April 27, 2018

Candles – a consumer guide – Part 1

As promised here is the first part of our Consumer Guide to Candles.

What to look for and why? How do consumers make their mind up as to who they can trust and how to decipher brand labels and claims.

What does ‘natural’ really mean? Fragrances vs Essential oils, whats best? Can you have an organic candle?

Why do so many smaller companies use soy but the bigger ones don’t, why? And how do you know how to spot them?

What makes a good SAFE candle and why are so many sold through IG and Etsy that are illegal, unsafe and potentially dangerous to use?

So, starting out at the beginning – what to look out for.

Scented vs unscented.  This is a relatively simple one and it depends on what you want.  If you simply like the look of candles burning (such as church candles on a grate or in a hurricane lamp) then unscented is the way to go and the main driver is usually size, height, width and occasionally colour. These are often pillar or church candles and are usually made from paraffin blends or occasionally beeswax.  Soy wax on its own is pretty soft and doesn’t usually make a good pillar candle without some additional ingredient or hardener so if it’s the look of church candles you want you are usually going to get a paraffin or mineral blend or a beeswax (and therefore non-vegan) one.

There are some other unscented candles such as decorative or carved candles and tealights are often unscented but the same rules about wax type generally apply.

If you want a scented candle then the choices are enormous. And the waxes, fragrances and ethics around these are where it gets interesting.

To make a fragranced candle, fragrance or essential oils are added to molten wax to create a fragranced candle. Each candle maker decides on how much fragrance to add to their wax but the amount added can be determined by the estimated finished cost of the candle or the type of wax used – some waxes have a maximum fragrance load.

Cheaper candles are usually made with inferior fragrances that burn off very quickly or are diluted much more than necessary which brings the price down.  This is often the case with the bargain candles you see on the high street, a fragrance is diluted so it still smells amazing at first sniff but the main elements of the fragrance burn off very quickly. This is why candles can smell great when you get them home or even when you first light them but the next time you light them they don’t smell of anything – you can expect this with candles from the pound shops or bargain shops. Fine if you only want to burn it once and dont want a strong smell but this isnt the same for all candles there is a huge difference between something that costs £1 and something that costs £10!

One other way they get you especially with bigger candles is to only fragrance the top half of the candle halving the amount of fragrance needed. They simply make a candle with no fragrance in the bottom of the jar and then top up with fragranced wax – you light your candle and think it smells amazing but they work on the basis that people get bored and never burn their candles to the very end so don’t notice!  It’s a sneaky trick and often found in imported large candle jars or decorative containers. Its very hard to spot this before purchase so be aware.

How a candle is fragranced is an interesting topic and one that I will cover in more detail later as its a post in its own right but suffice to say candles can be made with specially designed candle fragrance oils or they can be made with essential oils.  There is an argument in favour of both and the ethics of each one provide arguments and counter arguements – it depends on what you want and what you like and where you draw your ethical line. I wil cover the pros and cons of this tomorrow.

So, what else should you look out for?

If you are buying in the UK/EU you should make sure your candle has a CLP label – this should show the potential allergens in your candle, it must give you an address and contact details and detail the weight etc.  If you candle label doesn’t have a warning pictogram and a complicated list of ingredients, it’s probably does not comply with UK law. This applies to US companies selling candles, melts, etc into the UK as well. If you want to read more on this, one of our previous posts details what is required for a legal candle label and how to achieve it.

Ideally a candle label should be capable of being read when the candle is set down so a label that only appears on the base is not generally acceptable.

Which brings me onto the last component of a candle – its wick.

In the past, candles were often made with a wick with a lead core which is where many of the scare stories came from but these days wicks are often paper, cotton core or even wood. Each wax type (soy, paraffin, coconut, blend etc) needs a different wick size or type and there is no one size fits all with candles. Wooden wicks generally give a gentle crackle as they burn but are in reality no better than a cotton wick one – in fact wooden ones are often made incorrectly as they are much harder to adjust with the result that candles are often over wicked.  There is a company I see regularly on IG (no names) that really over wick their candles and yet they are held up as being ‘so pretty’ but in reality an over wicked candle produces too big a melt pool causing potential safety issues for the consumer. A good candle maker would know that and would have tested their candles to ensure it did not happen.

So, to sum up the first part – be careful where you buy you candle and, in general, you get what you pay for. Be wary of unlabelled candles and follow candle safety labels properly.

Tomorrow – which wax is best and the pros and cons of candle fragrance.

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