Massage & Bodywork

May/June 2010

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ten for today BY REBECCA JONES CANDLE CONSIDERATIONS Historians believe that about 5,000 years ago ancient Egyptians had the bright idea of sticking a reed into some animal fat and lighting it. Candles have been flickering in human homes and gathering places ever since. Candlemakers have come a long way in the intervening millennia, developing better waxes, wicks, and fragrances. Just in the past five years, technology has advanced to include realistic flameless and even remote-controlled candles. Today, candle shoppers face a multitude of options, in a wide range of prices. Does a cheap dollar store candle burn just as well as an expensive one bought in a boutique? As a rule, you get what you pay for. But opinions vary on just what's worth paying more for. Following are some pointers to help shed light on the topic of candles. 1. WAX FACTS The National Candle Association estimates 1 billion pounds of wax is used in candles sold in the United States each year, and 95 percent of those candles are made of paraffin wax. The industry group spokespeople insist that no candle wax has ever been shown to be toxic or harmful to human health, even though paraffin is a petroleum by-product. But some candlemakers—typically those who sell the 5 percent made out of something other than paraffin—question that. At least one study, presented last year at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, indicates that excessive use of paraffin candles in unventilated rooms can lead to unhealthy levels of indoor air pollution. Air quality issues aside, makers of non-paraffin candles say there are other reasons to consider soy, vegetable, palm, or other kinds of waxes. Through the years, beeswax has been the gold standard for candles because it burns 76 massage & bodywork so sweetly and cleanly. "Other than the obvious good things that bees do for us, it's a renewable resource. There's no waste in beeswax production," says Andraya Weitzel, spokeswoman for the family-owned Clarks Wax Works in Eaton, Colorado. "They're hypoallergenic, and we believe beeswax candles release negative ions, which relieve stress and boost energy." The downside of beeswax is the cost. They tend to be the priciest candles. Vegetable wax-based candles are less expensive and still avoid the use of petrochemicals. They also have one big advantage over paraffin: they burn at a lower temperature and that has special implications for massage therapists. "You can put your finger into the molten wax in these vegetable candles and not burn yourself," says Richard Roth, co-founder of Lumia Organic Inc. in Boulder, Colorado. "Some of the candles we make are selected by massage therapists for that very purpose: they melt into massage oil. It's a handy thing to have around. The wax in the candles is already warm and it's not something you have to put into an oil heater. And if it spills, it cleans up with warm, soapy water because it's basically just vegetable oil." 2. THE SENSE OF SCENTS About four out of every five candles sold in this country are scented, though most of them aren't true aromatherapy candles, which use essential oils. Most use synthetic aroma chemicals. Still, well-made candles contain only fragrances approved for candle use. What makes for a pleasing scent is purely in the nose of the smeller. But finding the right combinations of fragrances can be akin to writing a symphony. may/june 2010 "We talk about notes," Roth says. "The top note is the first scent that comes out. Then, the olfactory sense acclimates to that. The middle and base notes are slower to react within the nose. Most successful fragrances are quite complex. Single fragrance products don't react with as much of the olfactory sense as a blend of fragrances. If you have a blend, you'll hit harmonies with a number of different receptors in the nose. It's that subtle transformation from initial sensation to the lasting base notes that we feel is most pleasant." 3. LITTLE FUEL PUMPS The National Candle Association reports there are more than 100 different types of wicks on the market today, but most of them are made of braided or knitted fibers, usually cotton or a combination of cotton and paper. The wick's job is to absorb liquefied wax and carry it up to the flame. In essence, wicks act like little fuel pumps. Some candlemakers warn shoppers to beware the dangers of lead wicks. It's true that lead wicks can release toxic chemicals, but the chances of finding a lead wick—at least in a candle sold in the United States—are extremely small. "Basically, the candle industry in the United States universally stopped using metal wicks more than 20 years ago," Roth says. "It's rare to find a metal wick in any domestically- produced candle. I can't say the same for imported candles, but the use of metal is very uncommon any more."

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