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Why Are Some Candles So Freakin’ Expensive?

And what all goes into — and outside of — a candle, anyway?

Mmmmm, candles. At once sophisticated, romantic, cozy and a perfect gift for pretty much any occasion. But the prices on some of them — just, why? Why are candles so expensive? Is there a legitimate reason a hunk of enchantingly fragrant wax can cost hundreds of dollars? It doesn’t even light up by itself! 

On the other hand [inhales, exhales] they smell magnificent, don’t they? Is that what you’re really paying for, as with a perfume or a cologne? Alongside Marcus Wandell of Candles on Tap, and Sean Salemme of CandleScience, we’re sniffing around some answers.

So why are candles so expensive? A candle is just wax and smells, right?

Not really, and the wax and scents get complicated. Let’s start with the wax. Wandell says most candles sold in big-box stores use paraffin wax, which is cheaper — and, unfortunately, is made with a byproduct of gasoline. There’s soy wax, which Wandell says has a clean burn. Then there’s beeswax, which requires eight pounds of honey for every one pound of wax, and coconut wax, which can also be more expensive per pound than soy. So the wax can add to the cost.

Then there are scents, which can get very expensive indeed (more on that in a bit). The wick is hardly worth mentioning as an expense, though as an obvious matter of health, Wandell only uses lead-free ones.

Then there’s the actual vessel! For shipping purposes alone, the jar accounts for a quarter of the cost because of its weight. You’ll sometimes find that expensive candles have fancy jars, whether they’re handmade, crafted out of fine ceramic or other material, or maybe they’re particularly ornate. Take this bit of ignitable insanity by L’Objet — definitely trippier and more interesting than a jar! Yours for only $655.

Jesus H. Christmas. But about those scents, what’s going on there?

“Scents are the most expensive element in candle-making, by far,” Wandell says. Many are blended with essential oils, which are directly derived from plants — and if you’ve ever seen the size of vials for essential oils, you’ll know that a little oil can cost a lot of money. Each candle requires a lot of oil, if you actually want to smell it. (Candles with little scent have often skimped on the oils.)

As with perfumes and colognes, oils and scents are sourced from all over the world — and are also synthesized. Some natural ones are expensive, and some synthetic ones are cheap.

What about those candles with a lot of wicks? Why are those candles so expensive?

The only reason a three- or five-wick candle gets expensive is because a candle with so many wicks is going to be a big one, with a long burn time. So it’s a function of volume, not of how many wicks are running through the candle. Although expensive candles do sometimes have a lot of wicks — like this selection at Voluspa, all with five wicks, that go for around $200 each.

Yikes. What’s the deal with hand-poured candles?

They’re more expensive to do from a labor standpoint. Obviously a machine to pour them gets expensive, but economies of scale can eventually take care of that and drive the unit cost down. Many expensive candles are hand-poured, and Wandell says that the labor involved in hand-pouring isn’t trivial, because you also have to factor in the packaging, fulfilling and shipping (if the candle is poured by hand, these other things are often done by hand too).

Still, hundreds of dollars for a candle? What’s in those crazy-pricey ones?

You mean like Diptyque, which in some ways started this madness? There are also all those candles made by fashion labels: Here’s a Gucci candle for $475, and here’s a Versace candle for $317. No doubt there are premium scents in all of them that can be expensive, but still, a lot of the price is tied up in the “value” of the brand. 

“While luxe candles can use specific oils and fragrances that cost more due to where they’re sourced from, you often wouldn’t be able to tell the difference once it’s in a candle application,” Salemme says.

But if you’ve ever bought an expensive candle, you’ve surely taken notice of the often fancy presentation, which isn’t necessarily cheap. “Other areas where brands can spend more on their product to justify the cost is in the containers and packaging,” Salemme says. “That’s the first thing a customer can see and often touch as a means to evaluate the ‘value’ or ‘quality’ of a product.”

I’m guessing, though, expensive candles are profitable?

You bet! Salemme says the margin on candles is generally very good, “and the higher in the market a candle can be positioned, the better the margin,” he explains.

Ultra-expensive candles are basically status symbols, then.

Yep. It’s no coincidence that many high-fashion labels, those emblems of conspicuous consumption, have lines of candles. Ditto many lifestyle brands. Everyone can spot an expensive candle, and for that reason, they make excellent gifts. But would you want to burn them? If you actually want to light a candle to luxuriate in its aroma, good news: It’s easier than ever to find — or make — one with a scent you like for far less than hundreds of dollars, in this crazy-for-candles, slow-living moment we’re in. Go spend that money on something you won’t set on fire instead.

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