Sunday, January 28, 2018

candle studies: the sad tale of beeswax the air cleaner

It saddens me to write of beeswax and negative ions once again, but it fits at this juncture of candle studies and I’d like to dispense with it. Claiming that beeswax candles emit negative ions is much like claiming that paraffin candles are toxic: there is no scientific evidence. And if ions are not about science, then what are they about? Although some seem to be backing off the claim, I ran into it so often— coupled as it was with the mantra that paraffin is toxic—that it teed me up once again. Fortunately, I did find one well-researched article.

But at least two beeswax candle companies of some size still use as part of their spiel the old saw that beeswax emits negative ions that clean the air. They use it as advertising. They use it to tell you why you should buy a beeswax candle rather than any other type of candle. I contacted both companies to find out what they had to back up the claim. One of the companies responded after two emails and one voice message. In an email, they told me they had nothing to back up the claim. Specifically: I have found some articles outline the benefits of negative ions, but nothing that shows that they are produced by beeswax. Yet on their website still they say: Beeswax is 100% natural and a renewable resource that actually cleans the air by emitting purifying negative ions.

I contacted the other company via their website contact form. A week later I sent a follow-up email. A week later I called. The person who answered didn’t know how they know that beeswax candles emit negative ions, but told me that a person who did know would call me back or email. It’s been a week. I’ll call again.*

I also tried contacting a “wellness” blogger who has written more than once about the air-purifying qualities of beeswax candles, specifically this negative ions jazz. The only way I could find to contact this person without having to go on Facebook was through leaving comments on posts, so I did that, submitting comments weekly for about three weeks. I asked that they please share the study that shows that beeswax produces negative ions. After a while, amid the deafening silence, I wondered: why am I pursuing this?

At a certain point, it becomes not about whether a beeswax candle shoots out negative ions or not, but about why we believe what we believe. For a while, I believed the negative ion story. I was just starting out making and selling beeswax candles and I used the claim about negative ions because others were using it and it seemed to work as a selling point. But then I questioned it. How did I know that beeswax candles emit negative ions? Because somebody said so? Wouldn’t it be better to know from the actual study that revealed it? And that’s when I discovered there was no such thing. That’s when I discovered there was just this mindless, chanting, repetitive loop. And I was part of it.

By this time I had customers telling me about beeswax and negative ions. Indeed, the claim seemed to be common knowledge, at least among some. Rather than refute it, I decided to do this: Well … there doesn’t really seem to be any evidence to back it up, that I can find … but, still, some do claim … and, by the way, I burn beeswax candles all the time and my house is really clean!

How lame.

At a certain point, I suppose it is about respect.

This time around, when I ran up against the claim after having been reading about the chemistry of candle combustion and the various waxes that exist in the world, several questions came to mind.
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions that clean the air, how many beeswax candles burning for how long does it take to clean the air in a room, say, 100 feet square? Does it matter if/how the room is ventilated? Does it matter if there are pets in the room? How about electronics? A giant screen TV? In general, what factors might diminish or enhance the effects of the beeswax candles and their air-cleaning qualities?
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions, do candles made from other waxes emit negative ions?
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions and candles made from other waxes do not, what is it about the make-up of beeswax, or the way that beeswax combusts, that makes it different from all other waxes? If it’s about the way it combusts, does the type of wick come into play? And wouldn’t air currents be a factor?
  • If beeswax candles emit negative ions, does the wax’s level of refinement affect the number of negative ions emitted? For instance, does highly refined or bleached beeswax emit more, fewer, or the same number of negative ions as unfiltered beeswax?
At some point it is about logic.

It was then that I began wondering how those who make the negative ions claim know it to be true, and, if they don’t know it to be true (for how could they?), why do they believe it to be true?

I know it to be true because I believe it to be true.
I believe it to be true because I want it to be true.
I want it to be true because

Meanwhile, I read an article in The New Yorker by Jiayang Fan, “Buried Words, Han Kang and the complexity of translation.” The last sentence is:
A flame is an ephemeral and fragile thing that can serve at once to memorialize the dead and light the way for the living.
I turned to watch the flame of a beeswax candle. What I saw was an ancient light. What others see is an air cleaner.

* Update January 30, 2018 – I have heard from the other beeswax candle company and wanted to make clear that they did respond last week, it’s just that their email did not reach me. They sent the email again, and new leads develop. They pointed me toward an article in the May 2004 newsletter of Dr. Jonathan V. Wright’s Nutrition and Healing newsletter, giving me this link to follow: In the article, they said, Dr. Wright writes about a study commissioned in Japan by Akio Sato through which it is discovered that all candles emit negative ions, but beeswax does so in unusual quantity. Unfortunately, this candle company was unable to uncover the actual study, just this one article about it, but many years of testimonials from their customers, as well as their own experience, have proved to them that the negative ions claim is true.

The link took me to the home page for what is now Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld’s Nutrition & Healing website. (The disclaimer at the bottom of the site reads: Health Disclaimer! The information provided on this site should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this site. Readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The information and opinions provided here are believed to be accurate and sound, based on the best judgment available to the authors, but readers who fail to consult appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries. The publisher is not responsible for errors or omissions.

By searching the site for “beeswax,” I came up with a few articles, including the one from May 2004, “The proof is in: Breathe easier with beeswax.” In order to read it, though, I would have to pay $79 for a subscription to the newsletter—no! Wait! Just $37! I am older than 55! Still … I decided to try other avenues first and googled Akio Sato. I found a pro wrestler, a baseball player, and three politicians. I googled Dr. Jonathan V. Wright and found him at the Tahoma Clinic, near Seattle, Washington, where he is the founder and medical director. I sent him an email via the clinic’s contact form.

So, the search for truth and original source continue. Connections fire in the brain. I have just started looking into soy wax, which was in development in one lab or another throughout the 1990s, entering the candle market in the early 2000s. It was developed for The Body Shop as a healthy and affordable candle alternative to paraffin and beeswax.