"When will you restock your candles???"

When I started making candles aromatherapy candles for Zu Foos, I was thrilled at the possibilities in front of me. I initially thought it would be fun to make very small unique batches of different scents, but this became problematic almost immediately. As it turns out, people don't like inconsistency (which is fair), and it's also kind of a pain to create, make, test, label, and market new blends on the regular. Realizing this I instead created a line of chakra-inspired candles (7 in total) and worked to keep them in stock all the time.

This, too, became problematic. While I think that naming the candles after the chakras was a cute idea, it turns out that "Love: The Heart Chakra" doesn't bring to mind a scent, and, to those who did immediately think of things like rose and lavender, the candle disappointed. The traditional color for the heart chakra is actually green (and not pink), so I created a candle that "felt" green, that was enveloping and loving, and that, hopefully, would create an ambiance conducive to heart-centered activities. I did this for each candle and while people generally enjoyed the scents, many, many people told me that they were initially put off by the scent because they expected something different.

Hearing this feedback, I took a different approach. I simply listed the essential oils on the label in lieu of a more traditional name. The idea being that customers would be able to immediately see all the ingredients (three essential oils + soy wax) and would also be able to pick those three individual scents out of the greater blend. You know, maybe it could be educational, too. Additionally, I dropped the chakra-inspired labeling because it had begun to feel appropriative. Not only had I not been born into a culture or religion that used chakras, but I didn't use the idea of chakras in my every day life. I read about them in books, and learned more about them when I trained in reiki, but they never really resonated with me. It felt like I was doing the typical New Age thing and cherry-picking fun concepts from Eastern religions to make my products and practice feel more magical. So I stopped, and tried to move toward a more transparent aromatherapy-based approach.

This had its own slew of problems, not the least of which was that a single name was replaced by three names ("LOVE" became "Bergamot Mint | Ho Wood | Basil"), thus making it really difficult to even remember the candle you had bought in the past. I also found that simply stating the oils used in the candle took away from the blended aroma; customers would smells the candle and say "yes, I can smell the basil, but I don't smell the mint at all" and then put it down and walk away.

All of these growing pains don't even touch on a glaring problem that has haunted me from the beginning: despite being "naturally" made candles, they just factually aren't as strong smelling as candles made with synthetic scents and fragrance oils. Some of my candles smell very different when burned, some have very, very little scent, while others leave a soft aroma dancing around a room (the one pictured below (Bergamot mint | How Wood | Basil) is one of my favorites for that very quality). I couldn't help but feel like my candles were expensive for being a less-than-stellar product; and I actually got feedback that $15 was too expensive for a candle of that size.

Despite all of this, people have been consistently interested in my candles, and always ask when they'll be back in stock, and if I'm interested in selling them wholesale or on consignment. So, there is a significant push to improve my candles to create an actually stellar product, which is why my inventory is low right now and why I've been turning down wholesale deals. All my candles need to undergo a complete refresh. They'll become available again, individually, when I am able to create what I believe are premium scents that perform better than average, look great, and are priced right. It's a very long process, but I wanted to let you know what was happening. I'm actively testing and experimenting with my candles and I look forward to offering them for sale again.

That's the short version. If you're interested in reading about the actual nuts and bolts of candle making and my testing process, please read on: 

Overall, I'm happy with the non-fragrance aspects of my candles. I use soy wax (the ingredients of the wax are: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and Soy Based Emulsifier (Monoglycerides)). Soy wax is, in many ways, greatly superior to paraffin wax, which is a petroleum product. Soy burns cleaner (no black soot), burns at a lower temperature (safer!), is 100% plant based and therefore is biodegradable, renewable, and water-soluble. Paraffin is none of those things.

The containers I use are 9 fluid ounce glass jars with a metal lid. They are recyclable and reusable. When your candle has finished burning, toss the wick tab (the metal disk at the bottom) into your recycling, and then either wash out the jar in the sink or pop it in your dish washer to clean the wax out (NOTE: make sure you remove and large chunks of wax and put them in your compost pile. Pouring lots of wax, even plant wax, into your pipes is not a good idea. Thankfully, my candles burn almost all of the wax, but before you put your jar in the dishwasher, I'd suggest running the bottom of the jar under very hot water and scooping the remaining wax out, using a paper towel to get out as much of the wax as you can, and then, finally, putting it in your dish washer).

The wick is 100% cotton, the wick tab is metal, and it is affixed to the jar with soy wax, not glue. Literally every part of these candles can be recycled or thrown in your compost pile.

The issue comes in with the fragrance. I use essential oils, which are oils extracted from plant material (usually by steam, sometimes by pressing or with the use of solvents). Almost every candle you buy anywhere is going to be made with fragrance oils, synthetically produced oils designed to throw a lot of scent.

I don't use essential oils because they are more "natural" then fragrance oils (I don't honestly think essential oils should be considered natural. There is an obscene amount of production and processing involved to create a tiny amount of oil), but instead because I both like the simplicity of the ingredients, and because I prefer the aroma of plant oils to synthetic oils. In my opinion, fragrance oils very often have a sticky-sweet smell and/or are very perfume-y. Heavy, thick synthetic aromas are not appealing to me. Essential oils tend to have a cleaner, crisper scent that I like better.

However, this makes essential oils not as good an option for candles as fragrance oils. Delicate oils (like citrus) can actually be burned by the candle flame, resulting in either no fragrance or a burnt one. Heavy oils (like patchouli) can feel flat compared with complex fragrance oils, and, despite their ability to give off scent for a long time (therefore considered a "base note" in fragrance blending) they don't do a good job of throwing scent when used in a candle; that is that a candle made with only essential oils won't produce nearly the volume of scent as a candle made with fragrance oils. Your seasonal jar candle you got at the mall might scent your entire first floor. One of my candles is best used in a bathroom or small space.

This is what I've been struggling to deal with. It doesn't matter how high-quality the ingredients are if the end product isn't amazing.

One really interesting option is what's called "natural fragrance oils." Two of my suppliers now produce these oils which are designed to be used in candles and soaps in the same way traditional fragrance oils are used, but are composed of natural plant oils, essential oils, and other plant constituents. I'm testing a candle now, actually, made with a natural fragrance oil called "Amber." It contains actual essential oil extracted from amber, but the first note I get when I smell the candle is apricot oil. It's really, really lovely. Hopefully it's as lovely when I burn it :)

The problem with these natural fragrance oils is that they only exist as blends. It might be fun to offer some of these, but I still want to produce my own unique blends, and I won't be able to do with using natural fragrance oils.

One of my suppliers sells a patchouli and cedar natural fragrance oil and lists the ingredients as patchouli essential oil, cedar essential oil, and fractionated coconut oil. I found this really interesting, because I've been wondering for quite some time if adding a carrier oil to my candles might be a good idea. I know that adding carrier oils (like fractionated coconut oil) to other aromatherapy products can drastically improve the scent by lengthening how low the scent lasts. Essential oils are highly volatile, meaning they evaporate pretty quickly. By adding these volatile oils to a heavy carrier oil, the essential oils evaporates much slower. I wonder if this same idea would work in candles?

After doing hours of research last night, I made my own patchouli and cedar fragrance oil and made two candles with it. I also doubled the amount of oil I used in the candles (typically I use 15 ml (1/2 fl oz) per two jar candles, but for this I used 30 ml (1 fl oz) of my fragrance oil per two candles). We'll see how they turn out.

One of the frustrating things about making handmade products like this is that there are SO MANY different opinions and ideas around what your basic recipe should be. Some people claim that you only need 5%-9% fragrance oil in your candles. Other people say you should use up to 20%. It means that every single product needs to be extensively tested which is, honestly, a huge pain and pretty expensive.

Not to mention the fact that an increase in fragrance will undoubtedly increase the cost of the candle. All this is to say that I'm working on producing something amazing that doesn't cost $40 :-P

If you're a candle maker and also want to experiment with candle making, here are the exact recipes that I just made last night:

To make two jar candles that are about 9 fluid ounces each, you'll need 400 grams of soy wax. I use Golden Wax.

Patchouli + Cedar Fragrance Oil
12 ml patchouli essential oil
12 ml cedar essential oil
6 ml fractionated coconut oil

This weighs approximately 25-30 grams (you should really be doing this all via weight and not volume, but I didn't realize that when I made these candles). So, I'm adding about 7.5% fragrance to the wax (30 grams of fragrance divided by 400 grams of soy wax equals 0.075, or 7.5%).

Melt the wax in a double boiler, and let is cool to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir the oil mixture into the wax and pour normally.

The fragrance oil load is listed as 9%-11% on the golden wax page I linked, but I decided to not go that high, and this amount is double what I usually use. All my candles are made with 10-15 ml of oil per two candles; the basic recipe I put together from a few aromatherapy sources (this is just one example about the wildly differing information available out there).

Increasing the oil even further makes me nervous. To give you perspective, my candles currently retail at $15 each. If I sold this exact candle, I'd need to price it at $15.99 to make a 55% profit, which is fine, but does not allow for wholesale pricing (which is usually 50% of retail cost). If I sold this exact candle at wholesale, I'd be making $0.79 per candle, which, I don't know, seems way too low.

The second test I did was with an oil blend from Mountain Rose Herbs that I bought a couple years ago. I used one bottle (15 ml) for two candles (400 g wax), which is the amount of oil I had been using in the past. I just want to get an idea of what a natural fragrance oil might smell like in a candle; what the scent profile might be.

I made two of each candle test instead of one because there's another aspect to this entirely: curing. Many people suggest that a candle needs to "cure" before it's burnt. That is, it needs to sit around not being burnt for a while. I've seen some people say that a candle needs to sit for 12-48 hours before, and other who said it needs to be more like two weeks (at least!). So, one of each candle will be burned within 12-48 hours, and the other will wait longer.

This is a lot, I know. I ran into this issue first when I started making bath products and found that everything I made sucked. I was, in many cases, following exact recipes I'd found online or in books, which eventually made me realize that DIY recipes are pretty much exactly like when a food recipe tells you to caramelize onions in 5 minutes: total bullshit. A lot of these recipes were made one time and either just happened to work, or created a crappy product, but that didn't matter to the people posting the recipe. They were posting it to gain views, ad revenue, and/or the satisfaction of knowing people were listening to what they said.

For this reason, finding recipes to start from when making things to sell can be such a pain, especially when you want to do it a little differently (using essential oils in this case, rather than fragrance oils).

Certainly, I've learned that candles just aren't the best way to use essential oils. Last year I made some simple glycerin soap with essential oils and it was fantastic (expect more of that in the future!). In candles, though, you need a lot of oil to throw a little scent. Essential oil is an extremely expensive product to produce, and to buy, and we need to keep that in mind. If I end up making an amazing candle that has tons of oil in it and costs $40 retail, would that be worth the expense? I don't think so.

However, I'd love it if you shared your experience of making essential oil-based candles and products. Do you agree that candles aren't the best way to diffuse essential oils? If so, have you discovered other ways to diffuse scent (other than an actual diffuser)?


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