A Beginner’s Guide to Wax Play, So You Can (Safely) Turn Up the Heat

Photo: Getty Images/YakobchukOlena
If the embers of your passion have dulled recently, one kink-forward strategy to consider for heating things up is wax play candles. With safety precautions and continued consent in place, of course, using wax play candles can be a great way to marry sensation play, temperature play, and edge play, all at once. Into it? Keep scrolling to learn more about what wax play entails and how you can safely turn up the heat.

What is wax play in bed?

Wax play is a form of risk-aware consensual kink and can be a facet of BDSM that involves pouring hot wax on yourself or a partner's body when you're getting intimate, typically from a lit candle, says Carol Queen, PhD, a sexologist at Good Vibrations. “The wax is hot when it hits so there is a little frisson of pain or intensity plus the person receiving the wax can anticipate it, which heightens their focus and often the eroticism.,” she says.

However, Dr. Queen notes that wax play can be done in a less “power play” context (think sensual massages) using massage candles that have a low melting point and don’t hurt when they make contact with the skin. “The intensity of drips of hot wax is what some people love about this play—intense sensation and fear, as I said, put it in the BDSM category,” she says. “But anticipation does not need to include elements of fear, and the sensation of beautifully warm, liquid wax—rather than hot wax—can be had by using soy-based or other oil-based massage candles.”

These types of candles, she adds, come in containers that you can pour from, so you get all the excitement and sensuality of candle play without the kinkier elements. And, once the oil is on the body, it becomes a warm massage oil.

Is wax play dangerous?

For most people, Dr. Queen says it’s totally safe to drip candle wax on the skin. However, if the person has super sensitive skin or has an allergy to something in the wax such as the color, scent, or oil the wax was derived from, there may be an adverse reaction when it makes contact with the skin.

Also, ensure you don’t get the wax in your eyes or in your hair, Dr. Queen adds. The only real danger is the fire itself. “Make sure you're able to place the candle someplace stable [and] that you have a way to rapidly snuff a flame,” she says.

Does hot wax hurt?

Generally, no, but it depends on the person. “If someone has sensitive skin or has a low pain tolerance they could find it painful,” Dr. Queen says or it may leave a mark. “Many people wouldn't say that it hurts, because the excitement that can come with erotic and BDSM play mediates pain. This is why I and many others use the term ‘intense sensation’ instead of ‘pain.’”

So if it’s not painful, what does wax play feel like? Dr. Queen says it depends on the wax you use. “The oil-based massage waxes feel like drops or a stream of warm oil because that's what they are,” she says. “Paraffin candle wax is hotter. The lower the height it drops from, the hotter it will be. And once it hits the skin, it will cool and stick. If a lot is poured, it [feels] sort of like a shell.”

What candles are safe for wax play?

As for what type of candles to use, Dr. Queen recommends paraffin candles. Avoid scented candles (unless it's a massage oil candle) and beeswax candles, which get hotter and leave burns when it hits the skin. And, although birthday candles are technically paraffin candles, they’re not the best option for wax play.

“They will be hard to hold on to because they're so small,” she says “As with trying to hold a burning-low match, soon the flame will reach your fingers and that raises the risk of dropping it and burning the ‘wax submissive’ or starting a fire.”

What is sensation play?

"Sensation play involves the enhancement of senses through deprivation of others, controlled applications of pain, and anticipation—which can all be a really exciting part of engaging in wax play," says Violet C, a sex educator, pleasure coach and resident wax expert with the sex-positivity virtual community Hacienda.

"It’s temperature play because of the playing with extreme temperatures—in this case heat. It is also considered edge play. Because we are literally playing with fire, it has the potential to cause legitimate bodily harm to a person, so it is on the 'edge' of what is considered within the typical guides of safety."

As always—but especially if using wax play candles will be new to your relationship—make sure to communicate with a partner before you light the wick and commit to shared continued consent throughout the experience. Otherwise, check out safety precautions to note below and then find several recommended options for wax play candles to shop.

Safety Precautions To Know Before Using Wax Play Candles

Because, to emphasize C's point, wax play candles literally involve playing with fire. "It’s important to have a cool cloth, and a first aid kid nearby in case of any accidents," says C. "It is also important to have a fire extinguisher and access to water. Once we have taken all the burn and fire preventative precautions, we can think about comfortability."

For emotional safety, practicing tenderness with your partner(s) is important as well. "Be sure to give aftercare to your submissive or bottom," says Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of sexual wellness emporium Organic Loven. "Have some water to drink, along with hugs and cuddles. Assist in removing the wax after it has cooled, taking care not to pull too hard or too quick...unless that is also part of the pain requested."

Proper disposal after is also very important. Dr. Queen says you can throw peeled-off wax in the trash. She warns that matches and candle wicks can ignite in the trash if they’re still hot. So it’s best to wait until the matches and candles have fully cooled down and then run water over them first before discarding.

Finally, it could help to get a little more formal training before using any wax. "I would highly recommend taking a course or a workshop on wax play to learn more," says sex educator Kenneth Play, who points out that C has a great beginner wax workshop bundle for those interested in introducing wax play into their sex life.

What Else You Need in Your Wax Play Kit

For easier cleanup purposes, C suggests having towels or a plastic covering ready to protect the floor or bed where the receiver will be laying down. And since wax can get pretty stubborn once it's hardened—which is important to note for folks with body hair—be ready with tools to help you remove it, like a loofah or a butter knife. "Try and remove a majority of the wax before you get into the shower, for the sake of your drain," C says.

As far as the actual wax play candles to select, make sure to read ingredients. Remember to avoid candles made of beeswax, which burn hot and burn the skin. Instead, focus on candles that are specifically made for the body, like those made of shea butter, soy, or, depending on your pain tolerance, paraffin. "Soy candles do not generate as much heat as a paraffin candle, so there is less risk of burning the skin," says Sparks. "They come from soybeans and are less likely to irritate the skin."

Also worth noting is the difference between massage oil candles and wax play candles, the former being a great option as a first foray into wax play. Texturally speaking, the two types melt differently, with wax play candles giving a more hardened texture and massage candles melting into a fluid consistency.

"[Massage candles] are soft and turn into massage-like oils after hitting the skin," says C. "The use of this type of candle can allow the scene to easily flow into a more sensual, massage scene, while still exploring the excitement and sensations of wax." Meanwhile, specific wax play candles will give those who play with it a grainier, harder feel, and are better for those into so-good-it-hurts forms of pleasure.

Below, check out a few select options to buy, no matter what you're looking for.

1. An Intro-Level Massage Candle

Maude, Burn No. 0 Candle — $18.00

“Beginning with massage candles is a great way to ease into this type of play,” says C. Think of them as beginner kink accessories. “Beginning with oil candles, whether you are trying to have a sensual or more sadomasochistic experience, is a great way to warm up the body for whatever the evening has in store.”

For something a little less underworld, try Maude’s Burn No 0 Candle, a simple combo of jojoba and soybean oils.

LELO, Flickering Touch Massage Candle — $35.00

C recommends LELO’s massage candles, and I happily retweet that—I own the $35 Flickering Touch Massage Candle in Black Pepper and Pomegranate, and this smoky-yet-sweet blend holds a place of honor on my nightstand.

2. A Lotion or Massage Oil

Province Apothecary, Lover's Kit Massage and Sex Oil — $44.00

Both Sparks and C say it’s a good idea to prepare and protect the skin with a light layer of lotion or oil before you get started, even if you do have a massage oil on hand. “We want the body to be receptive to new sensations, so any type of massaging, or warming up with oils or hands, is a great way to start out,” says C.

Pick up something like Province Apothecary’s two-pack of oils, including its moisturizing coconut and vitamin E Sex Oil and its cedar wood and rose Lover’s Oil.

3. Wax Play Candles

Agreeable Agony, Classic Wax Play Pitcher Candle — $20.00

Whether you want to start small with these tiny, tubular Low Temp Wax Play Candles or get an elegant mold with this Venusian Shibari Woman Candle, or the Grecian austere of Premium Paraffin Low-temperature Wax Candle Trio, options abound. Play vouches for these easy-pour pitcher candles by Agreeable Agony, which incorporate a visual element.

“One of the more underrated parts of wax play is the visual stimulation that comes with it,” says Play. “Something as small as the anticipation of each drop of wax can stimulate us in a primal and almost ritualistic way that creates a really mesmerizing experience.”

Tips and Ideas For Wax Play

Focus on smooth skin

As mentioned earlier, applying hot wax on areas with hair may get you into a hairy situation (sorry, had to) meaning, it’ll be difficult to remove once the wax hardens. For this reason, Dr. Queen recommends sticking to areas that have smooth, hairless skin. If the person has body hair, though, you can still have fun with wax play. She suggests opting for low-melt waxes or applying oil to the skin first which will help the wax come off easier without pulling out the hair.

Note the height of the drip

Let’s get into the details of how exactly to drip the wax on the body. The important thing to note is the height from which you are dripping it on the body. “If wax is dripped from a higher height, it has time to cool down a bit before it hits the skin,” Dr. Queen says. However, dripping it from a higher height also increases the chances that the wax may splash somewhere you didn’t intend it to such as the person’s face or bedding, sofa cushions, rug, etc. In other words, find that happy height medium that’s high enough that the wax has time to cool down but not too high that you risk it dripping on something else.

Incorporate blindfolds and bondage

To take things up a notch, Dr. Queen suggests incorporating a blindfold or bondage. “Wax play partners really well with sensory deprivation, which in general makes sensation feel more intense when others are muffled in some way,” she says. “So in this case, a blindfold is a great companion. It heightens the emotional responses of anticipation. It may make the wax hitting the skin feel even more intense because of the element of surprise and also a blindfold heightens power play elements.”

Dr. Queen adds that bondage during wax play provides a similar effect in that the submissive can see the wax coming but can’t move away. “The bondagge itself evokes that power differential that many people love,” she says.

Try it during solo play, too

Although wax play is most often used in a dominance and submissive setting, it can also be used solo to enhance masturbation. “Because it is a ritualistic-feeling type of play to some, with the flickering candle and the wax marking the body, some people might not feel the need to engage in a scene with another person to enjoy it,” Dr. Queen says.

Practice proper aftercare

Once you’re all done, aftercare is important. First ensure the wax is fully peeled off and make sure the skin isn’t irritated, Dr. Queen says. If the skin is irritated, apply a soothing lotion to the area such an aloe vera-based lotion. A shower is also a good idea. Lastly, ensure your partner feels comfortable. Dr. Queen says, “whatever the wax submissive needs—water, food, cuddles, a bath...people’s needs can vary after a scene.”

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