Beeswax is in all sorts of products, from cosmetics to candles. It’s endlessly useful, both in its applications on skin and for the way it works in formulations. Though there’s not a wealth of scientific study on what it could do, we know that beeswax works excellently as an emollient and stabilizer. Future study will tell us if this common ingredient has any other beneficial properties.
Beeswax is a wax ester that has occlusive properties (Skin Therapy Letters). It’s also a gelling agent, film former, plasticizer, and barrier agent (Koster Keunen). Essentially, it’s a natural ingredient that works well to give formulas the right consistency and coats the skin to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL) in the same way that ingredients like petrolatum do.
Beeswax on Skin
Beeswax has a slight antioxidant effect, likely due to minor ingredients or propolis, but it’s primarily used because it creates a thin, non-allergenic, protective layer over skin (NC State University).
Reports have shown that beeswax may help in the treatment of psoriasis and eczema. Studies involving participants with both disorders used a mixture of beeswax, honey, and olive oil found that this mixture helped to significantly improve symptoms for both disorders (Bastyr Center).
A moisturizer containing beeswax was found to work better than barrier creams when applied after work for dental laboratory technicians who suffer from contact dermatitis (Journal of the German Society of Dermatology).
Beeswax in Formulations
Beeswax has several functions in formulations. When mixed with ingredients it can help to preserve active materials and release them slowly (NC State University). If it’s saponified using borax, it can help emulsify a smooth and stable mixture. In ointments and creams, it can improve the water retention.
When used in lipsticks it does more than merely improve water-holding capacity, it also works to create shine, stabilize the color, and give the lipstick a good consistency.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has declared beeswax to be safe for use in cosmetics (International Journal of Toxicology). However, beeswax can preserve and provide a slow-release for ingredients, so it can be good for beneficial ingredients, but can do harm when combined with potentially dangerous ingredients.
Beeswax is considered safe as an additive in food for human consumption. It has no effect on the human digestive system. However, in medicines in can help provide a slow release, making it beneficial in pharmaceuticals (NC State University).
Ethoxylated derivatives of beeswax, PEGs Sorbitan Beeswax, have been approved in cosmetic formulations up in concentrations up to 11%. These were found to be non-carcinogenic (though they can increase the activity of carcinogens), irritant, or skin sensitizer. The sorbitans were relatively nontoxic when consumed (International Journal of Toxicology).
Beeswax is a safe and effective occlusive moisturizer. It’s an emollient on skin and a stabilizer in formulations, useful for keeping ingredients from separating. Particularly when combined with olive oil and honey, beeswax has been shown to help people with eczema and psoriasis and to have antibacterial properties. It’s considered safe for both topical application and consumption. Beeswax has long been used for many ailments, and while there’s always more research to be done, it’s a great addition to products.
Unfortunately, in recent years bees have been disappearing and studies point to a particular class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, for causing colony collapses (Reuters). One can only hope we figure out a way to stop these colony collapses so this lovely creature and the fruits of its labor remain.
If you’d like to try something with beeswax, consider…
Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Cream ($10.77, amazon.com) with almond oil, which has been widely used for its soothing properties and soothing and wound-healing aloe, this lotion is great for chapped hands.
Treat Soft Candy Vanilla Buttercream Old Fashioned Jumbo Flavored Lip Balm ($8, amazon.com) with super moisturizing shea butter that’s been found to have anti-aging effects and a deliciously sweet scent and flavor, this lip balm has a fun kind of luxury.