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Beeswax cake
A beekeeper from Vojka, Serbia, making a bee hive frame.
Commercial honeycomb foundation, made by pressing beeswax between patterned metal rollers

Beeswax (also known as cera alba) is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. The wax is formed into scales by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees, which discard it in or at the hive. The hive workers collect and use it to form cells for honey storage and larval and pupal protection within the beehive. Chemically, beeswax consists mainly of esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols.

Beeswax has been used since prehistory as the first plastic, as a lubricant and waterproofing agent, in lost wax casting of metals and glass, as a polish for wood and leather, for making candles, as an ingredient in cosmetics and as an artistic medium in encaustic painting.

Beeswax is edible, having similarly negligible toxicity to plant waxes, and is approved for food use in most countries and in the European Union under the E number E901. However, due to its inability to be broken down by the human digestive system, it has insignificant nutritional value.[1]



Beeswax is formed by worker bees, which secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7.[2] The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker, and after many daily flights, these glands gradually begin to atrophy.

Fresh wax scales (in the middle of the bottom row)

The new wax is initially glass-clear and colorless, becoming opaque after chewing and being contaminated with pollen by the hive worker bees, becoming progressively yellower or browner by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about three millimetres (0.12 in) across and 0.1 mm (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1100 are needed to make a gram of wax.[3] Worker bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive must be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F).

The book Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products suggests one kilogram (2.2 lb) of beeswax is sufficient to store 22 kg (49 lb) of honey.[4]: 41  Another study estimated that one kilogram (2.2 lb) of wax can store 24 to 30 kg (53 to 66 lb) of honey.[5][6]

Sugars from honey are metabolized into beeswax in wax-gland-associated fat cells.[7] The amount of honey used by bees to produce wax has not been accurately determined, but according to Whitcomb's 1946 experiment, 6.66 to 8.80 kg (14.7 to 19.4 lb) of honey yields one kilogram (2.2 lb) of wax.[4]: 35 


Uncapping beeswax honeycombs

Beeswax as a product for human use may come from cappings cut off the cells in the process of extraction, from old comb that is scrapped, or from unwanted burr comb and brace comb removed from a hive. Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often is a shade of yellow, depending on purity, the region, and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. The wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb because impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax must be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum, and is derived from old breeding rubbish (pupa casings, cocoons, shed larva skins, etc.), bee droppings, propolis, and general rubbish.

The wax may be clarified further by heating in water. As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with mineral oil or vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.

Physical characteristics

Wax content type Percentage
Hydrocarbons 14
Monoesters 35
Diesters 14
Triesters 3
Hydroxy monoesters 4
Hydroxy polyesters 8
Acid esters 1
Acid polyesters 2
Free fatty acids 12
Free fatty alcohols 1
Unidentified 6

Beeswax is a fragrant solid at room temperature. The colors are light yellow, medium yellow, or dark brown and white. Beeswax is a tough wax formed from a mixture of several chemical compounds.

Beeswax has a relatively low melting point range of 62 to 64 °C (144 to 147 °F). If beeswax is heated above 85 °C (185 °F) discoloration occurs. The flash point of beeswax is 204.4 °C (399.9 °F).[8]

When natural beeswax is cold,[clarification needed] it is brittle, and its fracture is dry and granular. At room temperature (conventionally taken as about 20 °C (68 °F)), it is tenacious and it softens further at human body temperature (37 °C (99 °F)).

Chemical composition

Triacontanyl palmitate, a wax ester, is a major component of beeswax.[9]

An approximate chemical formula for beeswax is C15H31COOC30H61.[10] Its main constituents are palmitate, palmitoleate, and oleate esters of long-chain (30–32 carbons) aliphatic alcohols, with the ratio of triacontanyl palmitate CH3(CH2)29O-CO-(CH2)14CH3 to cerotic acid CH3(CH2)24COOH, the two principal constituents, being 6:1[citation needed]. Beeswax can be classified generally into European and Oriental types. The saponification value is lower (3–5) for European beeswax, and higher (8–9) for Oriental types.[citation needed] The analytical characterization can be done by high-temperature gas chromatography.[9][11]

Beeswax adulteration

beeswax pellets
Beeswax refined in pellet form

Beeswax faces challenges in the market due to the presence of various suppliers, making it difficult to distinguish authentic from fake variants. Adulterated beeswax often contains paraffin and other toxic additives, posing potential health risks and lacking the genuine honey-scented aroma of pure beeswax.[12]

The fake counterparts, typically in pellet form, feel smooth, sticky, and greasy, reflecting the presence of added paraffin. To identify fake beeswax, consumers are advised to pay attention to color, scent, feel, and texture.

Genuine beeswax, sourced organically from beekeepers, is known for its varying hues, strong honey fragrance, and a hard yet pliable feel.


Beeswax production – 2020
Country Tonnes
 India 23,716
 Ethiopia 5,339
 Argentina 4,970
 Turkey 3,765
 South Korea 3,758
World 62,116
Source: FAOSTAT[13]

In 2020, world production of beeswax was 62,116 tonnes, led by India with 38% of the total.[13]



Candle-making has long involved the use of beeswax, which burns readily and cleanly, and this material was traditionally prescribed for the making of the Paschal candle or "Easter candle". Beeswax candles are purported to be superior to other wax candles, because they burn brighter and longer, do not bend, and burn cleaner.[14] It is further recommended for the making of other candles used in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.[15] Beeswax is also the candle constituent of choice in the Eastern Orthodox Church.[16][17]

Refined beeswax plays a prominent role in art materials both as a binder in encaustic paint and as a stabilizer in oil paint to add body.[18]

Beeswax is an ingredient in surgical bone wax, which is used during surgery to control bleeding from bone surfaces; shoe polish and furniture polish can both use beeswax as a component, dissolved in turpentine or sometimes blended with linseed oil or tung oil; modeling waxes can also use beeswax as a component; pure beeswax can also be used as an organic surfboard wax.[19] Beeswax blended with pine rosin is used for waxing, and can serve as an adhesive to attach reed plates to the structure inside a squeezebox. It can also be used to make Cutler's resin, an adhesive used to glue handles onto cutlery knives. It is used in Eastern Europe in egg decoration; it is used for writing, via resist dyeing, on batik eggs (as in pysanky) and for making beaded eggs. Beeswax is used by percussionists to make a surface on tambourines for thumb rolls. It can also be used as a metal injection moulding binder component along with other polymeric binder materials.[20]

Beeswax candles and figures

Beeswax was formerly used in the manufacture of phonograph cylinders. It may still be used to seal formal legal or royal decree and academic parchments such as placing an awarding stamp imprimatur of the university upon completion of postgraduate degrees.

Purified and bleached beeswax is used in the production of food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. The three main types of beeswax products are yellow, white, and beeswax absolute. Yellow beeswax is the crude product obtained from the honeycomb, white beeswax is bleached or filtered yellow beeswax, and beeswax absolute is yellow beeswax treated with alcohol. In food preparation, it is used as a coating for cheese; by sealing out the air, protection is given against spoilage (mold growth). Beeswax may also be used as a food additive E901, in small quantities acting as a glazing agent, which serves to prevent water loss, or used to provide surface protection for some fruits. Soft gelatin capsules and tablet coatings may also use E901. Beeswax is also a common ingredient of natural chewing gum. The wax monoesters in beeswax are poorly hydrolysed in the guts of humans and other mammals, so they have insignificant nutritional value.[1] Some birds, such as honeyguides, can digest beeswax.[21] Beeswax is the main diet of wax moth larvae.[22]

The use of beeswax in skin care and cosmetics has been increasing. A German study found beeswax to be superior to similar barrier creams (usually mineral oil-based creams such as petroleum jelly), when used according to its protocol.[23] Beeswax is used in lip balm, lip gloss, hand creams, salves, and moisturizers; and in cosmetics such as eye shadow, blush, and eye liner. Beeswax is also an important ingredient in moustache wax and hair pomades, which make hair look sleek and shiny.

In oil spill control, beeswax is processed to create Petroleum Remediation Product (PRP). It is used to absorb oil or petroleum-based pollutants from water.[24]

Historical uses

Beeswax candles, Alamannic graveyard (Oberflacht, Germany), 6th/7th century AD
Beeswax as Neolithic dental filling

Beeswax was among the first plastics to be used, alongside other natural polymers such as gutta-percha, horn, tortoiseshell, and shellac. For thousands of years, beeswax has had a wide variety of applications; it has been found in the tombs of Egypt, in wrecked Viking ships, and in Roman ruins. Beeswax never goes bad and can be heated and reused. Historically, it has been used:

See also



  1. ^ a b Beeswax absorption and toxicity. Large amounts of such waxes in the diet pose theoretical toxicological problems for mammals.
  2. ^ Sanford, M.T.; Dietz, A. (1976). "The fine structure of the wax gland of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.)" (PDF). Apidologie. 7 (3): 197–207. doi:10.1051/apido:19760301. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-04-30.
  3. ^ Brown, R, H. (1981) Beeswax (2nd edition) Bee Books New and Old, Burrowbridge, Somerset UK. ISBN 0-905652-15-0
  4. ^ a b Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products, Coggshall and Morse. Wicwas Press. 1984-06-01. ISBN 978-1878075062.
  5. ^ Les Crowder (2012-08-31). Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health. Chelsea Green Publishing. ISBN 978-1603584616.
  6. ^ Top-bar beekeeping in America Archived 2014-07-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Collision, Clarence (31 March 2015). "A Closer Look: Beeswax, Wax Glands". Bee Culture. beeculture.com. pp. 12–27. Retrieved 2020-06-16.
  8. ^ "MSDS for beeswax".. No reported autoignition temperature has been reported
  9. ^ a b Tulloch, A. P. (1980). "Beeswax—Composition and Analysis". Bee World. 61 (2): 47–62. doi:10.1080/0005772X.1980.11097776.
  10. ^ Umney, Nick; Shayne Rivers (2003). Conservation of Furniture. Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 164.
  11. ^ Limsathayourat, N.; Melchert, H.-U. (1984). "High-temperature capillary GLC of hydrocarbons, fatty-acid derivatives, cholesterol esters, wax esters and triglycerides in beeswax analysis". Fresenius' Zeitschrift für analytische Chemie [Fresenius’ Journal of Analytical Chemistry]. 318 (6): 410–413. doi:10.1007/BF00533223.
  12. ^ European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) (May 2020). "Risk assessment of beeswax adulterated with paraffin and/or stearin/stearic acid when used in apiculture and as food (honeycomb)". EFSA Supporting Publications. 17 (5). doi:10.2903/sp.efsa.2020.EN-1859.
  13. ^ a b "Beeswax production in 2020, Crops/Regions/World list/Production Quantity (pick lists)". UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT). 2022. Retrieved 23 July 2022.
  14. ^ Norman, Gary (2010). Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. California, US: BowTie Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-933958-94-1.
  15. ^ 'Altar Candles", 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
  16. ^ [1], Use of Candles in the Orthodox Church
  17. ^ Uwe Wolfmeier, Hans Schmidt, Franz-Leo Heinrichs, Georg Michalczyk, Wolfgang Payer, Wolfram Dietsche, Klaus Boehlke, Gerd Hohner, Josef Wildgruber "Waxes" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2002. doi:10.1002/14356007.a28_103.
  18. ^ Mayer, Ralph; Sheehan, Steven (1991). The artist's handbook of materials and techniques (Fifth edition, revised and updated ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0670837014. OCLC 22178945.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  19. ^ 'Raw Beeswax Uses" Archived 2013-11-06 at the Wayback Machine, MoreNature
  20. ^ 'Metal Injection Molding Process (MIM)" Archived 2012-05-10 at the Wayback Machine, 2012 EngPedia
  21. ^ Downs, Colleen T; van Dyk, Robyn J; Iji, Paul (September 2002). "Wax digestion by the lesser honeyguide Indicator minor". Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology. 133 (1): 125–134. doi:10.1016/s1095-6433(02)00130-7. PMID 12160878.
  22. ^ Dadd, R.H. (December 1966). "Beeswax in the nutrition of the wax moth, Galleria mellonella (L.)". Journal of Insect Physiology. 12 (12): 1479–1492. doi:10.1016/0022-1910(66)90038-2.
  23. ^ Peter J. Frosch; Detlef Peiler; Veit Grunert; Beate Grunenberg (July 2003). "Wirksamkeit von Hautschutzprodukten im Vergleich zu Hautpflegeprodukten bei Zahntechnikern – eine kontrollierte Feldstudie. Efficacy of barrier creams in comparison to skincare products in dental laboratory technicians – a controlled trial". Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft (in German). 1 (7): 547–557. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0353.2003.03701.x. PMID 16295040. S2CID 70532469. Conclusions: The results demonstrate that the use of after-work moisturizers is highly beneficial and under the chosen study conditions even superior to barrier creams applied at work. This approach is more practical for many professions and may effectively reduce the frequency of irritant contact dermatitis.
  24. ^ "Petroleum Remediation Product". spacefoundation.org. November 3, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  25. ^ Congdon, L. O. K. (1985). "Water-Casting Concave-Convex Wax Models for Cire Perdue Bronze Mirrors". American Journal of Archaeology. 89 (3): 511–515. doi:10.2307/504365. JSTOR 504365. S2CID 193028590.
  26. ^ Egyptology online Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Ormeling, F. J. 1956. The Timor problem: a geographical interpretation of an underdeveloped island. Groningen and The Hague: J. B. Wolters and Martinus Nijhoff.
  28. ^ "Oldest tooth filling may have been found – Light Years – CNN.com Blogs". Lightyears.blogs.cnn.com. Archived from the original on 2019-12-15. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
  29. ^ "Don't Use Your Teeth". Archived from the original on 2013-12-14. Retrieved 2013-12-13.