Author: Soma
May 11, 2024

Unlike paraffin wax derived from fossil fuel, beeswax is a natural wax and renewable resource produced by honeybees. Beeswax is a biodegradable and compostable material, breaking down naturally without leaving behind harmful residues. This reduces waste compared to synthetic waxes. Beeswax is a complex mixture of over 200 different compounds, including esters, hydrocarbons, and fatty acids. 

Sustainable beekeeping practices can help ensure continuous supply of beeswax. It has a wide variety of uses, including in candles, cosmetics, food, crayons, paintings, pharmaceuticals and aromatherapy. Beeswax candles burn cleaner with minimal smoke and soot, and emit pleasant honey-like aroma. Paraffin candles can release black soot and contain harmful chemicals. On the other hand, choosing beeswax products supports beekeepers who play a vital role in maintaining healthy bee populations and ensuring pollination for plant life.

How Beeswax is Produced?

Beeswax is formed by worker bees, which secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7.[1] The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker, and after many daily flights, these glands gradually begin to atrophy.

The new wax is initially glass-clear and colorless, becoming opaque after chewing and being contaminated with pollen by the hive worker bees, becoming progressively yellower or browner by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about three millimeters (0.12 in) across and 0.1 mm (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1100 are needed to make a gram of wax.[2] Worker bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive must be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F). 

The book Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products suggests one kilogram (2.2 lb) of beeswax is sufficient to store 22 kg (49 lb) of honey.[3] Another study estimated that one kilogram (2.2 lb) of wax can store 24 to 30 kg (53 to 66 lb) of honey. Sugars from honey are metabolized into beeswax in wax-gland-associated fat cells. The amount of honey used by bees to produce wax has not been accurately determined, but according to Whitcomb’s 1946 experiment, 6.66 to 8.80 kg (14.7 to 19.4 lb) of honey yields one kilogram (2.2 lb) of wax. In 2020, world production of beeswax was 62,116 tonnes, led by India with 38% of the total.

Processing of Beeswax

Beeswax as a product for human use may come from cappings Food-grade beeswax processing takes the basic steps of beeswax processing and adds some additional measures to ensure it’s safe for consumption:

  • Sourcing: The starting point is crucial. Beekeepers typically use beeswax cappings to cut off the cells in the process of extraction, from old comb that is scrapped, or from unwanted burr comb and brace comb removed from a hive which are generally cleaner than whole comb since they haven’t held honey for as long.
  • More Rigorous Cleaning: Food-grade processing emphasizes removing impurities. This might involve multiple rounds of rinsing with clean water, sometimes with filtration to remove tiny particles.
  • Filtration: Finer filters are used to remove any remaining debris, pollen grains, or bee parts that could be present in the wax.
  • Bleaching (Optional):  Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often is a shade of yellow, depending on purity, the region, and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. For a lighter colored beeswax, some processors might use food-grade bleaching agents like hydrogen peroxide or natural sunlight. However, some prefer unbleached beeswax to retain its natural color and potentially more beneficial compounds.
  • Heat Control: Food-grade processing minimizes overheating the wax. High temperatures can break down some of the wax’s natural properties and potentially introduce unwanted flavors.
  • Testing: Once processed, the beeswax is often tested to ensure it meets food-grade standards. This might involve checking for acidity levels, peroxide value, and overall purity.

Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Regulations: Specific regulations for food-grade beeswax can vary depending on the country. Reputable suppliers will ensure their product meets the necessary standards.
  • Gentler Processing Preferred: Some beekeepers and consumers value minimally processed beeswax for food applications, believing it retains more of its natural properties.

Overall, food-grade beeswax processing focuses on meticulous cleaning, filtration, and controlled heating to create a pure and safe product for human consumption.

Physical Characteristics

  • Color: The three main types of beeswax products are yellow, white, and absolute. Yellow is the crude product obtained from the honeycomb, white is bleached or filtered yellow,, and absolute is yellow beeswax treated with alcohol. Purified and bleached beeswax is used in the production of food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. It is a fragrant solid at room temperature. The colors are light yellow, medium yellow, or dark brown and white. 
  • State: It is a tough wax formed from a mixture of several chemical compounds. When natural beeswax is cold, it is brittle, and its fracture is dry and granular. At room temperature (conventionally taken as about 20 °C (68 °F)), it is tenacious and it softens further at human body temperature (37 °C (99 °F)). At low temperatures the beeswax exhibits higher rates of elasticity. The heating process changes the physical properties of beeswax. Shrinkage of heated beeswax occurs by 10% upon cooling. When it is heated at the temperature of 30–35°C, it attains the properties of plastics. 
  • Texture: Beeswax does have crystalline structure and it mainly depends on the storage. Along with the crystallization, the elasticity and stiffness of the wax also increases during storage. This means that its molecules are arranged in a neat and orderly way. This crystalline structure gives  beeswax some of its important properties, such as its hardness and its high melting point.
  • Melting Point: It has a relatively low melting point range of 62 to 64 °C (144 to 147 °F). If beeswax is heated above 85 °C (185 °F) discoloration occurs. The flash point of beeswax is 204.4 °C (400 °F). It is insoluble in water and soluble in organic solvents, such as ether, acetone, xylol, benzene, chloroform, and tetrachloromethane. In order to completely dissolve the beeswax, the temperature must be increased beyond its melting point (Stefan, 2009).
  • Density: The density of beeswax is between 0.958 and 0.970 g/cm³.
  • Fragrance: The typical odor of beeswax depends on the honey, bees, propolis, and pollen.

Beeswax adulteration

Beeswax adulteration is a practice where cheaper or lower quality substances are added to beeswax, often to reduce costs. This can be a concern for consumers who are looking for pure beeswax products. It faces challenges in the market due to the presence of various suppliers, making it difficult to distinguish authentic from fake variants. This can be done for economic reasons, but it can have negative consequences for bee health, product quality, and even human health in some cases. Here’s a breakdown of beeswax adulteration:

Common Adulterants:

  • Paraffin wax: A petroleum-based wax that’s cheaper than beeswax but lacks its desirable properties.
  • Stearin/Stearic Acid: A fatty acid derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. While sometimes seen as a natural alternative, high levels can harm bee brood development.
  • Other adulterants like tallow or carnauba wax may also be used.

Impacts of Adulteration:

  • Bee Health: Paraffin wax and high levels of stearic acid can negatively impact bee development and colony health. Studies have shown increased brood mortality in hives where adulterated wax foundation was used.
  • Product Quality: Adulterated beeswax may not have the same desirable qualities as pure beeswax, such as strength, shine, and burning properties.
  • Human Health: While generally considered low risk, adulteration with certain materials like mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons could be a concern if the wax contaminates honey or food products.

Detection Methods:

  • There are scientific tests like Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) that can be used to detect adulteration in beeswax.

Combating Adulteration:

  • Regulation: Some countries have regulations in place to ensure the purity of beeswax intended for human consumption.
  • Consumer Awareness: Beekeepers and consumers can be aware of the issue and seek out reputable suppliers who guarantee pure beeswax.

Here are some additional resources you may find helpful:

  • Adulteration of beeswax: A first nationwide survey from Belgium [scholarly article]: This study explores the prevalence of adulteration in beeswax samples from Belgium.
  • Adulteration of beeswax intended for honey production with stearin and paraffin [European Commission document]: This document discusses the risks of adulterated beeswax for bee health and honey production.

Adulteration can affect the quality and performance of beeswax products, such as candles that burn with more smoke or cosmetics that don’t have the same consistency. The fake counterparts, typically in pellet form, feel smooth, sticky, and greasy, reflecting the presence of added paraffin. To identify fake beeswax, consumers are advised to pay attention to color, scent, feel, and texture. It’s sometimes difficult to detect adulteration with the naked eye, but you can use scientific methods to test for purity. Genuine beeswax, sourced organically from beekeepers, is known for its varying hues, strong honey fragrance, and a hard yet pliable feel.

Historical uses

Beeswax has been a versatile and valuable material for centuries, with historical uses dating back to prehistory. Here are some of the fascinating ways it has been used throughout history:

  • Early Plastic and Preservative: Due to its water-repellent and moldable properties, beeswax is one of the earliest forms of plastic, alongside other natural polymers such as gutta-percha, horn, tortoiseshell, and shellac. It was used to waterproof containers, coat surfaces, and even create early writing tablets. To strengthen and preserve sewing thread, cordage, shoe laces, etc. As the joint filler in the slate bed of pool and billiard tables.
  • Embalming and Art: The Egyptians value beeswax for its preservative qualities. They used it in the mummification process and to create sculptures and decorative objects. In encaustic paintings such as the Fayum mummy portraits.
  • Illuminating the past: Beeswax candles were a major source of light for centuries. They were used in homes, palaces, and religious ceremonies. As candles – the oldest intact beeswax candles north of the Alps were found in the Alamannic graveyard of Oberflacht, Germany, dating to 6th/7th century AD.
  • Medicine & Beauty: Across many cultures, beeswax was a key ingredient in salves, ointments, and cosmetics. Its believed medicinal properties and ability to create a barrier were valued. Also used as an ancient form of dental tooth filling.

Uses of Beeswax in Consumer Products

Beeswax has a long and fascinating history, and it has been used for a wide range of purposes throughout human history. This versatile substance is produced by honey bees and has many unique properties that make it valuable for a variety of applications. As time passed, it continued to be used for a wide range of purposes.

Uses in Food Industry

Beeswax is a food grade wax with a white color when it is freshly prepared. In fact, it’s likely in more of the foods you eat than you think. Later the color changes into yellow because of the presence of propolis and pollen colorants. Beeswax that is considered food grade needs to be processed to remove any impurities, such as pollen or propolis. It also needs to come from healthy bees that haven’t been treated with pesticides. 

In food preparation, it is used as a coating for cheese; by sealing out the air, protection is given against spoilage (mold growth). It may also be used as a food additive E901, in small quantities acting as a glazing agent, which serves to prevent water loss, or used to provide surface protection for some fruits. Soft gelatin capsules and tablet coatings may also use E901. It is also a common ingredient of natural chewing gum. 

The edible coating made up of beeswax is used on strawberries and apricot fruits. This coating showed a positive effect on the moisture loss, appearance, texture, and firmness. It was found that the coating of hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose–beeswax containing sodium benzoate (2%) showed a decreased rate of change in the weight or moisture loss, firmness, and respiration (Cristiane et al., 2015).

Uses in Candle-making

Candle-making has long involved the use of beeswax, which burns readily and cleanly, and this material was traditionally prescribed for the making of the Paschal candle or “Easter candle”. Beeswax is a popular choice for candle making due to its natural and sustainable properties. It burns cleanly with minimal smoke and soot, releasing a pleasant honey-like aroma. 

Beeswax candles also tend to burn longer than paraffin candles, making them a more economical choice in the long run. It is further recommended for the making of other candles used in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. It is also the candle constituent of choice in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Today, beeswax candles are widely used for a variety of purposes, including providing light and ambiance, aromatherapy, and even as a natural insect repellent.

Uses in Aromatherapy

Beeswax itself doesn’t have any inherent aromatherapy properties. However, it plays a vital role in aromatherapy practices as a base ingredient for various products. It has a thick consistency that makes it an ideal carrier for diluting essential oils, which are often too potent to be used directly on the skin. The beeswax helps disperse the essential oil evenly and allows for controlled release of its aroma. It is a common ingredient in balms and salves used in aromatherapy. It also provides a thick, waxy base that holds the essential oils and other ingredients together, creating a product that can be applied topically to the skin. In essence, beeswax serves as a delivery system for the essential oils in aromatherapy, ensuring their safe and effective use. 

Uses in Encaustic Paintings

Refined beeswax plays a prominent role in art materials both as a binder in encaustic paint and as a stabilizer in oil paint to add body. Encaustic is an ancient painting technique where pigments are mixed with molten beeswax and applied hot to a surface. 

History of Encaustic painting

Encaustic painting, with its history stretching back millennia, boasts beeswax as a key ingredient. Here’s a glimpse into its journey:

  • Ancient Origins: The word “encaustic” itself comes from the Greek “enkaustikos,” meaning “to burn in,” reflecting the technique’s reliance on heat. While the exact origins are unclear, some credit the Greek painter Pausias of the 4th century BC for inventing it.
  • Enduring Popularity: Encaustic painting thrived in the ancient world. Egyptians used it for the famous Fayum mummy portraits (100-300 AD), while Greeks and Romans scholar Pliny the Elder even documented the technique in his 1st-century AD work, “Natural History.”
  • Byzantine Legacy: Early Christian art embraced encaustic painting, particularly for Byzantine icons (6th century onwards). However, its use declined in the western church after the 8th century due to factors like the rise of tempera paints.
  • Rediscovery and Innovation: The 18th century saw renewed interest in encaustic painting. Artists like Antonio Paccheri experimented with wax formulations, and the society of Arts even awarded Mrs. Hooker for her wax painting explorations in the 1790s.
  • 20th Century Revival: A significant revival occurred in the 20th century. Painter Fritz Faiss, along with Dr. Hans Schmid, played a pivotal role by rediscovering the “Punic wax” technique, believed to be used by the ancients, which involved treating beeswax to make it harder. 

Today, encaustic painting continues to be practiced by contemporary artists, who  appreciate its unique characteristics, vibrant colors, and remarkable durability. The enduring use of beeswax, a natural and sustainable material, remains a cornerstone of this fascinating art form.

Uses in Oil painting

Refined beeswax acts as the binder, holding the pigment particles together and creating a durable, luminous paint film. Small amounts of refined beeswax can be added to oil paint to increase their viscosity. This allows artists to create textured effect, build impasto, and control the flow of the paint on the canvas. In some cases, refined beeswax may be a component of gesso, a primer used on canvases before painting. It can help improve the adhesion of paint layers. Refined beeswax can be used as a matting agent in oil mediums and varnishes. This reduces the shine of the final artwork, creating a more subtle and muted appearance.

Uses in Crayon Colors

Beeswax is a key ingredient in many crayons, especially those high-quality marketed as natural or non-toxic. Here’s why it’s well-suited for crayons:

  • Natural and Safe: Beeswax is a completely natural material produced by honeybees. This makes it a safer alternative to paraffin wax, a petroleum-based product commonly used in crayons. This is especially important for young children who tend to put things in their mouths. Compared to some synthetic alternatives, refined beeswax is a natural and non-toxic material, making it a safer choice for artists, especially those with sensitivities.
  • Good Binding Agent: Beeswax acts as a binder for the pigment (coloring) in crayons. It holds the pigment particles together and creates a solid stick and creates a smooth, waxy texture that glides easily on paper. 
  • Right Balance of Hardness and Softness: Beeswax itself is a good starting point for crayons, but it can be a bit soft. This creates a crayon that is strong enough to resist breaking while still being soft enough to draw smoothly. The waxy texture of beeswax crayons allows for smooth application and easy blending. 
  • Vibrant Colors: Beeswax allows for good color saturation.  It can hold a high concentration of pigment, this means crayons made with beeswax can lay down rich, vibrant colors.

Uses in Personal Care Products

In the 19th century, it was used in the production of soap and other personal care products. The use of beeswax in skin care and cosmetics has been increasing. A German study found beeswax to be superior to similar barrier creams (usually mineral oil-based creams such as petroleum jelly), when used according to its protocol. Beeswax is a popular ingredient in many personal care products due to its unique properties. Here’s a breakdown of its benefits and uses:

  • Moisturizing and Soothing: It acts as a humectant, attracting and retaining moisture in the skin. This keeps your skin hydrated and soft. It also has emollient properties, which means it soothes and smoothens the skin.
  • Protective Barrier: Beeswax forms a thin, breathable layer on the skin’s surface. This layer helps shield the skin from environmental irritants, pollutants, and harsh weather conditions like cold wind or dry air. Unlike some other occlusive ingredients, beeswax won’t clog pores. This makes it suitable for most skin types, including acne-prone skin.
  • Versatility and Stability: It is a natural emulsifier, meaning it helps blend oil and water-based ingredients together to create a smooth and stable product. It also has a long shelf life and contributes to the overall stability of a product.
  • Lip balms and salves: It is a staple ingredient in lip balms and salves because it helps lock in moisture and protect lips from dryness and chapping.
  • Lotions and creams: Beeswax adds a layer of hydration and helps create a smooth texture in lotions and creams.
  • Makeup: Beeswax is used in various makeup products, including lipsticks, mascaras, and eyeshadows. It helps the product adhere to the skin, provides structure, and prevents smudging.
  • Hair care products: Beeswax can be found in hair styling products like hair pomades and waxes. It helps control frizz, adds shine, and provides hold without feeling greasy.
  • Diaper rash creams: Due to its anti-inflammatory and protective properties, beeswax can be a soothing ingredient in diaper rash creams.

Overall, beeswax is a valuable natural ingredient that contributes to the effectiveness and quality of many personal care products. 

Uses in Home Furnishing

Beeswax is a natural and versatile product with several applications in home furnishing. Here’s how it enhances and protects your furniture:

  • Furniture Polish and Protectant: Beeswax is a popular ingredient in furniture polish because it offers several benefits:
    • Natural Shine: It nourishes the wood, bringing out its natural luster and beauty. Unlike some chemical polishes, it doesn’t leave an artificial shine.
    • Protection: It creates a protective barrier on the wood surface, safeguarding it from scratches, scuffs, and minor abrasions. It can also repel dust to some extent.
    • Water Resistance: It has mild water-resistant properties. This can help prevent water rings and other moisture damage on your furniture, especially on surfaces like tabletops.
    • Safe for Many Finishes: It is generally safe to use on most finished wood surfaces, though it’s always a good idea to test it on an inconspicuous area first.
  • Conditioning Wood: Beeswax can be used on unfinished or raw wood furniture to condition and nourish it. It penetrates the wood grain, filling minor imperfections and creating a smooth, lustrous finish.
  • Other Uses: Beeswax has additional applications in home furnishing:
    • Lubricating drawers and window sashes: A thin coat of beeswax can help drawers slide smoothly and make sticking windows easier to open.
    • Restoring and Finishing Cutting Boards and Wooden Utensils: Beeswax can be used to condition and protect cutting boards and wooden utensils, making them more resistant to moisture and warping.

Overall, beeswax is a natural and effective way to care for your wood furniture, keeping it looking beautiful and protected for years to come.

Other Uses

Beeswax is an ingredient in surgical bone wax, which is used during surgery to control bleeding from bone surfaces; shoe polish and furn can use beeswax as a component, dissolved in turpentine or sometimes blended with linseed oil or tung oil; modeling waxes can also use beeswax as a component; pure beeswax can also be used as an organic surfboard wax. Beeswax blended with pine rosin is used for waxing, and can serve as an adhesive to attach reed plates to the structure inside a squeezebox. It can also be used to make Cutler’s resin, an adhesive used to glue handles on cutlery knives.

Beeswax was formerly used in the manufacture of phonograph cylinders. It may still be used to seal formal legal or royal decree and academic parchments such as placing an awarding stamp imprimatur of the university upon completion of postgraduate degrees.

In oil spill control, beeswax is processed to create Petroleum Remediation Product (PRP). It is used to absorb oil or petroleum-based pollutants from water.


  1. Sanford, M.T.; Dietz, A. (1976). “The fine structure of the wax gland of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.)” (PDF). Apidologie. 7 (3): 197–207. doi:10.1051/apido:19760301. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-04-30.
  2. Brown, R, H. (1981) Beeswax (2nd edition) Bee Books New and Old, Burrowbridge, Somerset UK. ISBN 0-905652-15-0
  3.  Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products, Coggshall and Morse. Wicwas Press. 1984-06-01. ISBN 978-1878075062.

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