When we started working on our little business back in 2018, deciding which wax we wanted to use was the first and toughest decision.
It prompted an almost two year long discovery session, one that turned our brains inside out and our small apartment into a science lab as we experimented with every commercially available wax going.
Before we jump in, a quick summary of the wax we decided on:
We use a 100% plant based blend that is predominately soy wax with a little coconut wax. It is free from palm, paraffin and any non-soy based additives.
So, what is Paraffin wax?
Other than being a huge point of contention in the wellness, candle & wax industries?
Paraffin wax is a white or colorless soft, solid wax that is derived from petroleum, coal, or oil shale and created from saturated hydrocarbons. It is distinct from kerosene and other petroleum products that are sometimes called paraffin.
Paraffin Wax is available in various grades (meaning how refined it is) and is not only used in candles, but also in food coating, cosmetics, crayons and electronics.
First discovered by a German scientist in the 1700’s paraffin has been the go-to wax for candle making and remains one of the most popular choices today, and for good reason too!
The candle industry accounts for one of the largest uses of refined wax in the United States with petroleum-based paraffin wax still being the preferred material for candle making.
What is Food-Grade Paraffin?
Food-Grade paraffin is becoming more prevalent in wax blends in recent years. It is a highly refined version of basic paraffin wax where even more impurities are removed, and the refined wax may be bleached for an even better appearance.
It is GRAS (generally recommended as safe) by the FDA and the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).
As you would expect food-grade paraffin is most commonly used in small quantities on foods, such as fruits & chocolate to help keep it fresh and make it look more shiny and appealing. It is able to pass through our bodies undigested because it offers zero nutritional value.
As well as food it’s most likely to be the grade of paraffin you’ll find used in cosmetics. It’s an excellent emollient for lipsticks, lotions, and other beauty products.
Due to being closely related to paraffin wax, in recent years it’s been utilized in candle wax formulations for plant-based waxes to help make them more robust.
What makes up food-grade paraffin waxes exactly is usually proprietary information to each manufacturer but it’s commonly composed of vegetable oils, palm oil derivatives, synthetic resins such as coal and oil shale and other materials.
The AFPM (American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufactures) state that Food-Grade paraffin wax is different from basic paraffin wax by being fully refined and containing an oil content of less than 0.5% and not more than 1%.
Since the oil content is far more minimal in this wax than basic paraffin wax it makes it ideal for those makers who want to be a little more environmentally conscious, but aren’t quite ready to part with paraffin wax in candles.
It’s potent stuff! Even at 1% of the wax used in a candle it can make a difference to how the candle burns.
You might like to know! Given the minimal amount of food-grade paraffin in a wax-blend, it does not need to be mentioned in product listings or labeling.
Why is Paraffin Wax used in candles?
Paraffin wax is a candle maker’s dream – it's super easy to work with, a beginner friendly choice – the first candles I ever made as a teenager were 100% paraffin.
It can take fragrance really well allowing a maker to use lesser quality fragrances, or really load it up like some of the commercial brands!
Its molecular structure allows for optimal scent throw (how far the scent disperses), it is great for molding into shapes, it works incredibly well with dyes and creates a smooth shiny finish.
It is also a terrific blender! Many candle makers, small and established, will use paraffin in their plant-based blends to enhance the hot throw (the scent of the candle when it's lit) and for aesthetics, as it stabilizes the wax and allows the candle to set nice and smooth after each burn.
However, paraffin wax is derived from petroleum as a byproduct of the refining process and has more recently raised some concerns. One recent claim is that paraffin wax emits harmful compounds into the air.
You might like to know! If a candle maker’s blend is predominantly plant based i.e. 51% Soy, 49% Paraffin - they do not need to disclose the paraffin in their candle. Makers will usually use phrases such as soy & coconut blend, soy blend etc. More than not, commercially available plant-based waxes contain at least a minimal amount of paraffin or food-grade paraffin.
So, is it toxic?
Actually, there's really no proof of that at all!
The NCA (National Candle Association) states that all types of candle wax will burn “cleanly” when a candle is made and used properly.
Given the amount of candle makers & different waxes available, right now there isn’t enough research available to us to quantify the potential negative impact of burning paraffin candles, OR ANY CANDLES, including soy, but it is fact that the act of combustion will always emit particles into the air.
If you do not want to affect the air in your home, the simplest solution would be not to burn any candles or use fragrance products.
There is a lot that goes into making a candle. It’s really a delicate science. A paraffin candle made by a skilled maker is thought to affect your living area about as much as cooking with your oven, of course with an unskilled maker this will likely be different.
A soy candle made by a skilled chandler is thought to emit a little less, but it's absolutely not nothing.
The idea of a "clean burning" candle is largely a myth, no matter the substance - it's one of the reasons we choose not to use this language to sell our candles.
We think it puts forward the idea that nothing is being put into the air, when that isn't true at all.
Combustion is combustion after all.
OK! Paraffin sounds great, why do you not use it again?
At the end of the day it comes down to our values surrounding sustainability.
Every day it becomes abundantly clear that for the future of our planet we need to limit our use of fossil fuels and non-renewable sources and paraffin wax, a by-product of the crude oil industry is, you got it, a VERY, VERY non-renewable source.
We now have many plant-derived alternatives available to us and it felt like a no-brainer to go this route - despite the challenges it caused us.
Your might like to know! Candles containing paraffin can also be marketed as "all natural" since *technically* they are, but it's probably not what you were looking for, right?
Another reason is that due to its molecular structure, paraffin wax has a lower melting point which can make it burn very quickly. Often makers who work with paraffin (occasionally coconut & apricot waxes too) will use an additive to slow the burn rate of the candle.
At the time of our research into waxes the most commonly used wax modifier was 'stearic acid', a substance historically made from tallow (animal fat) but now more commonly made with palm leaf waxes. You may remember it from earlier as being one of the ingredients commonly used in food-grade paraffin.
Unless you've been living on a different rock, you'll know that palm products are frequently linked to huge amounts of deforestation.
Of late, there are certified RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) Stearic Acid blends cropping up in places but it's not widely and there are still concerns around how sustainable it actually is.
It’s another reason we chose to leave even the most minimal and refined paraffin out of our candles.
So, your wax must be completely sustainable?
Every wax has its advantages and disadvantages, including soy wax! To say any different or that this was a completely "green" alternative would involve a lot of green-washing on our part, which is not something we're particularly fond of, and there’s far too much of it already in the candle industry.
The production of soy crop is unfortunately tied to GMOs and monoculture.
Outside of the USA and China, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay are the fastest growing countries in the production of soybeans and this has contributed to mass amounts of deforestation in important biodiversity hotspots.
[I do think it's important to mention here that this is not just for the purpose of candle wax - the vast majority of this goes to feeding livestock for farming.]
The process of growing soybeans and turning them into wax uses a lot of water and various chemicals that can erode the land and end up in water supplies, which is why it's important to find a supplier that makes lessening their impact a priority.
Currently due to how soy wax is made there are no GMO organic soy waxes on the market, and anyone who is marketing them as such is not being truthful.
I'm confused, what is so great about your wax then?
As we mentioned before, our wax is predominantly a soy blend with a small amount of coconut wax for stability.
This wax was an obvious choice for us as both soy and coconut are an immensely renewable source. It's also friendly to our vegan customers.
The soybeans that create our particular soy wax are grown domestically here in the USA, likely close by us in the Midwest. We liked it because it’s another step for us to reduce our carbon footprint AND we are also supporting US soybean farmers rather than the billionaire owners of the oil industry.
We purchase our wax from a supplier that is committed to reducing their impact on the land where they grow and produce.
The coconuts that make our coconut wax are sustainably sourced from Indonesia, the Philippines, and India. Our supplier is a founding member of the 'Sustainable Coconut Charter' which aims to improve farmer livelihoods, lessen the carbon footprint of coconuts and boost supply to meet rising global demand.
We did say that we don't use the term "clean burning" but in terms of wax, a soy candle is probably going to leave you with the cleanest vessel.
See, unless you're inexperienced or plain lazy it’s very difficult to make a sooty soy candle, Even the most skilled maker will struggle to leave you a clean vessel with a paraffin, or food-grade paraffin candle – it’s just the nature of the waxes.
However, while we dream of a high-performing, truly healthy and 100% sustainable and environmentally friendly wax source we do know we're not quite there yet, and we would be lying to you if we said we were.
The fact is plant based waxes are still a relatively new addition to the wax industry and while a great first step they should not be considered the perfect solution.
With the growing popularity of customers such as yourself allows us and other companies like ours to push our wax suppliers forward and helps us to hold them accountable for better methods of sourcing and production.
Well done if you read this far!
Go treat yourself to 10% off your purchase with ilovesoywax.