What is beeswax and paraffin wax? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
Beeswax and paraffin wax are both types of wax. Beeswax is made by honeybees, while paraffin wax is a type of mineral wax. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s find out whether beeswax or paraffin wax would be best for you….
What is Beeswax?
Beeswax is a natural wax created by honeybees. Honeybees use beeswax to build their honeycomb, which houses their larvae. It is mainly composed of esters of various long-chain alcohols and long-chain carboxylic acids.
It is non-toxic and biodegradable. Beeswax has a high melting point, so it is durable and can be used for candles, cosmetics, and food packaging. Beeswax is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, which makes it a good choice for skin care products too.
What is Paraffin Wax?
Paraffin wax is a kind of petroleum-based wax derived from petroleum and sometimes coal or oil shale. It is a solid, yellowish to white, odorless and tasteless substance that is used as a wax in candles, cosmetics and food.
In candles, paraffin wax is used as a fuel for light and heat. It provides the wick with a slow, steady source of heat so it can burn for hours.
Comparing Beeswax and Paraffin Wax
When you are thinking about using either beeswax or paraffin wax, these are the main factors I think you should consider.
Natural vs Man Made
Beeswax is a naturally occurring wax which is made by bees during their day to day lives. It is not man made in any way, with humans only extracting the wax from the beehives and processing it into useable blocks or pellets.
On the other hand, paraffin wax is a man made wax that comes mainly from petroleum. Paraffin wax is made by de-oiling the petroleum. The oils are removed by crystalizing the petroleum and removing the oils from the slack wax (that will form the basis of paraffin wax).
When choosing a type of wax in an application, you need to decide whether you want to go for something natural or not. The natural product is just made up of ingredients from the natural environment, whereas the man-made product is using man made additives and chemicals.
In recent years, there has been a growing swell of opinion, saying that burning paraffin wax in candles produces known carcinogens (benzene and toluene) that are also found in diesel fumes. These are the types of issues that can arise from using man-made products.
Sustainability and Eco-Friendliness
If we are going to talk about natural vs man-made products, we also need to consider sustainability and eco-friendliness.
Clearly, paraffin wax is made from petroleum oil, so is neither eco-friendly or sustainable. Oil is a finite resource that will be used up at some point, and mining the oil causes a significant impact of the natural environment. The only positive way to view paraffin wax is if you see it as a by-product for oil that is going to be extracted anyway, but this is stretching it a little to be frank 🙂
So being natural, beeswax is sustainable and eco-friendly, but it is not totally problem free in this department!
In my opinion, the more popular beeswax becomes, the harder it will be to produce it in an organic way. If the demand rises enough, you would probably start seeing commercial bee farms on a massive scale pumping out beeswax (alongside other bee related products).
Beeswax is only sustainable when produced carefully. When you harvest a beehive, you will get mostly honey and a relatively small amount of beeswax. Take too much from the hive and the bees colony will start to struggle. My thought here is that if beeswax gets to the point where it is farmed in a large-scale commercial way, I would wonder whether these commercial farmers would still be thinking about sustainability.
I don’t think we are at this point yet for beeswax, but it is something to be aware of going forward.
It is all well and good buying sustainable and eco-friendly beeswax, but for it to be this way 100% the beeswax should be farmed ethically and in as natural a way as possible. This obviously comes at a cost, as it is harder to do at scale. Paraffin wax, on the other hand, is a manmade industrial process that can easily be done at massive scale. Therefore, paraffin wax is considerably cheaper than beeswax.
The melting point of paraffin wax is somewhere around 115 to 154 °F (46 and 68 °C), whereas beeswax has a melting point of 144-147°F (62 to 64 °C). This means that paraffin wax might melt in hot climates or when used in products such as candles (yes, I know we want candle wax to melt but not so much that it droops!!). Therefore, paraffin wax often gets mixed with other ingredients to maintain its integrity under such heats. However, beeswax has a high enough melting point to be used in such applications in its pure form.
The higher melting point of beeswax also means that, when used as candle wax, it burns much slower (and therefore lasts longer) in its pure form than paraffin wax.
Beeswax has properties that some believe to be anti inflammatory and antibacterial in nature. It is also hypo-allergenic, meaning it is good to use around people with allergies. As a natural product, it is far more likely that beeswax has some type of extra health benefits. However, paraffin wax has no potential health benefits as a man made petroleum wax, and some believe it to release carcinogens when burned.
People also state that burning beeswax will produce negative ions which clean the air. I am cautious of these claims, as I can’t find any solid research to back them up. And the particles in the smoke produced by any candle would not be healthy when inhaled.