What is Beeswax?
Beeswax is the miracle of the beehive. The comb is built up from nothing and serves as a house, a nursery, and a food pantry. Over the millennia, bees have figured out that by building their combs into hexagons, the combs hold the most amount of honey and require the least amount of wax. The combs also serve as the perfect area for a bee to undergo its metamorphosis from egg to bee.
So what is beeswax? In the simplest terms, it is a wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. Beeswax consists of at least 284 different compounds, mainly a variety of long-chain alkanes, acids, esters, polyesters, and hydroxy esters, but the exact composition of beeswax varies with location. It has a specific gravity of about 0.95 and a melting point of over 140 degrees F.
More specifically, it is a wax that is secreted from eight wax-producing glands on the worker bee’s abdomen. The wax is secreted in thin sheets called scales. The scales, when first secreted, look a bit like mica flakes. They are clear, colorless, tasteless, and very brittle. Beeswax is typically produced by the younger house bees when they are between twelve and twenty days old. As the bee grows older and begins to collect pollen and nectar, these glands start to atrophy, but their ability to produce beeswax doesn’t disappear completely. When bees swarm they will rapidly produce wax comb, since they need to quickly create a place for the queen to lay eggs and somewhere to store food.
To form the beeswax into honeycomb, the bees will hang in strings and as wax is extruded from the glands of the wax-producing bees it is passed between the legs and mouths of the bees that form the chain, being chewed and molded into shape along the way. The bees will then use this wax to build the familiar hexagon-shaped honey cells. It is during this process that the wax starts to develop its color and opacity. Depending on what kind of nectar and pollen come into the hive and is consumed by the bees, microscopic bits of the pollen and nectar remain and get added to the wax. It takes about 1,100 scales to make one gram of wax.
Under the right conditions — meaning there is an adequate supply of food and the ambient temperature within the hive is between 91 degrees F and 97 degrees F — worker bees can produce beeswax on demand. They achieve the right temperature on cooler spring days by clustering around the wax-producing bees when they are building comb.
The production of beeswax in the hive is very costly, however. It takes about 8.4 pounds of honey to create 1 pound of beeswax. This honey could be used to feed the nonforaging bees or it could be saved for times when nectar is in short supply. For this reason, beeswax is often chewed off in one spot and placed where it is needed. The reusing of old comb also contributes to the color, since it may have been used for brood rearing or honey storage and may contain cocoon remains, propolis, or pollen.
Beeswax in Skincare
"Literally you can use it from head to toe," says Debbi Burnes, natural skincare expert, esthetician and founder of Sumbody. "Beeswax is a humectant, which means it helps your skin retain its own moisture. It also seals and locks moisture in. I absolutely love beeswax. Used properly it's an amazing ingredient." This ingredient can be found in everything from hand lotions to hair products to, yes, lip balms.
"I think one thing that's important to be mindful of is how it's obtained," Burnes says. "There are people who are raising bees and selling honey, beeswax, and honeycomb ethically and sustainably without destroying the colonies of bees. Bees are imperative to our survival as humans our food chain would be virtually an existing without it, so making sure you're getting properly sourced products from bees it Is important."
Here, 10 uses for beeswax.
1. For chapped lips
As previously mentioned, beeswax is a common ingredient in lip balms—especially those of the homemade variety—thanks to its humectant properties. And it's got dermatologists' stamp of approval.
2. To help with eczema
Beeswax is also anti-inflammatory, so it can be good for skin conditions like eczema. Dr. Hadley King, dermatologist, points to a small 2003 study. "[It] showed that daily application of a mixture of bee's wax, raw honey and olive oil to the skin of people with eczema or psoriasis resulted in significant improvement after two weeks," she says.
3. To help with acne
"Beeswax has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties which helps to fight conditions such as acne and eczema. It calms the skin without clogging your pores," says Adriana Martino, esthetician and co-founder of Skinney Medspa.
4. For dry skin
Martino also recommends products with beeswax to people with dry skin, "especially during the cold, harsh winter months," because, obviously, skin is more prone to dryness then. "Beeswax is an effective occlusive, which means that it can create a protective layer on the skin, sealing in moisture. It also has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, which can help protect the skin as well," Hadley adds.
5. For fine lines and wrinkles
Beeswax contains vitamin A aplenty, so it can help with fine lines and wrinkles, Martino says. Retinol products—which help speed cell turnover and stimulate collagen production—are all derived from vitamin A.
6. For sensitive skin
"A 2018 study concluded that bee's wax, as well as other 'botanical anti-inflammatories' were effective for managing sensitive skin and even outperformed skincare products with synthetic ingredients," Hadley says. Martino also recommends products containing beeswax for people with sensitive skin because of their anti-inflammatory and humectant properties.
7. To get rid of flyaways
8. To moisturize hair
All the reasons that make beeswax a stellar moisturizer for your skin also make it great for your hair. "It’s also great to use when straightening your hair, especially if you have natural hair," Alli says.
9. To hide split ends
10. To soothe your scalp
Thanks to the aforementioned anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties of beeswax, it can also be used to soothe scalps suffering from eczema, psoriasis, or dandruff. "Massage the beeswax into your scalp to help calm and soothe these conditions," says Alli.