Stay in touch with EcoHearth

Eco Action Tools

Knowledge is power only if you use it. Below are tools to help you get your eco activism on.


Get Clean and Green Everyday

email iconvia Email RSS iconvia RSS

Tonya Kay

Tonya Kay photo courtesy Tonya KayTonya Kay is an actress, TV personality, professional dancer and danger artist living in Los Angeles. A vegetarian of 28 years, vegan for 18 of those and raw vegan for the last 11, Tonya Kay pioneers the green health movement with appearances, publications and green media (available at KayosMarket). Watch Tonya Kay's self-produced web series The Eco Tourist on EcoHearth's Eco Tube. You may have also seen her recently on TV's My Ride Rules, The Tonight Show, Criminal Minds, Glee, House MD, Secret Girlfriend and American Idol with Rhianna. She has performed live in STOMP, De La Guarda, with Panic At The Disco, Kenny Rogers and in countless music videos and commercials. Look for Tonya Kay in the new Muppets Movie, starring in MTV Network's Video Game Reunion, playing a lead in the scripted animal-activist feature film, Bold Native, performing the voice of Green Girl in the raw vegan superhero animated film Rawman and Green Girl and performing burlesque live in Hollywood, California, almost any weekend. In 2012, Tonya Kay will star in the films Off World and Within The Darkness. For more on Tonya Kay, visit her website.

Eco Product Pick

Austin Air HealthMate Jr. Plus Air Purifier

Breathe better. The Austin Air HealthMate Jr. Plus removes sub-micron particles, chemicals and noxious gases from your home or office. See more items in our Eco Shop.

Green Candles, Pt. 1: What Is the Most Natural Candle Wax?
Monday, 04 February 2013 00:00  |  Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry

Candle photo by Hanna Iris TolonenWe all know petro-plastic has toxic implications, which is precisely why I first reduce, and then recycle all of the plastic with which I come into contact. I drink all of my water from glass bottles. Heck, I even drive my car on vegetable oil instead of petroleum fuel. If I am willing to go this far to become a conscious petroleum consumer, then why would I still be burning petroleum-based candles right in my own living room at home?

Paraffin is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process. This dark-gray sludge is further treated with toxic chemicals to bleach, color and scent it. Then it is sent off to well-intentioned consumers wanting to light their homes "naturally.” And don't we all just love the cozy smell of vanilla candles? Well, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air-chamber analysis has revealed “these neurotoxins and carcinogenic compounds in significant quantity in a random group of over 30 candles tested: acetone, benzene, butane, ethylbenzene, styrene, phenol and lead,” to name a few. That vanilla pillar doesn't smell so good any more, does it?

The good news is, there are many alternative wax candles out there—including palm, soy and beeswax—that when burned will not release carcinogens into the air. Let me give you the lowdown on these non-petroleum waxes so you can make an educated decision for your electricity-free home lighting. Not all non-petroleum waxes are created equal:

Soy Wax
Soy wax comes from a notorious, genetically modified crop saturated with pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. The soy bean does not want to become wax too easily, so the oil is processed with hydrogen and nickel to hydrogenate the oil and turn it into a solid. The wax is still quite soft after all this processing and will not form pillar candles easily. If you own a soy pillar, it might have been combined with another wax—most likely paraffin. Also, soy wax candle products tend to be heavily colored and fragranced; it is hard to find a scent-free, unbleached soy candle. Although I consider soy wax a vegetable wax, I personally do not consider it natural.

Palm Oil Wax
Palm oil is not genetically modified, is carcinogen-free and is far easier to liberate into a waxy substance than soy. Palm oil wax is produced like most essential oils: the fruit berries are pressed for oil, which is then distilled. Unfortunately, between the health-and-beauty and health-food industries, palm oil has become in such high demand that Sinar Mas and United Plantations (suppliers to Nestlé and Unilever) are clearing Malaysia’s and Indonesia's rain forests at a rate that has reduced the populations of endangered wildlife, such as the Indonesian orangutan, by as much as 50% in recent years—all so they can plant more commercial palm fields.

The palm tree grows native in western Africa and mostly on small, family farms. It is currently more sustainable to source palm wax from western African locations; however with enough interest, I personally suspect that the same environmental catastrophe is likely to happen in Africa as it has in Southeast Asia. Palm wax is often bleached and deodorized before reaching a candle pourer, who may or may not use synthetic fragrances and dyes.

Beeswax is a no-brainer. It is the original wax. It looks like wax when it is formed and requires next-to-no processing to place a wick in the center of it for burning. I questioned a beeswax candlemaker about what processing is done to the wax. Her response: "We heat the capping so the honey and wax separate (the wax floats to the top). We drain the honey and then drain the wax. It hardens as usable wax. Later I put it in my wax melter. When liquid, I pour it into dipping pots and start dipping candles. The answer is nothing is done to the wax but heat."

The production of beeswax does not harm the environment and happens locally almost anywhere in the United States. Although beekeeping is normally a careful and sustainable art, some vegans feel it is unnatural to interfere with bees' lives and choose to exclude bee products from their lifestyle. Beeswax candles are most often unscented (because beeswax smells so luscious as is!) and are rarely dyed.

These are the ethical, environmental and health impacts of the production and use of non-petroleum candle waxes. These criteria have become the basis of my consumer purchase decisions recently. But they aren't everything. Next week I will discuss the other factors that make one candle a cleaner burn on the consciousness.

Go to Part 2: Rating Candles and Extending Burn Time
Go to Part 3: The Most Ecological Candle Wicks
Go to Part 4: How to Pour Candles from Saved Wax

Additional resources:
Destructive Legacy of Sumatra's Palm-Oil Plantations

[Sign up to be notified each time Tonya publishes a new Clean and Green Everyday blog entry on EcoHearth. See a complete list of writing by Tonya Kay on or visit her Clean and Green Everyday blog. – Ed.]

Help the Earth, Spread the Word: Share this article with family and friends by clicking on the "Email This" or "Share This" links below right. Then see TODAY'S TOP STORIES.

Copyright EcoHearth. All rights reserved. Reprint Policy

Comments (13)add
Written by sarah , May 26, 2016
My story began in the fall of 2014 when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It shattered my world and everything I believed in - having been physically active, a non-smoker, a non-drinker and at my ideal weight. Then boom!

I began re-evaluating my lifestyle choices, my eating habits and my environment. It took me on a very different path. I left my day job and focused on my health. During the journey I was inspired to re-design my career and create something that would have value and purpose. Oddly enough it began with my passion for fragrant candles.

Scented candles have always been a part of my life and after discovering a large majority of mass marketed candles contain harmful chemicals and additives in their products, I was unwilling to simply walk away from using scented candles. Instead, I set out to design the perfect medium in order to create a highly fragrant, clean burning, pure and natural product that was safe for my family, my pets and the environment.

My pets were an integral part of my healing process and after nearly 18 months of research, I created a proprietary blend of 100% certified organic waxes. I sourced the highest quality essential and fragrant oils that are phthalate free, creating captivating scents of wax melts designed in the shape of a paw. Why the paw? To pay tribute to our furry friends who help us through life’s difficult times. In particular my 3 cats who were beside me and loved me unconditionally during the entire time. We also donate a portion of our profits to animal shelters.

I don’t know whether the frequent use of scented candles had any influence on my health prior to my diagnosis, but I do know that I will NEVER again use any scented candle/wax melt that isn’t 100% organic and natural. My health and that of my family and pets is far too precious to take the risk.

Thank you for creating a forum for women to share their stories.

Report abuse
Written by Ben , February 19, 2013
Thanks for all these informations because I'm also thinking to launch a kind of selected eco goods and all your comments are quite useful...

Report abuse
Written by Pilgrim , May 19, 2012
I don't know why, but I had a lot of trouble posting comments and the comment that is posted is not exactly what I wrote. Apologies that my previous comment does not make complete sense, but that is not my fault.
Report abuse
Written by Pilgrim , May 15, 2012
There is also a natural vegan and relatively local (depending on where you live on this continent) beeswax bayberry mixture available. I have not tried these myself but would like to sometime. And of course what I would really like is to pick my own bayberries and make these from scratch.
Report abuse
Written by Juiny Cheng , May 03, 2012
Thanks Tonya for sharing. I would say beeswax candles are the best and they are the most biodegradable among all. However, not all beeswax candles are made the same. Some contain paraffin and other chemicals, too. So make sure you only burn the beeswax candles made with pure or 100% beeswax.
Report abuse
Written by Tonya Kay , April 12, 2012
Very nice for Germany locals! Of course shipping those to LA wouldn't be very ecological, no matter what they were made of. I wish I knew of someone doing that here in California.
Report abuse
Written by Jacky , April 12, 2012
Hi...I hate to say so....but the most ecoligical candles come from Germany...they are made from waste cooking oils collected from chip frying companies
Report abuse
Written by tonya kay , April 09, 2011
I actually have never seen or heard of a candle made of coconut and olive oil! Yes, as with soy, I would assume hydrogenation would occur, which concerns me to burn hydrogenated oils in my home to breathe, but I have not read any studies on it. I myself think of oils that are solids at room temperature naturally like: coconut oil or cacao butter. Even shea butter seems a cream at room temperature. Perhaps it wouldn't take as much processing to get an oil that is natrually a solid to be a solid! Please give it a whirl and let me know - we need more wax options!
Report abuse
Written by annette christy , April 08, 2011
I am looking at doing candles with coconut wax/olive oil wax. Do you have any information on what the supplier does to the coconut/olive to make wax? I understand alittle on hydrogenation and fractionation. Would you be able to guide me to someone who would know?
Report abuse
Written by Tonya Kay , March 15, 2011
Hahaha! Thanks, but I'm just giving you the info, not telling you what to buy. Next week's piece might adjust your perspective again. Because I understand that not only does the sustainability and ethical nature of our products' production methods affect our choices (it's pretty high on the list for me!), but so does the quality of the product. Just you wait until next week - I've written some more good stuff for you on natural candle waxes.

Always remember that (especially with blogging) that the author's voice and opinions ARE the focus of the piece. There are times you might disagree with me completely. But yea, candle wax is sort of like hair gel to me (which I actually don't use or need). But it's hilarious to me that there are thousands of synthetic, toxic, manufactured hair gels that are simply trying to replicate THE original gel: aloe vera. I've tried aloe on my hair. It works! It makes the frizzies stay down. It hardens, too. But not into some gross helmet or anything. It's just naturally a gel. The gel. Bees wax is naturally wax. All other waxes are trying to be like that. Some with greater success and less environmental/health/cultural impact than others.
Report abuse
Written by Steve the Kaleidoscope Guy , March 15, 2011
Beeswax candle shop here I come...thanks Tanya

Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.
William Arthur Ward

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.

Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness?
Elvis Costello

How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
William Shakespeare
Report abuse
Written by TerryJ , March 15, 2011
Thanks for the useful information I always find in your blog. My lifestyle is getting greener as I read and make changes based on what I read. Thanks!
Report abuse
Written by Pete Arballo , March 15, 2011
So do not go with soy wax, beeswax is the best for my candles. Now I know.
Report abuse


Eco Tip

Buy or Make Green Gifts. No need for an orgy of conspicuous consumption at each holiday or anniversary. Show your love for the planet by making your own gift from recycled materials or giving the most valuable gifts of all—your time and caring. More tips...

Eco Quote

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. — Bill Vaughn   More quotes...