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Simple Science: Scented candles

Scented materials provide unique scents and even claim to provide health benefits when used.

The use of oils to help healing, called aromatherapy, has many proclaimed benefits. These include reducing stress and risk of infection, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center website.

Oils used in aromatherapy are typically extracted from seeds or blossoms of plants. Each oil has its own active ingredient composition that determines the effect the oil may have, according to the site.

Aromatherapy’s mechanism of action is not very well known, although some scientists believe the inhaled oils cause the olfactory, or “smell,” receptors in the nose send messages to regions of the brain responsible for emotion. This influences the user’s behavior, according to the site.

Despite the potential benefits, some scented candles might actually cause harm to the user. Prolonged and frequent exposure to scented candle emissions may “(release) unwanted chemicals into the air,” according to a South Carolina State University study.

Researchers tested unscented, vegetable-based candles against paraffin wax candles, and found that burning paraffin candles releases pollutants that may cause cancer and asthma, according to the site.

These effects may occur after years of daily use, according to the site, whereas the effects of aromatherapy may be nearly immediate.

Harshel Patel is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. He is the digital editor at The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @harshel_p.