|What is it?
|A lovely wax made by bees; you can buy a golden (unrefined) version, or a refined (bleached) version.
|The unrefined stuff is a beautiful golden colour and will usually come in big chunks or bricks (often moulded with a cute honeycomb texture). The refined variety is white and comes in pellets. You can also purchase golden beeswax in pellets, but it’s not going to smell as amazing as the variety that you source locally in chunks.
|It’s a firm wax that’s a wee bit tacky to the touch.
|The lovely, unrefined stuff smells like honey and is utterly divine. The refined variety smells like nothing.
|Beeswax on its own isn’t going to absorb into your skin as it melts far above body temperature. When added to concoctions, it will slow the absorbency speed.
|It melts around 63°C/145°F, which is one of the higher melting points we work with in DIY skincare and cosmetics.
|Why do we use it in formulations?
|We use it to thicken and harden our concoctions. In low concentrations it thickens, in higher concentration it hardens and solidifies. It adds a lovely creaminess to concoctions that gives salves and balms great staying power on your skin.
|Do you need it?
|Unless you’re vegan I would highly recommend getting some beeswax—it’s an essential part of my DIY pantry and you’ll see it in a lot of recipes.
|Refined or unrefined?
|For almost everything I recommend getting the unrefined stuff; purchase it at your local farmer’s market! It’s one of very few ingredients that almost anybody can source locally.There are a few recipes in my book that call for the refined stuff, though. These recipes really rely on the precise strength of the beeswax, and I’ve found the slight variation in the unrefined variety can impact the performance of the final product.
|It’s a wonderful thickener and hardener, even in small concentrations. It also increases the staying power of your projects, helping lip balms, salves, and body butters stick around on the skin by slowing absorbency speed.
|At higher concentrations in makes projects really skiddy and sticky, so we generally don’t want to make beeswax more than 1/3 of a formula (though there are exceptions). I’ve done some experiments with beeswax and liquid oil and beeswax and coconut oil—check those out to see how it works at different concentrations.
|Alternatives & Substitutions
|Beeswax’s creamy consistency is quite unique, and it’s hard to substitute out if you are looking to have the same skin feel in the end product.
Two popular vegan alternatives to beeswax are candelilla wax and carnauba wax, both of which are much harder and glossier than beeswax, and don’t work well for 1:1 swaps. You can try using them at about 80%, but keep in mind that the recipe will likely require some fine-tuning given the differences in textures between candelilla/carnauba and beeswax. They are much glossier/slippy-er and don’t have the creaminess that beeswax does. They’ll make something hard, but they will not lend much in the way of substantialness to your formula.
I highly recommend reading this FAQ and the linked experiments to learn more about how beeswax and many different waxes perform. I generally compare non-beeswax waxes to beeswax in those experiments so you can get an idea of how or if they could work as an alternative.
You cannot use an emulsifying wax, like Polawax or Emulsifying Wax NF, in place of beeswax.
|How to Work with It
|If you buy it in a large hunk the first thing you’ll need to do is break it down into smaller, workable pieces. I recommend using a large, study chopping knife to shave off small bits of it on a cutting board. Store the shavings in a jar. You’ll need to use boiling water to clean off the knife blade as it’ll have sticky wax all over it.
Beeswax is best melted in a hot water bath; beeswax heated above 85°C / 185°F will discolour and turn a darker brown. Beeswax should not be left over direct heat unattended as it can spontaneously combust.
Take care not to wash large amounts of liquid beeswax down your drain as it’ll solidify further down and block the drain.
|Storage & Shelf Life
|Store beeswax somewhere cool and dry; I will usually store the brick in a plastic bag, and store the smaller shavings I’ll make with a knife in a mason jar. The shelf life of beeswax is indefinite.
|Tips, Tricks, and Quirks
|Boiling water comes in really useful when cleaning up beeswaxy messes, as does paper towel for wiping down containers while they’re still warm before washing them.
|Recommended starter amount
|Where to Buy it
|I highly recommend purchasing beeswax (USA / Canada) locally—try your farmer’s market and chat with anybody selling honey. They might not have beeswax with them that week, but they can probably bring some the following week.You can also buy it online from most DIY type suppliers, including Amazon.