The Best Clean-Burning, Headache-Free Candles

by Koun Bae October 16, 2017
ReadThe Best Clean-Burning, Headache-Free Candles Photo by Mada Refujio

Candles are my comfort buy—a quick, relatively wallet-friendly fix whenever I just have that itch to buy something. (I’m not the only one with this problem, right? … Bueller?) And the pleasures don’t end with the purchase. To me, a dreamily scented candle flickering on the bedside table signifies a day well spent. Start the day with coffee, end it with a candle. As a result, I’ve burned through my fair share, from drugstore to designer, and have learned a few things along the way. First, there are tips and tricks to getting the most out of your candle. Second, faker, heavily perfumed candles give me a huge headache, migraines even. And third, for reasons no amount of Googling will make clear (something about the combination of the wax, the wick, and the shape of the vessel?)  some candles just seem to burn better and cleaner than others. First, let’s tackle the basics before getting to the recommendations.


How to burn a candle perfectly

The first burn is what determines the fate of your candle—luckily, this isn’t some metaphor for life. The key is to let it burn for as long as it takes for the top layer of wax to melt evenly (usually at least two hours). Essentially, there should be a level layer of melted wax that reaches the edge of your candle. This prevents the tragedy of tunneling—when a candle only burns in the sunken center, leaving hard wax around the rim. After the first burn, always trim the wick to about a quarter of an inch. If it’s too long, it can cause soot and smoke; if it’s too short, it can drown in the wax.


Look for soy or beeswax candles

Many cheaper candles are made out of paraffin wax, a byproduct of the crude oil refining process. The safety of paraffin wax is debated, but it’s worth noting that a 2009 study found that burning paraffin-based candles released toxic chemicals, and that long-term exposure could be bad for your health and pollute indoor air. When burning candles, you should really be able to trust the brand and its quality of ingredients. I’ve also found that candles scented with essential oils, aka natural, plant-based oils, tend to have softer, subtler scents, which is great for people sensitive to fragrance.


The best clean-burning candles

Element Candles

After discovering them at the Indie Beauty Expo, I’ve fallen head over heels for these clean-burning, beautifully scented candles. What really impressed was the way they burn—evenly with no soot to be seen. I think the key is in the super high quality ingredients (organic soy wax and phthalate-free fragrance oils) and the wide wooden wick. The wooden wick gives you a bigger flame that helps burn the candle with less tunneling, plus it eliminates the need for trimming a wick. You simply tap off the burnt top edge. The scents are all amazing, so really, don’t make me pick a favorite. It all depends on your personal preferences.



Don’t be fooled by the old-school apothecary design of these 100% soy wax candles—the scents are refreshingly modern and of the moment. I especially love the uniqueness of Tomato Leaf, a green, earthy scent that reminds you of a vegetable garden without actually smelling like food. This is a great clean-burning candle to light around the dinner table. The Black Currant scent is also a favorite: clean and floral without being cloying. A scent that’s just as appealing for men as it is for women. Buckler’s candles also burn wonderfully clean, and you can tell that they use high-quality fragrances. The scents are strong but not headache-inducing.


The Pure Candle

If you’re looking to get aromatherapy benefits from your clean-burning candles, you’re going to have to go for a candle scented only with essential oils. In general, essential oils aren’t as strong as fragrance oils, so expect your candles to have a quieter scent that’s not as long-lasting. The Pure Candle‘s essential oil-only, 100% soy wax candles are a great bet for those sensitive to chemical fragrances and can help you relax and get better sleep. Keep in mind, though, that essential oils are still powerful, and it’s totally possible to be allergic to them.


Saint Main 

Looking for a candle that brings positive vibes and good intentions? Saint Main’s candles are blended with crystals and blessed by mystical healers. I’m not completely sure what that entails, but I do know that they look and smell gorgeous and burn like a dream. The Adoration candle has an unapologetically pretty rose and white tea scent that you can’t help but love. The scents are strong, too. I keep catching whiffs of this one on my dresser, even when it isn’t lit.



Are you as big of a fan of candles as I am? Any suggestions on what to try next?


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