The popularity of scented candles has plummeted, nearly obscuring unscented versions! Perhaps this is because the primary role of candles has kind of shifted, from being a primary light source to throwing scents and adding ambiance.
Now, picking a scent is not that hard. Whether you want your space to be engulfed in citrusy freshness or smell like a garden of roses, it is really up to you. You can even choose seven different scents for each day of the week.
The real challenge is actually choosing the ingredient(s) for that scent. There are basically two options -fragrance oils and essential oils, and there is a lot of debate over which is better.
Are fragrance oils or essential oils better for candles? Fragrance oils are better than essential oils in dissipating strong scents and from a budget perspective, too. Although, there’s some fear of toxic emissions from the burning chemicals with fragrance oils, essential oils are not necessarily the better choice.
Overall, it’s still a matter of choice.
Natural enthusiasts will obviously vouch for essential oil, the argument being it is a natural, and thus healthier, alternative. But is it?
Does it retain the same health benefits when burnt in a candle? Can essential oils really match up to fragrance oils in providing the desired scent intensity, and at what cost?
Well, this article is about to set the record straight on which oil is better when it comes to achieving quality scents in candles! Let’s start by finding out what these oils are.
Fragrance Oils, What Are They?
Fragrance oils are highly concentrated aromatic compounds blended into benign carrier oils. These compounds are chemically synthesized to breakdown into lightweight molecules that diffuse quickly through the air.
Fragrance oils can be ‘natural’ or synthetic. Both types of fragrance oils are produced chemically but with different bases.
The main difference is that ‘natural’ fragrance oils are a recreation of scents already in existence. A single aromatic molecule isolated out of the many isolates in complex scents from plant extracts is utilized to engineer scents. Therefore, they are not entirely artificial nor are they totally natural.
The synthetic fragrance oils on the other hand, are 100% chemical engineered. The scents are created out of nothing using petrochemicals.
The greatest advantage is that they are cheap, and one can invent unique and delicious fragrances that don’t exist in nature.
However, the petrochemical ingredients used to create synthetic fragrances are some of the most toxic substances when used at unsafe levels. These include aldehydes, phthalates, and toluene, just to mention but a few.
Essential Oils, What Are They?
Without getting deep into scientific lingo, essential oils are basically plant extracts from the roots, leaves, bark, or flowers. These extracts then undergo either steam distillation or solvent extraction process to produce the aromatic oil.
Essential oils carry the distinct essence of the source plant, hence the name ‘essential’. They are all natural. The oils typically come in their purest state and are not mixed with any carrier oil to cut back concentration.
They are 100% mother nature’s goodness with a very complex compound structure that cannot be reproduced. Essential oils can also be natural healers for multiple ailments and have other therapeutic properties like calming, soothing, and revitalizing the mind and body.
Fragrance Oils Vs Essential Oils – Which is Better For Candles?
When choosing a scent maker for your candles, your decision revolves around these three things: scent throw, scent variety, and cost.
Candles produced by either oil smell amazing, no doubt about that. Notwithstanding, essential oil candles are poorer at throwing scents.
Your senses can catch something with a cold throw. But when it comes to a hot throw, the scent gets really subtle. It’s a barely-there kind of aroma that disperses quickly. You’ll be lucky to catch it.
They are, of course, no match for fragrance oil candles loaded with fragrance which produce a much stronger scent throw.
Still, the better oil here is still a matter of personal preference. If you are after a less noticeable aroma, then essential oil candles are the better option. Anyone looking to experience a real fragrance that lingers on in the air should be looking at fragrance oil candles.
There are also ways to help you make a candle smell stronger, regardless of what oils you use.
In addition to being the better scent maker, fragrance oil is reasonably priced and more economical for candle making. Its production is low-cost, and a little of it goes a long way, scent-wise.
Contrastingly, the production process of essential oils is comparatively high, which translates to premium prices. For some specific plant species, tons of plant matter are needed to generate just a tiny bottle of its essential oils.
Now, factor in the amount of essential oil (we are talking about a hundred drops or so) needed to meet nearly but not the same scent strength as fragrance oil candles. You can easily make an expensive batch of candles if you want the scent to be stronger.
Clearly, essential oils are not the economic option for scented candle making.
Fragrance oils have an almost infinite variety of scents and irresistibly charming ones, for that matter. The aromatic compounds can be synthesized to replicate any smell thinkable: fruity, floral, earthy, herbal, spicy, etc. And because the chemical formula is always the same, smell consistency is high.
With essential oils, there’s a slightly smaller basket of scents to choose from. There are still many types of essential oils, which are easy to blend together. But since they are made from existing substances, the possibilities are great, but not endless.
Also, you might not get the exact same scent among different batches of essential oils. The scent intensity doesn’t always wind up uniform, as many factors influence the quality of the essential oil. Even if the same amount of, say, lavender is used to make an essential oil, one batch of lavender flowers may be more aromatic than another.
However, if you like this natural variation and prefer your candles not to come out “cookie cutter” perfect, this could be a bonus.
Fragrance oils seem to be ahead so far, so why do essential oils come out strongly as the better scent maker for candles in many arguments? Let’s find out.
Fragrance Oils Vs Essential Oils – The Arguments
Fragrance oils are created in the lab using chemicals, which is the cause of the controversy.
Chemical averse consumers and candle makers argue that when this chemical composition burns in a candle, it releases harmful gases detrimental to human health. As a result, a significant population is drumming up support for using the all-natural therapeutic essential oils in candle making as an alternative to fragrance oils.
So, is the claim true or just another fallacy?
Indeed it is true that fragrance oils are formulated by reacting synthetic chemicals. There is also compelling scientific evidence that when particular chemicals in fragrance oils burn, toxic substances are released into the air.
However, it is worth noting that many manufacturers are becoming more eco-conscious and strive to make fragrance oil non-toxic when burnt. This is done by eliminating phthalates from its formulation.
Phthalates are carcinogenic chemicals that are the leading cause of the said negative effects of fragrant oil. The phthalate used in candle making is known as diethyl phthalate (DEP). It boosts the scent strength of a fragrance oil candle.
Phthalates are hazardous chemicals when they enter the human body in large quantities causing neurological disorders, but that’s way less than what is put in candles. The International Fragrance Association approves its use in candles as non-toxic at safe levels.
Still, it is better to be safe than sorry. Therefore, when choosing fragrance oil for your candles, go for brands that are phthalate-free. Parabens are other toxic additives to watch out for.
Are Essential Oils Really All That Great?
It is also true and admirable that essential oils are nature derived, and there are great health benefits attached to them. Notwithstanding, the picture is not all that rosy as painted by many naturalists.
You may not reap much, if any, therapeutic benefits from a burning essential oil candle for the following reasons. For starters, essential oils remain stable and potent in cool and dark environments; which is quite the opposite of what a burning candle is.
Being volatile substances, the quality can be compromised easily between extraction, handling, packaging, and storage. Even how the plant is tended impacts the quality of essential oils, so consistency is difficult to achieve.
Also, essential oils are known to oxidize and become super toxic when burnt. And that’s not all. Inhaling the aroma of pure essential oils can actually have a counter effect to what you were expecting. They are known to cause a series of allergic reactions to people with sensitivities when inhaled.
Essential oils are beneficial in treating and alleviating symptoms of many conditions, but not in this particular circumstance. They are not any healthier than fragrance oils when burnt in candles.
However, it is worth noting that some allergic reactions are actually caused by the type of wax used to make the candle and not necessarily fragrance oils or essential oils.
Fragrance oils are better than essential oils for candle making overall.
Fragrance oils have a higher scent profile and are cost-effective. Although chemical-based, they are considered safe to use as long as they are free from phthalates and parabens. You are also guaranteed of a consistent smell, if that matters to you.
Essential oils are certainly healthier than fragrance oils, but not for this specific application of making candles. You might get some delightful whiffs with an unlit candle, but it doesn’t hold scent well when a candle is ignited.
Essential oils won’t let you down if you prefer to go all-natural, as long as you’re careful, but fragrance oils are probably the overall best choice for most.