The History of Candles

The History of Candles

Candles have a long history dating back 5,000 years.  Ancient Egyptians are credited with the early use of candles where papyrus (thick paper) was dipped in animal fat to make torches (can you imagine the smell!!).

The Romans were largely credited with developing the first wicked candles approx. 3,000 years ago.  Candles were present in biblical times and used for religious ceremonies.  The Jewish festival of Light, Hanukkah, which centres around the lighting of candles dates back to 165 B.C. 

In the middle ages, most Europeans used candles rendered from tallow (animal fat), however during this time beeswax candles were developed.  Beeswax candles were preferred, as they provided a cleaner burn and sweeter smell, unlike the acrid and foul smell of tallow.  Beeswax candles were largely used for church ceremonies.  However, they were expensive and the masses couldn't afford them.  Instead, most households would keep food fats in their kitchens and candle makers (chandlers) would go from door-to-door turning the fat into candles, or they would make their own and sell them at stalls (at this point I'm feeling very thankful we have electricity these days!).

In the late 18th century, spermaceti wax - a by product of the whaling industry - became popular.  It didn't have the acrid smell of tallow and burned brighter.  In fact, lots of other animal fats such as stearic acid wax were used for candles until 1850, when paraffin wax was discovered. 

Paraffin candles rose in popularity throughout the first half of the 20th century, largely driven by the growth of the oil industry.  Paraffin wax is a by-product of the petroleum industry and is still used in a lot of candles today, largely due to it being inexpensive.  One study from the South Carolina State University found paraffin wax candles gave off harmful fumes linked to lung cancer and asthma - but admitted it would take many years' use to risk health.  The study has been challenged, and Dr Noemi Eiser, medical director at the British Lung Foundation, added: "We would like to reassure people that occasional use of paraffin candles should not pose any risk to their lung health."

In the 1990's, vegetable waxes such as soybean and palm oil started to be used for candles.  Soy wax is naturally extracted from the soybean and is a softer, slower burning wax compared to paraffin, which is why soy candles usually last longer!  Soy wax is becoming increasingly popular, and even though it is more expensive than paraffin candle equivalents, it seems it is the preferred wax of choice for today's conscious consumer!         

At BURNS BY BURNS candles, we use 100% natural soy wax, free-from petroleum and palm oil and all of our candles are vegan and cruelty free!  They absolutely do not contain any whale fat!        

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