What Chemicals Are in Your Soy Candles?
Standardized labeling of soy candles is not enforced or regulated. Therefore, any claims of ingredients or benefits is left up to the discretion of the soy candle maker.
Soy candle wax is only produced in the United States. It is not used at all in Europe or Asia. There are only a few soy wax suppliers who are refining soy oil into soy wax: Bunge Corporation; Archer, Daniels, Midlands (ADM); and Golden Brands. All four soy wax producers confirmed that their soy wax is solvent extracted from GMO soy seed commercially farmed with pesticides and insecticides.
The exact steps to produce soy wax are well protected and every soy wax producer (and even every soy wax candle maker) definitely has their own secrets. However, in general this is the process:
After harvesting, the soy beans are cleaned, cracked, de-hulled, and rolled into flakes. The soy oil is solvent (hexane) extracted from the flakes. The oil is then chilled and the wax settles out from the oil. Color is removed with chlorine bleaching. Deodorization is performed in the final stage of refining by vacuum distillation to remove free fatty acids, odor and color pigments to produce bland oil with a good shelf life. Next a chemical reaction - hydrogenation - converts some of the fatty acids in the oil from unsaturated to saturated. The main step in making soy wax is hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is the process whereby the poly- and monounsaturated oils are solidified in order to increase the viscosity. This is done by reaction of hydrogen with the oil at elevated temperature (140-225°C) in the presence of a nickel catalyst. This process dramatically alters the melting point of the oil, making it a solid at room temperature. The leftover bean husks are then commonly used as animal feed.
Are all soy candles made from genetically modified seed?
All soy candles are chemically processed from the oil of genetically modified (GMO) soybeans that are commercially farmed with pesticides. There are quite a few blenders of waxes that have their own proprietary formulas for soy wax that buy from the GMO soy wax producers. They add other waxes, vegetable oils, and chemicals to create their own proprietary blends; but again, every blend contains soy wax that is from GMO soy seed.
It's claimed that soy's greatest advantage is that it is completely renewable. Soy wax suppliers and makers of soy candles market their soy candles as eco-friendly, renewable, sustainable, carbon neutral; the list goes on and on. However this is deceptive; all soy for soy candles is commercially farmed using high intensity commercial farming practices with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and chemicals, and all from genetically modified GMO seeds.
The law of natural selection dictates that species will adapt, over time, to a changing environment. And unfortunately for American farmers who rely on GM crops, it seems that some of the world's most invasive weeds are following nature's laws to the letter when it comes to competing with genetically modified soybeans and corn. Genetically modified corn and soybeans developed by Monsanto in the 1990's to be resistant to the synthetic herbicide glyphosate (N-phosphonomethyl glycine), a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, (much better known by Monsanto's trademarked name for the weed killer, RoundUp®), have nearly taken over the American rural landscape. More than 80 percent of soybeans produced in the United States are the genetically modified, herbicide-resistant variety. All the soy used for candle making is from these genetically modified seeds. According to a report on genetically modified foods recently released by the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, up to nine species of invasive plants that interfere with food production are now naturally genetically resistant to Roundup. The report notes, "The nearly exclusive reliance on glyphosate for weed control, a practice accelerated by the widespread introduction of Roundup-resistant GMO crop varieties, has caused substantial changes in weed communities." Just over a decade after their development, these artificially created, genetically modified plants that were meant by their creators to permanently transform agriculture are already in danger of being made obsolete by nature's own power to rearrange genes. This points us to the obvious question: if genetically modified crops, designed to resist herbicides, provide such a brief window of benefit to farmers, why use them at all?
There are heirloom varieties of soy that have been grown by organic farmers for literally hundreds of years -- foods that were developed through the very old-fashioned, time-tested biotechnology called crossbreeding -- foods that have proven their safety by safely feeding generations of people. Some of them are surprisingly resistant to various problems and pests if they are given the right nutrients in the right environment. However heirloom and organically farmed crops require more individualized attention than conventional commercial crops to thrive so none of the agro-conglomerates bother, because of the added expense to source soy oil for candles from these organic farmers. Even if they did, the processing of non-GMO organic certified soy oil, because of the chemically intensive processing and hydrogenation of the soy oil to make soy wax, it can never become organic certified.
What is the controversy about hexane in soy candles?
The current soy candle controversy comes on the heels of environmental groups calling for hexane-derived soy products to be removed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national list of approved substances for use in organically labeled products. Based on a growing body of evidence, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for an immediate ban on all hexane derived GMO soy products.
An investigative report by Cornucopia and Natural News has revealed that soy products touted as "organic" may not be 100% "natural." It turns out that soy products are bathed in hexane, a gasoline by-product that is particularly volatile. Hexane based solvents are used to "bathe" soy products during processing. The Cornucopia Institute's report called Behind the Bean reveals higher than expected levels of hexane contamination in "natural" brand name soy products. The Cornucopia report exposes the "dirty little secret" of the "natural" soy foods industry: the widespread use of hexane in processing.
Hexane is strictly prohibited in organic food processing, but it is used to make "natural" soy foods and even some that are "made with organic ingredients. Hexane is a neurotoxin petrochemical solvent that is listed as a hazardous air pollutant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)." "The Cornucopia Institute sent a sample of hexane-extracted soy oil, soy meal, and soy grits to a registered independent analytical laboratory. While there was less than 10 ppm hexane residue in the oil, both the soy meal and soy grits contained higher levels of hexane residues. The soy meal contained 21 ppm hexane and the grits contained 14 ppm. These FDA and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory-approved tests raise important questions regarding the presence of hexane residues in everyday foods."
To be fair, the hexane is removed from the vacuum distillation of the soy wax, so likely very little is left in the soy candle. However, the question consumers and health practitioners are asking is, "Are even minute amounts harmful if inhaled"? As a candle manufacture we also wonder: what is the threat to the workers at the refineries that are exposed to hexane and the other chemicals?
Besides hexane what other hidden petrochemicals might be in soy candles?
In its raw state, soy wax does not hold dyes or fragrance or other waxes, so most soy candle makers use a variety of other chemically derived additives to increase the solubility of the wax with the scents and dyes to enhance fragrance hot throw and color. In order to know what chemicals are in a specific soy candle you would have to get your candle maker to tell you:
- What wax blend they buy and what chemical ingredients are in the wax blend
- What chemicals they add when they make the candle
Any of the following chemicals may be added by the wax blender or the candle maker:
- Microcrystalline candle wax additives are similar to paraffin waxes in the fact that they are created from petroleum. Microcrystallines have a very fine crystalline structure while paraffin waxes have a very broad structure. Micros can range from very hard to soft and sticky. They are typically added to soy/paraffin wax blends to help prevent oil migration, raise melt points, improve flexibility and help with the candles whiteness and opacity.
- Vybar™ a trademarked polymer, is a synthetic binding agent that helps to hold or bind a larger quantity of fragrance oil to the soy or soy blend wax.
- Luster crystals are synthetic polyethylene waxes that improve the strength and gloss of the finished candle. Luster crystals will enable you to achieve very true and vibrant color in your candles. They are also beneficial in increasing the hardness and toughness of the candle.
- Ultraviolet light absorbers are synthetics designed to reduce the fading of candles that are displayed in natural or artificial light.
- Release wax is a fatty acid that is used in waxes to aid in mold release. Petrolatum (petroleum jelly) is a petroleum byproduct that is soft and creamy. It is only used in container candles to soften the wax, decrease shrinkage and increase adhesion to the container wall.
- Translucent crystals are Fischer-Trop waxes that come from a synthetic process. They are used to maintain the translucency of paraffin. Fischer-Trop enables soy candle makers to add color and fragrance to the wax without affecting the translucency. It will not add translucency, it will just help maintain it. Fischer-Trop is also very effective in decreasing surface flaws and increasing the wall strength of the soy candle.
- Aniline dyes (now considered a regulated toxic chemical in the European community) are used to color almost all candles made in America.
- Synthetic candle scents are more readily miscible with synthetic soy wax than scents containing 100% pure essential oils.
- Commercially made cotton candle wicks are soaked in mineral spirits and other proprietary chemicals to enhance capillary action to increase burn times.
Since 100% natural palm and beeswax, pure essential oils for scents, and REACH certified natural dyes are available, why bother with synthetic soy candles?
What types of wax are in soy candles?
Soy candle wax is naturally a "soft" wax with a low melting point. While container candles, tea lights and small tarts may be made entirely of soy, it is not possible to make tapers or pillar candles with 100% soy wax, so paraffin wax is usually added. Likely most votive candles are a blend.
Soy candle wax can be used straight, blended with other natural oils such as palm, cottonseed, coconut or mixed with palm wax, beeswax or paraffin. Mineral oil or petrolatum may be added and any of the other chemicals listed above.
There is not any third party organization that regulates how much soy wax has to be in a candle to label is a 'soy candle.' The industry convention is that soy candles can contain as little as 20% soy waxes. Every soy wax manufacture contacted confirmed this and said "their soy wax" is a proprietary blend. They said that "100% soy wax" is available, but most soy candle makers prefer a better burning soy blend.
There are no regulations about the composition of soy wax. If you want to be sure that your soy candles are 100% soy, or if you want to know what other types of candle waxes they use, you will have to ask the candle maker: 1) who do they buy their wax from; 2) which of their blends do they use for each particular candle type of candle in their product line, because often a different blend is used for jars, votives, pillars, and tapers.
Because of the ingredients used in making soy candles, they may require special care
Occasionally, tiny white looking crystals may appear on the tops and sides of soy candle jars. It is sometimes called frosting and is very similar to the frosted look on chocolate. Or on soy votive or soy blend pillars, it looks like a powdery substance that resembles dust and is referred to as bloom. These are not flaws, but just another peculiar characteristic of soy candles. It is not even unique to pure soy candles. It can also be naturally occurring in beeswax. It may indicate that there is a significant amount of beeswax in the so called soy candle. Bloom occurs when the low-melting components of the soy or beeswax move to the surface of the candle. Even sudden changes in the weather can cause it. Frosting or bloom does not seem to affect the scent throw or the burning properties of soy candles. To minimize frosting, try to keep your candle out of direct sunlight and florescent lighting.
Since soybean wax has a lower melting point than paraffin, palm, and beeswax, it can release excess (fragrance) oils which it cannot hold. It may be due to extreme temperature changes due to shipping , i.e., going from hot trucks to an air-conditioned environment or going from cold trucks in the winter to heated stores. You can leave it or wipe it out with a tissue or paper towel. Sweat from soy candles does not affect the burn quality and generally the sweat drops will not show up again after your first burn. Just re-light it and the fragrance oil will be reabsorbed into the wax.
Some consumers have noticed than when they are blowing out their soy candle, they detect a slightly rancid smell. Pure soy oil (and wax) has a characteristic burning odor. It is one of the reasons it is seldom used in frying. Most soy wax manufacturers deodorize the soy candle wax.
Do soy candles burn cleaner?
A well-made soy candle will burn cleanly and slowly, but then that is also true of any well made candle that contains beeswax, paraffin, or palm wax. In other words, all claims that "soy wax burns cleaner" are just not true. With the right size wick, and not adding too much fragrance or candle dyes, any wax or wax blend will burn clean. It's all about the chemistry and how the candle is engineered and not about the kind of wax.
Are the chemicals in soy candles natural?
The simple answer is this: highly chemically processed and genetically modified soy products are in no way natural. This is even truer of soy candles because of all the petrochemicals that are very certainly added.
Are the ingredients in soy candles healthier for consumers?
In the United States, no clinical studies have been done to see if any of the above chemical additives or trace chemicals left over from the processing of soy candle wax is harmful to our health. In addition, no clinical studies have been done testing what happens to us or our pets when they inhale these synthetic petrochemicals. We would all like to assume that the petrochemicals exist in such a small amount that there is no harmful side effects, but there is really no way of knowing.
As mentioned above soy candles are chemically processed from saturated hydrogenated genetically modified soy oil. This is a purely chemical process. Compared to palm and coconut oils, soybean oil is higher in saturated fatty acids, a health concern of many consumers and health professionals. This concern may increase if, as expected, FDA guidelines are approved for the inclusion of trans-isomers as a part of total saturated fat on food product labels. Trans-isomers are produced during hydrogenation of vegetable oil, which reduces linolenic acid levels. Without hydrogenation, soybean oil is not stable when subjected to high temperatures, such as in frying applications or candle making.
Since the chemicals used in processing soy wax are proprietary, and the ingredients used in making soy candles are proprietary. it's difficult to know what chemicals are in a specific soy candle.
A simple healthier lifestyle principle: Try not to inhale what you would not eat.
Why not apply the same logic to the healthy foods you buy to products you inhale? In other words, don't buy candles that are manufactured with potential toxins: hexane, chlorine, aniline dyes, and petrochemicals, and synthetic scents. Wouldn't it be more environmentally friendly and sustainable to support organic farming practices and certified organic processes? Both organic palm oil and beeswax can be purchased instead of soy wax. Candles scents can be made with organically farmed essential oils. Palm and beeswax candles can be made without any synthetic petrochemical additives.
Why are there so many false marketing claims about 'What is in Soy Candles?'
Developing and maintaining markets for U.S. soybeans is a high priority for commercial soy producers. Their concern is that soybeans may lose market share to alternate sources of low-saturated vegetable oils like palm and coconut.
Candle consumers have the power to change the world.
A growing movement has emerged during the past two decades to question the role of the commercial agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to environmental problems. With third world countries, in addition to the environmental damage, there was also a social cost. Many poor families lived on the land that the soy producers wanted. Some went voluntarily and others were simply forced off. Traditional communities were replacing by agro-business. Today, this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream candle consumers. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system.
You can change what is happening. It all starts with the buying decisions you make, because what you choose to buy and consume impacts the world in many powerful ways. If you look at it collectively, the products that each of us purchases and consumes amount to deciding who stays in business. Our purchases determine what raw materials and chemicals are profitable. What we support determines what types of chemical processes and farming practices continue. How we spend money determines the corporate world we have created. In fact, your simple choice to buy certified organic food and raw materials, natural and organic certified bath & body care products, Eco Palm Wax Candles™, and other naturally occurring products, like Himalayan sea salt instead of processed salt or sea salt harvested from polluted oceans might be more important to your health, your family's health, and the health of the planet than any other lifestyle choice you make.
Given that there are natural alternatives to soy wax such as palm and beeswax, why support the sales of highly chemically processed and genetically modified soy candles? Why support industrial farming instead of organic farming? Why expose farm workers to pesticides and soy refinery workers to toxic chemicals like hexane and chlorine. Why engage in manufacturing processes that increase the need for toxic chemicals?
Green and organic consumers are rethinking whether or not they can trust major soy producers to be transparent about their manufacturing processes. As a CBS reporter stated "all health bets are off" about what we are actually getting when we buy soy products.