Scented candles have become incredibly popular home decor items and self-care products in recent years. Walk into any home goods store and you’ll be greeted by an overwhelming aroma of vanilla, lavender, and other sweet scents. While classics like these are crowd-pleasers, some candle companies have started getting more experimental with their fragrances. This has led to the creation of some truly bizarre scented candles that range from novel to downright nauseating.
One brand leading the charge into strange candle scents is Goop, run by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. No stranger to controversy, Goop sells a $75 candle appropriately called “This Smells Like My Vagina.” The goal with this risque candle scent was to capture the essence of female empowerment and intimacy. However, most customers are divided over whether it really embodies those ideals or is just a tacky marketing gimmick. There’s also Goop’s “This Smells Like My Orgasm” candle, continuing their questionable foray into sensual aromas.
Looking to find inspiration from more wholesome sources, other brands have bottled up scents from mother nature. For the treehugger in your life, there are candles with names like “Seaside Forest” and “Mountain Air” that try transporting you outdoors with notes of pine needles and ocean breezes. “Petrichor” is another candle named after the pleasant, earthy smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell. While nature-inspired candles sound nice in theory, reviewers complain these often come across too literal and artificial. It’s hard to capture the nuances of a crisp fall morning or summer bonfire in a single candle.
Pop culture has become another place candle companies mine ideas from, for better or worse. Etsy shops sell candles attempting to reproduce the scent of Hogwarts and the Weasley’s Burrow from Harry Potter so fans can get immersed in the fantasy world. Similarly, fast fashion retailer Charlotte Russe developed a collection of candles based on Nickelodeon shows like Rugrats and SpongeBob Squarepants. Scents include “Saturday Morning Cartoons” and “90s Nostalgia”. While they get points for creativity, reviewers say the themed candles are too gimmicky and don’t actually smell good.
Attempts at making novelty scented candles have misfired in more disastrous ways too. One year for April Fools Day, Jelly Belly released a bean boozled-inspired “rotten egg” candle. The company described it as having top notes of sulfur and decaying animal with a rancid finish. Meanwhile, a Spanish retailer pulled their “Vagina” candle after people complained it encouraged sexual assault. The blood-red candle was described as “tempting and forbidden fruit.” These examples cross the line between humor and just plain bad taste.
Of course, candles based on bizarre food flavors have also become trendy. Funky food blogs and youtube channels have inspired cooking creations like buffalo chicken wing, birthday cake, and hot dog water candles. The goal is getting the scents as true to life as possible. However, churning out realistic meat and cheese aromas can veer into unappetizing territory. They often just smell like burning fat or spices instead of invoking actual cravings.
Other food-inspired candles have played into unhealthy eating habits like diet culture and junk food addiction for a aura of rebellion and indulgence. Branding like “Fat Girl Smells” and “Mom’s Stash of Contraband Cookies” tries capitalizing on stress-relieving comfort scents with a hefty side of self-deprecation. But critics argue this vocabulary still reinforces toxic messaging around food and body image.
At the end of the day, taste is subjective when it comes to scents. One person’s perfect custom candle is another person’s headache-inducing odor assault. The novelty candle market banks on viral publicity and commotion around their provocative products. However, it seems few of their wacky innovations become repeat best-sellers. After the initial shock value wears off, buyers are left with an underwhelming candle. When it comes to scent experimentation, sometimes simpler is better.
Many candle enthusiasts argue you can’t go wrong sticking to pure, natural ingredients like essential oils and real extracts. Cleaner, gentler smells have a more universally pleasant effect. There’s a reason fresh and floral aromas like lavender remain so popular. They relieve stress without overpowering. In the end, finding a scented candle with long-lasting enjoyment often requires ignoring flashy gimmicks and focusing on authentic, subtle scents. The magic is in triggering nostalgia and comfort through aroma.