Beeswax (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 4 through 7 of worker bees, who 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.
The wax 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. The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker, and after many daily flights, these glands begin to gradually atrophy.
The new wax is initially glass-clear and colorless, becoming opaque after mastication and adulteration with pollen by the hive worker bees. Also, the wax becomes progressively more yellow or brown by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about 3 mm (0.12 in) across and 0.1 mm (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1100 are required to make a gram of wax.
Beeswax is a tough wax formed from a mixture of several compounds. An approximate chemical formula for beeswax is C15H31COOC30H61. Its main components 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 components, being 6:1. 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. Beeswax has a relatively low melting point range of 62 °C to 64 °C (144 °F to 147 °F). If beeswax is heated above 85 °C (185 °F) discoloration occurs. The flash point of beeswax is 204.4 °C (400 °F). Density at 15 °C is 958 kg/m³ to 970 kg/m³
Beeswax has many and varied uses. Primarily, it is used by the bees in making their honeycombs. Apart from this use by bees, the use of beeswax has become widespread and varied. 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 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.
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. Beeswax is used in lip balm, lip gloss, hand creams, and moisturizers; and in cosmetics such as eye shadow, blush, and eye liner. Beeswax is an important ingredient in moustache wax and hair pomades, which make hair look sleek and shiny.
Candle-making has long involved the use of beeswax, which is highly flammable, and this material traditionally was prescribed for the making of the Paschal candle or “Easter candle”. It is further recommended for the making of other candles used in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. Beeswax is also the candle constituent of choice in the Orthodox Church.