May 2, 2018

Consumer Guide to Candles – Part 3 – Fragrance

Ok, here’s the fun – and slightly more contentious – one!

Most people buy candles because of the fragrance, quite simply they like how they smell!  The big candle makers Y**** etc have built their businesses on the smell not on the look or how fancy their jars are.  Its simply about what they smell like.

And so, aren’t all candles made the same?

Well, to put it simply – NO!

As I said in my first post, fragrances can be diluted, poor quality or even not fragranced throughout the whole candle. But that’s not the whole story so lets look at the fragrance options and whats good and whats not.

In general fragrances can be split into two categories – fragrance oils (synthetic oils designed to work in candles) or essential oils (oils from plants and flowers distilled into a concentrated solution). Now there is a whole heap of IG accounts and ‘green’ enthusiasts who will tell you that natural or essential oil candles are best, that aromatherapists make the best candles or that candles will generate some kind of additional healing properties.

My opinion only but that’s poppycock!

Putting aside the costs of essential oils – good quality essential oils are generally more expensive that the equivalent fragrance oil – essential oils are not designed to be heated to high temperatures  and so the throw they give is often mixed and more unpredictable.  Often the first burn is fantastic but later burns can be poor with a much weakened hot throw, this is because the heat of the flame has burnt off the bulk of the essential oil reducing the overall smell. So, some aromatherapists will light a fresh candle each time and you get an amazing smell throughout your treatment but if you were to light the same candle the next day the throw would be weaker and weaker.

Essential oils may have their place in candle making (assuming you are ok with the overall scent quality) but don’t let anyone tell you that essential oils are better because nasty old fragrance oils give out chemicals which are bad for you and that essential oils are clean and pure. Essential oils contain the same range of allergens i.e. Courmarin, Linalool, Limonene as are found in synthetic fragrance and so if you have a reaction of fragranced candles you are just as likely to have the same reaction to a candle containing essential oils.

From an ethical standpoint there are some questions around the sustainability of growing crops for us to use in luxury products or quite simply for us to light up in flames and so to accuse essential oil candles as being greener in some way is, in my opinion, stretching the point.

However, if you want to go down the essential oils route I would suggest you go for one of the better quality ones and one that doesn’t make any spurious claims about how their candles will improve your life, cure all your ills and generally change the world. Choose British made and make sure it has correct CLP labelling which applies to all candles essential oil or fragrance.

Which brings us onto fragrance oils.  Often blamed for all sorts of allergic reactions these are not always the culprits (see above). Candle fragrances are available in three distinct types nature identical, standard and allergen free.  Those that are marked as allergen free have been designed to be free from the main causes of allergic reactions, often lighter in scent these may not be as strong as those in other candles but for most people they will not product an allergic reaction.

Those that are nature identical are generally created to have the same chemical compound as those found in essential oils etc.  The advantage of this is essential oils are grown and crops vary, harvest qualities vary and prices vary.  Nature identical compounds are the same every time and usually avoid the huge price fluctuations found in essential oils.  This is particularly true for the more expensive oils including favourites such Rose, Sandalwood or Chamomile – lots of perfume houses use these to create signature fragrances as it avoids the variations you get in nature and allows a more consistent product.

And so to the standard fragrances used in candles. These are designed for use in candles and as such should perform well but not all are created equal – we know of two suppliers who sell similar fragrances and one produces a very poor scent compared to the other.  The assumption (and something that is hard to prove) is that one dilutes the fragrance more to create a greater profit margin and so be careful who you buy from – cheaper isnt alway better!

There is a max percentage that can be added to wax (whether that’s for candles or melts) so anyone claiming that they can produce a candle or melt with 50% fragrance is a) talking nonsense and b) selling a potentially very dangerous product. And it is this tweaking of percentages that makes each manufacturer different – different waxes take fragrance at different percentages and so a good chandler will tweak their fragrance to support the wax and the strength of their product.  We have a couple that that if we were to use at full strength they can be  overpowering and so we have to reduce the strength!

There are some really good fragrance houses in the UK and EU that now produce a wide range of candle fragrances – it used to be that you could only buy from the US but that has changed significantly and so its possible to buy fantastic quality candles made in the UK and that are approved for sale (back to CLP again!).

All candles sold in the UK (and wax melts) must BY LAW be labelled to show their specific fragrance allergens and so if you know you are allergic to Cinnamal or Limonene you know that you can avoid candles containing those ingredients.  Be wary of any seller that cannot tell you or show you whats in the candle – they are breaking the law.

Next part – what makes a good candle, melt pools, burn tricks and how to spot a poorly made candle!

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