Essential oils vs. fragrance oils in candles

One of the most common questions I get asked is if I use essential oils to scent my candles. Essential oils have been a hot topic for the past few years as people are trending toward more natural home and personal care products. Consumers have become privy to information about toxins commonly found in cleaning agents, air fresheners, soaps, bath products, makeup, and more. This knowledge has led many of us to search for safer alternatives. In comes essential oils.

What Are Essential Oils and How Are They Made?

Essential oil bottles

Essential oils are a concentrated liquid of compounds extracted from plants. They are typically made through distillation with water or steam. The word essential is used because this process captures the plant’s “essence” or distinctive aroma. Different plants store these aromatic compounds in different parts, such as the leaves, flowers, rinds, roots, or seeds.

Unfortunately, not all plants are able to produce essential oils because some cannot be effectively distilled or require such a tremendous amount of plant material that it would be cost prohibitive. For example, most fruits do not contain enough aromatic compounds to be extracted through distillation and therefore cannot be produced into essential oils. One notable exception are citrus fruits due to a large amount of aroma present in the rind. Sadly, there is no such thing as coconut, pineapple, melon, berry, banana, peach, pumpkin or apple essential oil, to name a few.

Can You Use Essential Oils in Candles?

When I first began my candle making journey, I thought I had a great idea to create an aromatherapy candle line scented with only essential oils. But once I started researching the use of essential oils in candles, I found out that it’s not that simple. Unfortunately, I discovered that essential oils can be unsafe to use in candles. They are not formulated to withstand the heat of a flame. They break down under heat, can be extremely flammable, and some may even become toxic when burned.

Essential oils are also highly volatile, meaning that they evaporate easily. This is great for diffusing but makes them unstable to use in candles. The scent and therapeutic properties burn off right away, leaving you with a candle that gives off little aroma and has no aromatherapy benefits.

Essential oil candle burned

Well, I decided to do a couple of test candles anyway, but the results were not ideal. In my first essential oil candle test, the wax around the wick turned to black sludge. This was clearly becoming overheated, so I blew that one out to avoid a potentially exploding candle. In my second test, the candle smelled very strong the first time I burned it, but the next time there was no scent left. A small amount of essential oil may be safe to use but will likely leave you with a candle that gives off very little fragrance.

So while I think essential oils are great and personally use them for many purposes, I have learned that they are best left to non-heated sources such as diffusers. They can also be a wonderful addition to cleaning sprays, soaps, lotions and other products that are not exposed to high heat.

But Don’t Other Candle Companies Use Essential Oils?

You may have seen companies selling candles advertising something like “made with essential oils” on the label (looking at you, Bath & Body Works). This is really just a marketing tactic. Some companies will put a very small amount of essential oil in their candles mixed with mostly fragrance oil in order to say they are made with essential oils. While that may technically be true, it is a bit disingenuous as it falsely leads people to believe they are scented only with 100% essential oils. You can even check the ingredients in BBW candles on their website. You will not find “Essential Oil” listed but you will find “Fragrance (Parfum)” listed as one of the main ingredients.

I have, however, seen a small number of companies that do make candles with only essential oils. I’ve smelled a few and find them to be very lightly scented. They are generally more expensive due to the higher cost of essential oils and are available in a more limited number of scents. If you think this is a good option for you, here is one company selling such candles. Personally, I think it's not worth the risk.

So What Do We Use Instead?

Fragrance oil sample bottles

We understand the importance of a clean burning candle and were happy to find a fragrance supplier that has developed a line of fragrance oils called Clean Scents™. They follow strict safety standards to produce fragrance oils free from phthalates, carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins, organ toxins, and acute toxins. You can find out more about Clean Scents™ by CandleScience here. We specifically chose this company because they care about safety and have developed fragrances free from many of the hazardous substances commonly found in fragrance oils.

These premium fragrance oils are specifically formulated for safe use in candles. They are made to withstand the heat of a flame and gradually release scent for the entire life of the candle. They are also available in all the yummy scents that many of us have grown to love in our candles. If you want a Sugar Cookie or Coconut Mango candle, unfortunately you will never find that with essential oils. But we think we have found the best and safest alternative.