Beeswax is obtained by melting down empty honeycombs produced by honey-bees (Apis mellifera L.) with hot water and removing any solid contaminants that may be present from the molten product. Once the wax has cooled down, it sets (yellow beeswax) and is then ready for treatment with oxidant agents (bleaching), to obtain white beeswax (white beeswax).
For thousands of years, people from a variety of different cultures have used honey produced by bees, along with beeswax, as a food (honey) or as a high-value basic material for ointments and cosmetics (beeswax). In ancient times, tablets made of wax were used by scribes. Figures and masks were also buried with bodies. Molten beeswax was one of the materials used by the Greek physician, Calenus (129-199), as an ingredient in a cream. The 1618 London Pharmacopoeia also describes how beeswax was used in an ointment known nowadays as 'cold cream'.
The wax is yellow to light brown (yellow beeswax) or white to yellowish-white (white beeswax) in colour and is tasteless. It does not stick to the teeth and it has a fine-grain, matt, non-crystalline fracture. It gives off a faint smell of honey and, when heated, forms a soft, malleable mass. It is insoluble in water, partially soluble in alcohol and ether and completely soluble in fatty and volatile oils.
A mixture of cerotinic and melissinic acids accounts for 70-75% of beeswax, with approx. 70 esters of C16- to C36 acids and mixtures of C24 to C36 alcohols. In addition, saccharides account for 5-15.5% and the remaining components are minerals, colourings and flavourings, along with vitamin A. In bygone times, beeswax was used in large quantities in the candle industry. Nowadays, it is under increasing threat from synthetic waxes as a raw material in candle production and it is only used for production of high-value candles. In the pharmaceuticals trade, beeswax is used primarily for its antibiotic properties (ointments, creams, pastes, plasters).
The hardness of beeswax makes it unsuitable for direct use as an ointment base, but its high capacity for absorbing water is exploited in mixtures with liquid paraffin or oils as an emulsifier in lipsticks, face-creams, lotions, mascaras, eye-creams, eye shadow, make-up, de-keratisinising products (body cream) and nail-white pencils. Beeswax is also used in dental technology (dental moulds), cleaning products (furniture and floor polish), forestry (grafting wax) and artists' colours (oil chalks, washed papers, lithograph dyes).
INCI Name: Cera alba