There are many things about the rituals of being a modern woman that I have struggled to understand in my time, but scented candles were always one of them. To me, a scented candle was something you bought someone when you didn’t know what else to get them – a panic gift, signifying nothing. They often seemed overpriced, emitting not only their sickly scent, but the vague, highly feminised implication of “me-time” – something highly lauded by women’s magazines, occasionally as a euphemism for masturbation (run yourself a nice bubblebath, light some scented candles and go to town on yourself, goes the advice).
You never hear men talking about me-time, perhaps because all their time is me-time. Women, meanwhile, apparently spend so many of their waking hours expending their energy on other people that they necessarily require a multitude of expensive products in order to “de-stress”. As someone prone to anxiety, I was always of the school of thought that a decent dose of SSRI would be somewhat more effective.
When I first started burning scented candles at home, I think the men I lived with assumed I was performing some kind of black mass that would probably result in their being sacrificed
In addition, my lack of interest in scented candles was probably because, growing up, my mother burned incense at home, so our house always smelled like a hippy shop. Also, we were poor, with all the residual attitudes that that creates. Scented candles were a “nice thing” and we didn’t really have “nice things”. Money was needed for more important purchases, like food and shoes.
As a result, for a long time I was a scented-candle virgin, uninitiated into the world of burn times and essential oils. Sometimes, I would go to someone’s house and reflect on how nice it had smelled, but other than that I inhabited an entirely candle-less universe. But, then, I decided, in the spirit of truly vital investigative journalism, that I wanted to discover what all the fuss was about. I requested some samples and was quickly inundated.
I am slightly shamefaced to admit that I am now a complete convert. Having been rapidly overwhelmed with candles, I set about testing them. Some were terrible – burning down rapidly as they caved into a sort of “tunnel”, smelling of absolutely nothing. Some were extremely messy burners, dripping wax all over the furniture and ending up deformed, misshapen. But others? Others were gorgeous.
When I first started burning scented candles at home, I think the men I lived with assumed I was performing some kind of black mass that would probably result in their being sacrificed. But, soon, they were converts too, passing judgment on their favourite and least favourite smells (we even had a “mandle”, smelling really quite pleasantly of leather, tobacco and cognac, £20 by Harlequin). We all grudgingly admitted that having a home that smells really nice is actually rather relaxing, especially on dark wintry nights or grey afternoons, and is certainly superior to the cannabis and cooking stenches that sometimes waft in from the neighbours'.
There are candles to suit every budget, too. I’ve heard people say that paying less than £40 – yes, really – for a scented candle just isn’t worth it, and there are certainly some crap ones out there, but there are also some winners. The Scentered Be Happy (grapefruit, lemon myrtle and spearmint) and Love (rose, ylang, ylang and patchouli) travel candles cost £16 each, but burned for ages despite their dinky size, and were among some of my favourites. Lomas & Lomas handmade natural scented candles are £20 each and smell lovely – I tried Moroccan orange blossom, as well as orchid and lotus blossom, and loved both. Even the Cozy Glow rose candle – a bargain at £7.50 from Amazon – was effective. It didn’t look as posh as some of the others, but it filled the room with a gorgeous scent and burned for hours and hours. All of these candles were made in Britain, too.
However, it would be dishonest of me to say that the best were not also the most expensive. Neom’s de-stress three-wick candle comes in at £45 and smells – I’m not being hyperbolic here – absolutely amazing. It’s a blend of essential oils, including lavender, jasmine and Brazilian rosewood, and really teaches you that fragrance really is an art. Similarly, Diptyque – the French queens of luxury scented candle-making, whose stylish creations are always featured in upscale supplements and on the pages of Vogue – sent a sweet-smelling lavender candle that was as gorgeous as I expected it to be. That candle also cost £45, but the whole house was filled with its heady scent for many hours afterwards.
Some of the candles I was sent smelled absolutely horrible – cloying, artificial and plasticky, so perhaps this is why many mistrust the lower end of the market – but as I’ve detailed above, there is something for everyone (Ted Baker also has a London candle, with a lovely, heady rose scent, for £19.99, though I wasn't keen on the design). I still find it hard to escape the idea that scented candles are manufactured for people who have run out of things to spend their money on, but as someone who spends more time at home than anywhere else, I have realised that transforming your environment even in little ways can be the key to minimising stress (plus, they say that no one is able to smell their own house, so better to be safe than sorry). Plus, sometimes it’s good to allow yourself nice things. Despite my reservations, I’ve fully come over to the light side.