Questions We All Have: Why Are Candles So Expensive?

published Mar 30, 2018
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(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

Whether you’re unwinding after a long day at work or gearing up for a romantic night in, very few things can set the mood like lighting some candles. “It’s an easy and cost-effective way to transform your environment into something special,” says David Seth Moltz, co-founder of fragrance and candle company D.S. & Durga.

In 2015, the U.S. retail sales of candles—not including accessories like hurricanes, matchboxes, and wick trimmers—were an estimated $3.2 billion. Make no mistake, that’s a lot of candles, but when you do the math, it’s not as many as you’d think. Though stores like Target, Yankee Candle, and Bath & Body Works offer plenty of options for under $30, the industry is chock-full of candles that cost double or triple the price. And once you light that pricey, luxurious wick, it’s easy to feel like you’re burning your money away.

So what gives? Why are candles so expensive?

For most luxury companies, it starts with the quality of the scents. While perfumes are loaded with oils that simply smell good, a candle is a careful concoction of oils that burn well. “Synthetics are super important, especially in candles,” Moltz explains. “Certain essential oils make black smoke and kill the flame.” In many cases, synthetic doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper as you might think. “The amount of oils that go into a candle is higher than what goes into a fragrance, but the perceived value of a candle is a lot lower than a fragrance,” he adds. “Some of the fragrances we use are so expensive, we’d lose money if we sold [each candle] for $10.”

At $65 for a seven-ounce D.S. & Durga candle, Moltz argues there are other factors that contribute to its higher price tag—including the complexity of the scents. As the company’s sole scent designer, Moltz says he strives to capture specific, obscure moments in a jar. You have to admit the concrete and steam base notes in Concrete After Lightning or ’85 Diesel’s leather and smoke combination is more elevated than “sugar cookies” or “pumpkin spice latte.”

“If you’re buying a $10 candle, there’s no way what’s inside of it is high-quality oil,” he adds. Other costs (at least for this brand in particular) include sourcing American-made jars, tinting each jar the company’s signature peach, creating letter-pressed boxes and labels, and more.

So is a $70 luxury candle worth its price tag? Well, according to wife duo Jocelyn and Alaina Young Drew, not exactly. “I think a lot of it is perception,” Alaina argues. “When these companies started, it probably made sense for them to price their candles this way. Now, there are brands like ours who are pulling back the curtain.”

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Like many of us, Jocelyn and Alaina noticed they were spending too much money on candles, and knew luxury didn’t have to come with sticker shock, so in 2017, they founded Bijou Candles, a direct-to-consumer company redefining luxury candles. Similar to other brands in its weight class, Bijou boasts Instagram-worthy packaging and unique hard-to-pinpoint scents—in this case, named after Hollywood starlets like Judy Garland and Audrey Hepburn.

But thanks to cutting out the middleman and making small-batch quantities, Bijou sells its 10.5-ounce candles for $29. “We wanted to bring accessible luxury to everybody,” says Jocelyn. “Just because it’s $29 doesn’t mean you won’t get all the bells and whistles.”

In addition to its mix of non-toxic synthetics and organic, essential oils, Bijou’s 100-percent soy candles are vegan, cruelty-free, and have never been tested on animals. Although soy wax burns evenly, slowly, and generally produces less smoke, Alaina says it’s not an industry standard. “Some luxury candles don’t even use soy!” she explains. “They’re using things that are better to make on mass.”

Whether you spend $30 or $130, all candles are not created equal. While Jocelyn and Alaina place a lot of emphasis on quality and transparency, they also recommend investing in companies that share your ethos. “As millennials, we want transparent companies,” says Jocelyn. “We want industry disruptors to cut out the middleman.”

Moltz, on the other hand, argues candles aren’t as essential as food and water, so why not invest in a scent you really love? “Fragrances and candles are less functional,” he explains. “It’s about enjoying the aroma.”