Carnauba wax is obtained by scraping or cooking leaves from the Carnauba palm (Copernicia cerifera Mart.). The product is then purified. Crude product is not available on the market.
During the dry season, the wild Carnauba palm, that is found mainly in Northern Brazil and that stands approx. 15 m tall, forms waxy scales on its fan leaves, which measure approx. 2 m in length. These help to protect the tree against evaporation loss during the dry season.
The wax is collected during the dry season by cutting off 6-8 leaves from the Carnauba palm every 2 months. The waxy scales loosened as the leaves shrink are then either knocked, stripped or brushed off, or the wax is removed mechanically. The wax is purified in boiling water and then filtered. Once it has set, it is broken up into pieces. Carnauba wax is bright yellow to yellow, or greenish to dark green (with colouring that depends on the effort that goes into purification). In its molten state, it gives off a characteristic pungent, but not unpleasant smell. It has a high hardening capacity (the highest found in any type of wax, including synthetic products) and it is extremely difficult to saponify (development of wax alcohol and hydrocarbon emulsions prevent the formation of soap!). Since the advent onto the world market of synthetic waxes that are cheaper to produce, carnauba wax has ceased to be competitive, due to the exhausting, labour-intensive process involved in production. This is also due to the fact that a single carnauba palm only produces 150-180 g of wax per annum, equivalent to a yield of 5 g wax per 100 g leaf material.
Despite these disadvantages, carnauba wax is a popular raw material in industry, being used in the production of self-glazing emulsions and carbon paper, also for glazing special papers (art paper). It is used in the production of both candles and gramophone records. A further major user is the cleaning products industry, where carnauba wax is used as an additive in shoe-care products, floor and furniture wax, also as a polishing wax for motor vehicles (on account of its ability to set to such a hard finish).
Carnauba wax that has undergone further processing (refining, brightening with bleaching earth or partial saponification, addition of synthetic waxes, subsequent acidification) is used as bleached carnauba wax, for cosmetic purposes (e.g. lipsticks), also in the pharmaceutical trade for coated tablets.
INCI Name: Cera Carnauba