article that was updated to 3,999 ingredients more recently.)

So, why am I arguing that fragrance is the worst ingredient in Bath and Body Works candles? After all, the scent is why we buy them to begin with because they smell so lovely!

  1. When these candles are burned, synthetic fragrances and dyes give off large amounts of VOCs, many of which are classified as hazardous or toxic, including phthalates, limonene, petroleum distillates, alcohol, and esters.
  2. While 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.

Chemicals derived from petroleum are called petrochemicals, and this where we get artificial fragrances. Many of these chemicals have been linked to developmental and reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, and allergens.

Why Are Phthalates In My Bath And Body Works Candle?

Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are a common class of chemicals, most commonly known as plasticizers. They’re used in many different consumer products.

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 and build up in the body. 

Phthalates are almost always found in personal care and household cleaning items as one of the fragrance ingredients (but of course, you wouldn’t know this because they’re not listed).

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.  

The problem is that phthalates are endocrine disruptors. They can be quite harmful, especially to pregnant mothers and unborn children (but also dangerous to the rest of us). When phthalates are being purposely hidden behind fragrance/parfum, consumers cannot make a conscious effort to avoid them. 

Phthalates in fragrances have been linked to more than endocrine disruption. These toxic chemicals can cause lower sperm count in men, damage the female reproductive system, and cause congenital disabilities and reproductive impairments.

Who Would Be Most Affected By The Toxins From Burning Candles?

Pretty much any migraine sufferer will tell you that heavy scents or perfumes can trigger an attack. Some people cannot 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, or immunocompromised individuals can have adverse reactions to toxins from burning candles. 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. Symptoms can include:

  • headaches/migraines
  • sore throat
  • itchy and watery eyes
  • blocked nasal passages
  • hives
  • itchy skin
  • asthma-like conditions

If you have respiratory allergies or asthma and are sensitive to these fragrances, you can experience more severe reactions.

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 very 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.

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.

Related: 8 Of the Best Non-Toxic Plug-In Air Fresheners for Your Home

Ways To Make Burning Any 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 to you, 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.


On a daily basis, we are exposed to a heavy toxic load in our homes from off-gassing and toxic chemicals, 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 need to make your decisions on what is best for you and your family and pets.

We hope to have provided you with enough information here to make an informed decision. The “best” news is that there are more safe, non-toxic candles available to discriminating consumers than ever before. Remember, you breathe what you burn, and so does everyone else in the room!

About the Author

With expertise in all things WordPress, coding, SEO, and more, the Blog Posts to Go team provides busy bloggers with targeted, high-quality keyword research, article outlines, competitor research, and more. Not only that but the duo behind BPTG is passionate about non-toxic living and is on a journey to reduce harmful chemicals from their homes for the overall health of their families.


Image credits: Madison Bracaglia, Sincerely Media, Taisiia Shestopal, Joyce G, product photos belong to respective brands