What are organic and natural candles?

What are organic and natural candles?

As awareness grows about the environmental impact of products, both in our homes and the wider world, consumers increasingly demand environmentally friendly options. In response, businesses and marketing departments are eager to meet this demand, often promoting candles as "100 percent natural," "eco-friendly," and "sustainable." This article examines the validity of these claims, explores potential greenwashing practices, and identifies truly eco-friendly candle options.

What makes a candle organic?

Consumers, retailers & search engines often treat the terms “natural” and “organic” as synonymous and interchangeable. However, when it comes to food and drink products, laws exist in the UK to reserve the term organic for only those products that have organic certification from an approved UK organic control body (approved by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).

Outside of the categories of food and drink, the labelling of products as organic is not regulated in the same way.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against a candle manufacturer in 2013 that claimed that their candles were organic (without any organic certification). The ASA ruled that “consumers would understand the claims that the candles were "organic" to mean that the product met an independently defined standard.”

In light of the above, “organic candles” are candles that have been independently certified by an approved organic control body. In the UK, Skär Organics created the first certified organic candle.

What makes a candle “natural"?

At the most fundamental level a candle is composed of a wax and a wick. The most popular waxes and wicks are considered below and whether they should be considered as natural.


There are five primary types of wax used in candles worldwide

• Paraffin wax
• Soy wax
• Rapeseed wax
• Coconut wax
• Beeswax

Paraffin wax
Paraffin wax is derived from crude oil through an industrial process that includes distillation, solvent dewaxing, filtration, hydrotreating, and decolorisation. Given the extensive processing involved, it is more accurately described as an artificial byproduct of petroleum refining.

Soy, rapeseed, and coconut waxes
These plant-based waxes undergo hydrogenation, where oils are converted into solid or semi-solid waxes using high-pressure hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst. This chemical process is industrial and not naturally occurring, making the term "natural" somewhat misleading when applied to these waxes.

95 percent of US Soy crops are genetically modified. A lot, if not the vast majority of Soy and Rapeseed crops have a heavy dependence upon pesticides. These pesticides can be found in these waxes as contaminants - casting further doubt on any claim to the natural nature of candles containing these waxes.

Beeswax stands apart from other waxes as it does not require chemical or industrial modifications. It is harvested, heated, and filtered to remove impurities, maintaining its natural integrity.

Organic certification for waxes
Though pure beeswax should be considered a truly natural wax, the UK imports a lot of its beeswax, and contamination with paraffin is a common issue. In order to ensure that the beeswax is of natural origin and hasn’t been contaminated, third party testing or certification (such as from an approved organic certification body) is important for providing confidence in the purity of the natural wax.


Genetically modified (GM) cotton
Many cotton wicks are sourced from genetically modified cotton plants. GM cotton is engineered for various traits, such as pest resistance or increased yield. While GM crops can reduce the need for chemical pesticides and increase productivity, they raise concerns about biodiversity, cross-contamination with non-GM crops, and long-term environmental impacts. The genetic modification process itself is unnatural since it involves altering the plant’s DNA in ways that would not occur through traditional breeding methods.

Chemical treatments
Cotton wicks can undergo various chemical treatments during production to enhance their performance. These treatments might include:
Bleaching: To whiten the cotton, manufacturers may use chemical bleaches, which can introduce residues that are not naturally found in cotton.
Stiffening agents: To ensure that the wick remains rigid and burns steadily, stiffening agents may be added. These agents can be synthetic chemicals that are not naturally present in cotton.
Flame retardants: Some wicks are treated with flame retardants to ensure they burn more safely. These substances are often synthetic chemicals designed to reduce flammability but are not naturally occurring in cotton.

Pesticide residues
Conventional cotton farming relies heavily on pesticides to control pests and diseases. These chemicals can leave residues in the cotton fibers, which can be present in the final wick. Organic cotton, in contrast, is grown without synthetic pesticides, making it a more natural option. However, most cotton used in wicks does not meet organic standards and may contain pesticide residues.

Organic certification for wicks

Organic certification removes the requirement to simply trust the claims of manufacturers of wicks. Organic certification exists as a third part approval of the process, sourcing & record keeping of manufacturers, processors and farmers. The following certification bodies can provide confidence that the wicks are certified organic, and therefore, natural.
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard): Ensures the cotton is organic and processed without harmful chemicals.
Soil Association Certification: Indicates adherence to organic farming and processing standards, ensuring the cotton is natural and free from GMOs and harmful chemicals.

Natural candles and the importance of organic certification

Certification from reputable bodies like the Soil Association, GOTS, or similar organisations provides consumers with confidence in the product's integrity. These labels indicate that the product has passed stringent tests for natural and organic standards, covering everything from the growth and processing of ingredients to the manufacturing of the final product.

These third party certifications allow independent verification of the claims that businesses make about their products.


In order for a candle to be considered as natural, at the very least, the ingredients should not rely on significant interventions in the form of:

•  chemical modifications (hydrogenation & crude oil refining)
  dependence on genetically modified crops
•  dependence on pesticides
•  bleaching

The challenges for candle makers in making a truly natural candle are many. This limits significantly the options available in terms of the wax and the wicks. Furthermore, without independent certification in the form of Organic Certification, manufacturers are dependent on the claims made by their suppliers as to their origin and purity.

Organic candles on the other hand provide the confidence that the manufacturer/retailer has been independently verified by an approved organic control body. These control bodies must:

(i) Approve & assess all the suppliers of ingredients
(ii) Annually inspect the organisation to ensure they are meeting the organic standards around their processes, production & record keeping
(iii) Carry out traceability tests, inspect stock keeping & sales records.

Certifications from trusted organisations provide assurance that the candles you choose truly meet the high standards of being natural, sustainable, and eco-friendly. By looking for these certifications, consumers can avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing and support products that genuinely contribute to a healthier planet and home environment.