Candles: A Beginner’s Guide to Waxes


 Autumn is upon us and soon,  summer nights will give way to cool, crisp evenings. If you’re anything like us, you pull out the cozy blanket and most likely light a few candles; there’s nothing like a warm, comforting light to take the chill out of the air! Candle making is a great way to expand your soap and/or cosmetic line and extend your favorite fragrance formulations to the home as well as the body. In this article, we will be discussing different waxes and additives that are available to today’s candle makers, and the specific uses for each.

Candle Types

 Before you get started on your candle making adventure, decide what kind of candle you are looking to make. Will it be a container candle (a candle that is poured into a receptacle of some kind)? Will it be a votive, or a pillar? Once you’ve decided which type to make, there are a few simple guidelines to follow for each kind.



Container Candles

Container candles are the most popular type of candle. For this kind, you’ll want to look for a single-pour or one-pour wax; these waxes are easy to use and will typically result in a smooth result, due to decreased shrinkage (which is why they are called single or one pour). Heat the wax to its recommended melting point, add a fragrance if you’d like, and you’re ready to pour! Usually, wax intended for container candles will be a bit softer to prevent shrinkage, which can have an undesirable effect on the aesthetic of your finished product. There are different options for container candle waxes; paraffin, palm, soy and beeswax are among them. Before pouring your candle, it is imperative that you have chosen a proper container; sticking with glass is usually the best bet to prefer unwanted container melting or burns.

Votive Candles

Votive candles are also very popular. These candles are made in a mold; because of this, shrinkage is desirable to make them easier to remove. Depending on the wax you choose, you may be able to achieve the desired result with one pour, or you may need to pour multiple times depending on the amount of shrinkage. Popular votive candle waxes include paraffin, soy, beeswax, palm, and blends of each.

Pillar Candles

Pillar candles are designed to burn free-standing. Because of this, you will need a harder wax in order to produce a sturdy candle. Like votive candles, pillar candles are poured into molds and require some wax shrinkage to be removed after pouring. Most pillar candles will require multiple pours before they are completed. Popular waxes for pillar candles are paraffin, beeswax and palm; like votives, blends are also available.  (It is difficult to achieve an even-burning pillar candle with soy wax because of its soft quality.  However, soy wax can be blended with other much harder waxes, such as paraffin or beeswax.)



Choosing Your Wax

Much of your wax decision will be based on preference; what are you looking for as a final result? Although soy wax has vastly improved over the years, paraffin wax is still regarded as superior when it comes to the scent throw of a candle. Soy wax is held in high regard for its natural qualities and multiple uses. Let’s take a look at the most popular waxes on the market today.

Paraffin Wax

Paraffin wax is the by-product of the crude oil refinery process. It is refined through the hydrogenation process and is currently the most popular candle making wax. Paraffin wax is a budget-friendly option and offers a long range scent throw as well as easy dyeing that makes it very appealing to candle makers. Paraffin is a great wax to start out with because of its lower cost and ease of use.

Soy Wax

Soy wax is made out of soy beans, specifically the oil of soybeans. This oil is extracted from the soybeans and then hydrogenated, which results in the conversion of some fatty acids in the oil from unsaturated to saturated. Soy is a renewable resource, and is very appealing to candle makers for its ability to be marketed as an eco-friendly option. Soy candles also burn longer and cleaner, making them appealing to consumers, too. It is a bit more expensive, and can be more challenging to scent; however, the benefits of a biodegradable and environmentally responsible product are worth the cost for a seasoned candlemaker.


Beeswax is on the pricier side of the wax price range, but has it’s its own benefits for use. For example, beeswax candles have a noticeably longer burn time, and are one of the most natural waxes you can buy. Beeswax is also nontoxic and many candle makers claim that beeswax candles act as a sort of natural air cleaner. There are very few drawbacks to making and burning beeswax candles; typically, the expense of the wax is what drives candlemakers and buyers to less pricey options.

Palm Wax

There are many conflicting opinions about palm wax and its usage. While many agree that palm wax has marketable benefits, such as its increased hardness and smoothness, others stay away from palm wax due to unfair trade practices associated with its production. Whatever your opinion may be, your buyers will expect a responsibly sourced product that has been fairy produced; be sure to do your research on the company you intend to buy it from to make sure that the product you purchase fits this criteria!


Wax Additives

There are several additives that can help distinguish your candles from your competitor’s, while giving your buyers additional benefits and a quality product. Although not required, these additives can increase hardness or even promote the longevity of the finished product.

Stearic Acid

Rarely do we hear the word “acid” without automatically thinking “caustic”, but this is not the case with stearic acid. Stearic acid is made by saponifying the triglycerides in fats and oils using hot water and distillation. Stearic acid can be made from either animal or vegetable fats.

Stearic Acid is often used in candle making to make candles harder in order to prevent slumping; because of this, it is often used in votives and pillars. It is also used to make translucent wax more opaque, increase burn time and retain fragrance.


Vybar is a polymerized olefin, and is used to replace stearic acid in candlemaking. Vybar has the ability to increase the harness of a candle without contributing to brittleness, and has the same quality of providing increased opacity and fragrance retention as stearic.

UV Stabilizer

UV Stabilizers are used to stop candles from losing their color when exposed to sunlight (UV rays) or lighting such as fluorescent lights. Although a UV stabilizer won’t completely prevent color fade, it will significantly reduce it. These additives are also called UV Absorbent, UV Protectant and UV Inhibitors.


Candle colorants come in a variety of forms; pigments, liquid candle dye and color blocks are the most popular. Be careful when coloring your candles, it is important to make sure that you are using a candle approved colorant.


Final Thoughts

Candle making can be a great source of additional income and also a great project to do with your family and friends. Make sure to ask yourself some basic questions before you get started on your candle project:

  • What is my vision for the final product?
  • Are sustainability and environmental friendliness important for this project?
  • Who is my target customer?
  • Have I properly researched my ingredients and additives to make sure they are safe for use in candles?

Be sure to keep in mind when choosing your container and wax that this item, unlike your soap or cosmetics, will be on fire in your customer’s home. Follow proper guidelines for labeling candles with precautionary stickers to avoid any avoidable issues in the future; some examples of precautions commonly used would be:

  • Do not leave candle unattended
  • Keep out of reach of small children and pets
  • Trim wicks to prevent smoking and soot buildup

A well made, properly marketed candle will keep your customers coming back time and again!

Ready to take the first steps in your candlemaking journey? Check out our instructional video, “My First Soy Candle-Intro to Candle Making” featuring Julie Koenig of Kreative Kraftwerks! This video is located in our How-To Library at

Common Scents: All About Lavender

Welcome to our new series, Common Scents! Common Scents is a series of articles exploring the history of commonly used essential oils and how they became so popular in modern day soap and cosmetic crafting.

In this edition of Common Scents, we will explore the rich and royalty filled history of (almost) everyone’s favorite essential oil: lavender! Lavender first entered documentation around 77 AD, when it was thought to be a sort of cure-all. Today, lavender has many applications in aromatherapy, soap and cosmetics. It has proven to be one of the most versatile essential oils, and was coveted by royalty and commoners alike.



            What’s in a name?

  As with most words, the word “lavender” is rooted in Latin. Lavender is derived from lavare, the Latin verb meaning “to wash”. Historically, lavender has been mistaken for a similar, related plant named spikenard, or spike lavender. The Greeks called it naardus or naarda, after the city of Naardus in Syria. No matter what name lavender has gone by throughout history, one thing stayed consistent; everyone loved it!

  History Smells Like Lavender.

 Egyptian royalty and high priests valued lavender for a myriad of reasons. One reason was embalming; if you wanted your vital organs to be well preserved and fragrant, the Egyptians had you covered! When the tomb of King Tut was opened and explored in 1923 by Howard Carter, he could still make out the faint smell of what was believed to be lavender after 3,000 years.

Greek physicians valued lavender for its healing properties. A Greek botanist named Dioscorides wrote about the soothing benefits of ingesting lavender in De Materia Medica, a comprehensive historical text used by many historical civilizations to treat illnesses and injuries. He claimed that ingesting lavender helped to relieve indigestion, headaches, and sore throats.


Around the 12th century, Hildegard of Bingen wrote about a practical use for lavender oil; she discovered that the oil was an effective treatment of both head lice and fleas, common issues in that time period. She also claimed that using lavender gave one knowledge and a “pure spirit”. She would recommend that her readers mix lavender with wine at a lukewarm temperature; she claimed that this concoction would help to alleviate liver and lung pain. In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth used lavender to soothe her migraines and also favored the purple plant as a perfume. Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I, adored lavender also and used it to scent her soaps, potpourris, and bath water. King Charles VI (France) sat on seat cushions stuffed with lavender.

The mid-16th century saw a rise in communicable diseases, such as cholera and the plague. The price of lavender was much higher during this time period as people believed that it could protect them against the Great Plague of 1665. Lavender could be found in most medicines and was touted as a “cure-all”; a promised remedy those suffering from the nightmarish plague desperately needed.

The Victorian era marked a return to lavender’s luxury roots. Women loved lavender and bought it in substantial amounts for varying uses from street vendors. These vendors bought their lavender supply almost exclusively from a town called Mitcham-the soothing lavender fields of which became popular with those affected by the plague, and had become the center of lavender oil production previously in the Elizabethan era. Victorian ladies and gentlemen used lavender to wash walls, clean their furniture and freshen their clothes. Lavender was also commonly used to repel insects, treat head lice (still very common in the Victorian era), and remained a staple in many medicine cabinets. Unfortunately, due to its gratuitous overuse as a perfume by specific female age groups, lavender lost most of its appeal and was widely considered an “old woman’s smell”.


Fast forward to modern times. Lavender was used as an antiseptic during World War I, when traditional antiseptics were in short supply. Many people still use lavender today for its proclaimed natural anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Mixing a few drops of lavender essential oil with water is said to help repel fleas and other unwanted insects when sprayed on carpets and furniture, and lavender is used frequently alongside oatmeal in soaps to help soothe irritation on the skin. Many people claim that lavender can be used to either soothe or cure the following ailments:

  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues
  • Dementia symptoms
  • General pain
  • Immune Deficiency
  • MRSA
  • Infection of wounds
  • Venomous bites


It is important to note that these are observations and claims made by those who have used lavender; the FDA has not approved lavender in a medical capacity.            


Lavender, Soap and Cosmetics

 The lavender we use for soap and cosmetics can come in a few shapes and sizes. Lavender oil is usually used to scent soaps, while the dried buds can be used as a gentle exfoliant in the bar itself, or on top of the bar as a decoration. Today’s lavender oil comes in different variations, from blends of different types of lavender to pure French lavender oil. Lavender remains one of the most popular essential oils, and with the many types available, is easily accessible for most budgets.

Lavender has a rich and storied history that dates back to some of the earliest records known to mankind. Many historical physicians and botanists believed that lavender was the cure to everything, and could even provide spiritual benefits. Although some of these claims may or may not be true, it is imperative that you follow the FDA’s guidelines for labeling; this includes making claims that are not approved by the FDA. Our How-To Library contains a great podcast about labeling by expert Marie Gale; check it out by visiting

   Thank you for joining us for Common Scents! Be on the lookout for our next installment; Common Scents: Chamomile.




How to Speak Soap: A Beginner’s Guide to Common Handcrafter Terms

If you are just starting your soap or cosmetic making journey, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we will provide the terms and definitions for common terms that you’ll come across while formulating and crafting your product. From legal terms to industry “slang”, this article will cover a wide variety of words you might encounter.   Let’s get started!




Acid: When an acid dissolves in water, the pH of the solution is less than 7. This solution is considered acidic.

Additives: Any ingredient added to soap that is not a part of the soap molecule itself. Therefore, lye, water, and saponified oils/fats/butters are not considered additives. Examples of additives are colorants, fragrance, herbs, alcohol, silicon dioxide, and excess oils/fats/butters that remain unsaponified.

Alkali: When an alkali dissolves in water, the pH of the solution is greater than 7. This solution is considered alkaline. Alkali is a synonym for base.

Base: When a base dissolves in water, the pH of the solution is greater than 7. This solution is considered basic. Base is a synonym for alkali.

Base Oils: Usually oils like olive oil, palm oil, or coconut oil. Along with the lye, these oils provide the backbone of the finished soap product.

Caustic: A caustic material is one that can cause chemical burns of the skin or eyes. For soapmakers, the most familiar caustic substances are sodium and potassium hydroxides.

 Cold Process: A soapmaking method where oil and lye are brought to their desired temperatures, mixed, and allowed to react without additional heating.


Essential Oil:  An undiluted volatile oil extracted from plant matter by distillation, expression or solvent extraction.

Fair Trade:  Trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries.

Fixed Oil:  An oil that can be heated without volatilizing, that is, without evaporating at atmospheric pressure. These are the common soapmaking oils, including coconut, palm and olive oils.

 Flash Point:  The flash point is the lowest temperature at which a liquid may ignite. The ignition source might be a spark, flame or hot surface.

 Fragrance Oil:  A blend of aroma chemicals, synthetic or natural, that may be diluted with a carrier such as propylene glycol, vegetable oil, or mineral oil.

Gel Phase:  Produced by increased heat during saponification; during gel phase, the soap batter will look like translucent jelly.

Gross Weight:  Total weight of the container and contents.

HDPE, PET, etc:  Plastics commonly used in cosmetic packaging; for more information on these ingredients, please see our previous blog post,  Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Packaging, Part II-Tips for Packaging Your Cosmetics (

Hot Process:  A soapmaking method that uses an outside heat source to complete saponification. Typically, those practicing the hot process method will use a crock pot, although it is possible to use this method in the oven.

Kosher: in order to be certified as Kosher, a product or ingredient must be produced in a way that is compliant with the standards of Jewish laws.

Lye: The commonly used name for sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH). Lye is dissolved in water and then combined with other ingredients such as oils or butters to make soap. Soap cannot be made without lye.

 Lye Calculator: A tool used to help calculate the amount of ingredients needed for a receipt; can also provide acceptable ranges for different chemicals or attributes..

Melt & Pour: Uses a soap base that is commercially produced and completely saponified; it is formulated to be re-melted and solidifies immediately upon pouring.


Micas: minerals that are mined from the Earth and processed into powders, then coated in iron or titanium dioxides that give them their color.

Mold:  Soap molds can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and refer to the form used to shape your product.

MSDS:  An MSDS is a Material Safety Data Sheet. For each material used by the soapmaker, an MSDS should be available for reference by employees. The sheet contains information on the hazardous properties of the material, first aid measures, and other important information. The sheets are available from vendors who sell these materials.

 Natural Soap Colorants: Colorants made from plants and their roots.

 Natural:  Non-manmade products such as minerals or plants.

 Net or Net Contents:  The amount of product, not including packaging.

 Organic:  Used to describe an ingredient that has been produced without GMO’s, fertilizers, and other manmade chemicals or ingredients.

 pH:  The pH scale runs from 0-14, with acids at low pH, bases at high pH, and neutral water at 7.

 Pigments:  Typically manufactured in a lab (though some are still naturally derived), this colorant category includes oxides and ultramarines.

 Rebatch: Describes the process of shredding (or dicing) previously made soap and mixing it with a liquid, where the shredded soap will dissolve. Frequently used to add ingredients that could not withstand high temperatures or a caustic environment.

 Saponification:  The chemical reaction between oils or fats and lye to produce glycerine and soap.

 Soap (FDA definition): The bulk of nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the product is labeled, sold, and represented only as soap.

 Superfatting: The practice of making soap with excess fat or oil (usually, between 5-10%).

Sustainable (Sustainability):  The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.

Tare:  Weight of an empty vessel or container. The tare weight is subtracted from gross weight to get the net weight.

Trace:  Occurs when a soap becomes an emulsification (when the lye water and oils will no longer separate). You can confirm trace visually when you lift your stirring utensil from your soap batter; if it leaves trails on top of the batter, you have reached trace.

Unsaponifiable Matter:  The weight percent of an oil, fat or wax that does not react with alkali to form soap.

Learning to speak soap will help you to feel more comfortable as you’re navigating recipes and tutorials on your way to making your first batch. But, if there is something you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask! The handcrafted soap and cosmetic community is full of generous, knowledgeable individuals; some of which even teach hands on classes. If you’d like to see if there’s a class taking place near you, visit for more information on locations and some online options, too. You can also find more terms and definitions by reading our Glossary of Soap Related Terms, located in our How-To Library at