A candle is much more than a fragrant piece of decor. A candle is many things — an olfactory object of expression, a time-machine, a therapeutic tool.
It’s true. The mental health benefits of burning candles are real, according to researchers. Though it might seem silly, the science of candles for health is rooted in the practice of aromatherapy.
There are about 300 active olfactory receptor genes "devoted to detecting thousands of different fragrance molecules through a large family of olfactory receptors," according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientia Pharmaceutica in 2016,
"The sense of smell plays an important role in the physiological effects of mood, stress, and working capacity," the study reseachers wrote.
Candles emit scents that create specific feelings in the mind and body.
Using an electroencephalograph to record brain activity, the research "clearly revealed that fragrances significantly modulate the activities of different brain waves and are responsible for various states of the brain. Further, a number of studies have scientifically supported the beneficial use of various aromatic plants in aromatherapy."
The warm glow of a candle has numerous benefits for someone working to improve their sleep hygiene, too. The flame of a candle is a much better alternative to the blue light of a smartphone.
Though it's no longer a cultural necessity, living by candlelight in the evenings is helpful for quieting the mind and giving the eyes a necessary digital reprieve.
A Brief History of Candles
The history of candles is long and fascinating. Candles for ceremony have been popular among almost every religion, in addition to being used to light homes, to aid travelers at night, and honor those who were lost.
Early civilizations developed various types of non-wicked and wicked candles using many different waxes made from available animals, plants and insects. In the 1990s, the popularity of candles blossomed — leading to innovations in new types of candle waxes for the first time in a century.
Candles + Mental Health
By introducing scents and notes into our space, we control the energy of our mind and pace of our environment.
As a sensory form of mental health therapy, here are a few reasons to keep burning candles:
Candles transform an atmosphere through scent, changing the way we feel in space. Lighting a candle for meditation, a bath, a date or any other intention is a beloved practice for setting an ambiance anywhere.
Calms the mind
Floral and herbal aromas, like geranium, lavender, and peppermint, have been proven to be useful for the treatment of various psychological and physiological disorders through the burning of aromatherapeutic candles. Candles for depression and anxiety are particularly popular.
Scented candles can induce calm and help to alleviate symptoms of stress, with the ability to lower cortisol. Certain candles are crafted specifically to activate chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine, to support a positive mood.
Specific scents in candles can stimulate memory in the brain. The limbic system is the part of the brain that is home to our memory and emotions. Scent, emotion and memory are inexplicably intertwined, according to The Harvard Gazette.
Supports a restful sleep
In the 21st Century, candlelight evenings are incredibly beneficial for maintaining natural sleep rhythms. Practicing good sleep hygiene means limiting blue light by disconnecting from technology at a certain time each day.
Burning candles can become a personal ritual to commit to reflection and relaxation. Psychologists say candles have a positive effect on mental health, and can be paired with other wellness activities like journaling and doing yoga by candlelight.
The Healthiest Candle Wax Available
American agricultural chemists developed soybean wax, which burned more slowly and ultimately replaced paraffin wax. Today, the healthiest candles today are made up of soy and beeswax candles. Natural wax candles paired with wicks made from braided cotton or paper with a cellulose core are the standard.
A candle is so simple, yet it always seems to be something everyone can look forward to. The psychological benefits of burning candles can promote feelings of joy, ease, focus, energy and so much more.