Beeswax – From bees to creams

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

Beeswax is the substance, the bee, Apis mellifera secretes to build honeycomb to store honey. When secreted by the bee, pure beeswax is almost white; only after contact with honey and pollen it assumes intense yellowish colour and turns brown after four years approximately. Beeswax contains a natural, powerful protective substance called propolis, which protects beeswax from deterioration. Propolis is made by the bees by combining tree resin with wax flakes and pollen. It is used to fix and strengthen the beehive while protecting the hive with an antiseptic barrier. [1]

Beeswax is separated by melting the honeycombs in hot water by steam, electrical or solar power, cleaned and stored as blocks. It has a natural bright yellow color. A darker shade indicates heating at a higher temperature or for a longer duration or storage in metal containers. [2]

The first use of beeswax was in creating casting moulds for statues. Ancient Romans used a beeswax preparation along with olive oil and rose water for the treatment of burns, wounds, cuts, bruises and fractures. Its use as a cosmetic ingredient is recorded since 1840s where a beeswax and borax emulsion was made to create the first stable ‘cold cream’ in the form we know today. [3]

Natural beeswax is formed almost entirely of fatty acids and chain alcohols and includes large amounts of oleate esters, hydroxypalmitate, palmitate, and palmitoleate. These ingredients blend to produce properties that make beeswax key for maintaining skin texture and health. The ability to keep moisture in the skin and the high vitamin A content stimulate the production of skin cells while keeping the skin insulated from environmental dangers. Beeswax also brings to the skin the necessary antioxidants for maintaining a healthy complexion. [1]

Beeswax – From bees to a cream. (Top Left) Apis mellifera collecting floral nectar; (Bottom left) Structure of a honeycomb with wax filaments; (Centre) Purified native beeswax prior to bleaching and (Right) Ponds Cold Cream advertisement from 1951

Modern uses of beeswax are not only for appearance and consistency of creams and lotions but is also a preferred ingredient for lipsticks, as it contributes to sheen, consistency and colour stabilisation. Beeswax imparts hardness to lipstick and kajal formulations and improves the thermal stability of butters. Beeswax is also often used in the food packaging to protect the cheese during the seasoning as a polishing agent E901 or as edible coverage mixed with the polylactic acid.

There are no regulatory concerns regarding use of beeswax. Due to overuse of acaricides, pesticides and other chemicals used in bee cultivation and maintenance, there may be contamination in beeswax and related products. [2]

The applications of beeswax in cosmetics are tremendous, especially with the increased demand for natural materials. There are however, some limitations in specialised claims, for example, vegan, where it may not be permitted.


1. Fratini F, Cilia G, Turchi B, et al., Beeswax: A minireview of its antimicrobial activity and its application in medicine. Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2016;9(9):839-43.

2. Bogdanov S. Quality and Standards of Pollen and Beeswax. Apiacta 2004;38:334-41.


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