Monday, September 7, 2009


It seems there are dozens of waxes to choose from for personal care type products, which it makes it both confusing and exciting for formulators!

Waxes give structure to our products, keep them firm - in the case of lip balms or lotion bars - and help our products be flexible but not brittle.

There are two main groups of waxes, which can be sub-divided into further categories. Natural waxes include hydrocarbon, mineral, vegetable, and animal waxes. Synthetic waxes include polymer waxes, usually called synthetic wax (wow, that was helpful, eh?) I'm not going into synthetic waxes here as they are not readily available to the home crafter and I haven't used them enough to make any suggestions.

You'll notice a lot of these waxes are listed by their solubility in castor oil. This is because castor oil is one of the main oils used in making lipsticks and other lip colouring products. (More about castor oil tomorrow). If the wax isn't friendly with castor oil, it's less likely to be used or used in far smaller quantities than an oil that plays nice with castor oil!

Hydrocarbon waxes include paraffin and microcrystalline waxes.

Paraffin wax: This is what a lot of us think when we hear the word "wax". It's a hydrocarbon blend with a melting point of 45 to 70C. It is translucent with little odour or taste, which makes it perfect for lip products. It is quite inflexible with an oily feel and has poor solubility in castor oil.

Microcrystalline wax: These are long chained saturated hydrocarbons (mostly linear) derived from mineral oil that melts between 60C and 120C. Their small crystal size prevents sweating of your product. They have limited solubility in castor oil.

Mineral waxes include waxes from bituminous products, meaning they come from coal derivatives. These include ozokerite and ceresine (some sites have ceresine listed as coming from vegetables - this is not true).

Ozokerite wax: A naturally occurring white wax with a high melting point - 58C to 100C - used to prevent softness in products. It can also help with emulsification if you want to include some water based ingredient into your lipstick or anhydrous product.

Ceresine wax (also called refined ozokerite): A white wax derived from ozokerite with a melting point of 50 to 90C (it depends on the purity and manufacturer). It can be used interchangeably with ozokerite.

Vegetable waxes are probably the most popular of the waxes because of their vegan friendly profile and availability from local suppliers.

Candelilla wax: Produced from the Euphorbia cerifera and Euphorbia antisiphlitica trees found in Mexico. It is composed of hydrocarbons and esters, meaning it confers some moisturizing properties. It's melting point is high at 70C, and it confers strength to stick products. It offers a nice gloss, which is always a bonus in lip products. A good substiute for carnauba wax.

Carnauba wax: Produced from the Copernica prunifera tree (Tree of Life, a Brazilian palm tree). It is composed of 85% (or so) esters, so it offers some great moisturizing qualities. Its high melting point of 85C offers great rigidity to a lipstick and it will contract as it cools, making it easier to remove your product from a mould.

Japan wax: Produced from the berries of the sumac tree, it is a brittle glyceride wax with a melting point between 50 to 56C. Because of the fatty odour and oily feel it is usually used in pencils, not lipsticks.

Rice wax: This is the hydrogenation of crude rice oil. The melting point is high at 75C, so it sounds suitable for making a hard lipstick or bar, but it has an unpleasant odour. I'm not really sure why I'm mentioning here...

Sugar cane wax: A by-product of sugar production that offers a very hard lipstick or bar. It's not used very frequently.

Animal waxes are waxes derived from animal products, primarily beeswax and lanolin.

Beeswax: Composed of 70% fatty esters and 10 to 13% hydrocarbons, beeswax offers flexibility and plasticity to a lipstick or lotion bar. It generally has a pleasant odour, which is a plus for a product you're going to use on your lips. Its melting point is 50 to 55C, so it is generally combined with another wax to offer a higher melting point for warm days in your pocket. Too much beeswax can lead to poor stability and drag in a lipstick. it plays very well with castor oil - it is partially soluble in it, so it creates a viscous but tacky system that will keep the lip colour from seeping into fine lines in the lips or lip area. Include it in your lip sticks, but use another wax that will have a higher melting point and add more rigidity to your stick.

Lanolin: This isn't really a wax, but is used this way in a lipstick. It offers emulsification and moisturization. A lot of people are convinced they are sensitive to this, so it isn't used widely.

So there you have it - waxes! As a general rule, you wouldn't use just one wax in a lipstick the way we do in a lip balm. Each brings something to the party. Let's take a look at a possible "classic lipstick formulation" and why we use each ingredient...
2.5% carnauba wax - rigidity, high melting point
20% beeswax - solubility with castor oil, plasticity
10% ozokerite - high melting point, less softness
5% lanolin - moisturization and emulsification, if required
2% cetyl alcohol - conditioning and co-emulsification, if required
3% liquid paraffin (polyisobutene) - emollient
3% IPM - emollient and de-greaser
10% pigments - colouring, obviously
46% castor oil
0.5% Vitamin E

Let's say you're not a fan of animal products, what could we use instead? Beeswax and lanolin could be substituted by candelilla wax and more cetyl alcohol.

Or if you're avoiding petroleum based products, you could use more carnauba and candelilla wax or beeswax and another wax instead of ozokerite and squalene or other light emollient for the liquid paraffin (mineral oil).

There are so many substitutions you can make with waxes - you really have to try them to see which one you prefer.

Join me tomorrow for my new favourite recipe - the super sterol base from Croda.


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I definitely avoid the petroleum waxes in a lip formulation as it tends to get ingested. And if you wear a lot of lip products, you're going to ingest a lot of them!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Can you provide me with some links to reputable studies on how much we would ingest if we used petroleum products and the ill effects of ingesting it? I'm curious because I couldn't find any warnings about using these ingredients, even in lip products.

Here is a link about these waxes from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Both this review panel and the FDA consider these waxes safe for personal care products.

If you check out this chart from the CIR panel, you'll see ozokerite is safe to 22%, ceresine is safe to 20%, paraffin safe to 99%, and microcrystalline wax safe to 50% (each ingredient has studies cited) with no qualifiers on each ingredient.

It's all about dosage with any ingredient. Some things we expect to be awesome for us - say, wheat germ oil - are only allowable in low amounts - like 18%. Some studies conducted on animals do not translate into human reality - guinea pigs will die from something that wouldn't kill a rat or hamster because they are so sensitive certain things.

Please note, I do not consider Skin Deep and the Environmental Working Group to be reputable sources as they don't tend to cite their sources or they use old or disputed studies.

Please let me know what you find - I'm always eager to learn more about my ingredients!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I would rely too much on "studies". If someone gave me a bottle of petroleum (whatever) and a bottle of, say, canola oil, I would most definitely drink the canola, and NOT because I could ever find a study saying this is okay. Just common sense.

You're right that many animal study results are not even useful for human use. If you could prove that mice could drink litres of petroleum without an adverse effects, it doesn't necessarily mean it would be safe for humans too. And so many products aren't even tested on humans before they're deemed "safe". How many people are going to be guinea pigs for stuff like that. Studies that do use humans are so terribly flawed, I would NOT trust them. Most studies are generally funded by groups pushing for a certain result. So petroleum companies may fund a study with the result being that these products (that they are in the business of selling) are most definitely safe for humans.

No, I don't rely all that much on "studies".

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

You're dismissing thousands upon thousands of studies and decades of evidence based medicine and chemistry in favour of your common sense?

Common sense might tell you not to ingest petroleum, but we do it every single day without ill effects in the form of colours and additives in our food, cosmetics, or medication. We also ingest things that are toxic at certain doses but perfectly fine at the levels we find them in our products or food.

Common sense says that if it takes 4 castor seeds to kill a child, a duck must take less than that - but it can take 80 to kill a duck! Common sense tells us to stay away from cyanide, yet we eat almonds with reckless abandon! Common sense says that drinking biodiesel is a bad idea, yet it can be composed of 100% canola oil. Common sense says stay away from hydrochloric acid, yet you probably cleaned something in your home with in the last seven days. Common sense tells us not to be distracted when we're driving, yet how many people put on make-up, text, talk on the phone, and read on the road?

Although I'm a proponent of common sense and think it is a good thing in general, how do you quantify it? How can we be sure that everyone is following the same common sense? As much as it can be valuable in daily life, it isn't a good way of analyzing the validity of scientific information.

How do you know that petroleum products are "bad" for you? Where did you get this information? Did you read it on a web page or do you just know that petroleum equals badness? What other things do you know are good or bad through your common sense?

Studies can be funded by a specific company that would love to see a specific result, but this doesn't mean the studies are inherently flawed or the researchers will design the study to get the desired outcome. And there are many studies and meta-analyses undertaken by not for profit groups, universities, and groups intended for this very purpose.

I suggest you read "Bad Medicine" (the book or the blog or the column in the Guardian) by Ben Goldacre. He goes into great detail about how research is conducted, what makes a good study, and how to spot flawed studies. It's a fantastic book that will give you a really clear understanding of what goes into scientific research.

I know nothing I've written here will make any difference on your opinion, but I have to jump on the teachable moments when they present themselves. I think this comment embodies something that really bothers me - you're embracing your lack of scientific information and revelling in it, rather than taking the opportunity to learn more from this huge resource called the Internet.

Science is based on empirical evidence, hypotheses, studies and replication of those studies. Scientists aren't evil bad guys out to convince us that something bad for us is good and vice versa. They seek knowledge, and oftentimes that knowledge can benefit us in some way. Yes, there are biases within every field and those biases can show up in studies, but those studies are flawed and should be dismissed or exposed as such.

My husband thinks I should have responded to this with "obvious troll is obvious", but I had to respond, even if my common sense tells me otherwise.

And just curious - why are these kind of comments always done anonymously? If you believe so strongly in what you say, put your name or nickname or some way of knowing who you are. I stand behind what I write - why can't you?

Nancy Liedel said...

This is the best, most reasoned answer to study problems I've ever read. I tend to rant like a moron. Your approach was well reasoned, thought out and a joy. I'm printing it out on my printer in fun colors, and neat graphics and putting it above my work area. I don't have to argue with the world and people who tend to believe that studies, preservatives, etc are bad, are not going to be swayed. There is a current trend of fear of science, and fear of things that are known safe, as well as a grasping onto a bad study, that's been refuted, because it fits neatly into someone's world view.

The person who posted, will never believe you. That's just who they are, but people on the fence will listen and that's doing a lot of good for everyone.

Nedeia said...

Even though it is safe to use petrolatum in lip products, I prefer not to, if I have a choice. It is just a personal preference :) and I respect everyone's desire in using it or not :)

in the post you refer to a possible lip balm recipe:

2.5% carnauba wax - rigidity, high melting point
20% beeswax - solubility with castor oil, plasticity
10% ozokerite - high melting point, less softness
5% lanolin - moisturization and emulsification, if required
2% cetyl alcohol - conditioning and co-emulsification, if required
3% liquid paraffin (polyisobutene) - emollient
3% IPM - emollient and de-greaser
10% pigments - colouring, obviously
46% castor oil
0.5% Vitamin E

Can I substitute the ozokerite with a butter (like cocoa or shea), the liquid parafin and IPM with an oil of my choice (like hemp oil) and have a similar product in terms of hardness? If I do so, should I also remove the cetyl alcohol, or could I keep it for its conditioning properties? Could I use cetearyl instead, is this also safe if ingested?

All my friends and family prefer their lip balms as natural as possible, so I have never tried anything else besides vegetable oils and waxes (and beeswax, vit A, E, lanolin and some flavors)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Nedeia! All I can say is try the recipe and see what you think! I haven't tried making it with the changes you mention, but they could work. Although I believe in working through a recipe and making changes because that process can teach you so much, if you don't like most of this recipe, why not try another one - like this one for lip shimmers? or this one for an adjustable lip balm recipe?

Nedeia said...

Dear Susan,

Thanks for the suggestions! :-) Will try them one day, even though I already have like 15 working recipes :))) I love, love, LOVE lip balms, and I am quite curious to see how it would be with cetyl alcohol. I do not have any IPM, I could use maybe FCO or another light oil. As for the ozokerite, I could use sal butter as this one is quite hard. I would love to use PKO, but I do not have any :)

Anonymous said...

Can you tell us more about soy wax?

Carrie said...

Also, something about castor wax? Thanks! :)

Tiffany Fearson said...

Isn't petroleum just old bio matter anyways. Like old decomposed animal and plant matter. So wouldn't petroleum basically be a natural product. I know this post is old. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
I read somewhere that waxes of a wide range of melting points can be used in one product to avoid a grainy appearance. I made a lip balm with 1%candelilla, 1% carnuaba, 16% beeswax, 50% oils and remaining butters. It was still grainy, but when i repeated the recipe without candelilla it wasn't grainy anymore. Does the right combination of waxes reduce a grainy appearance?
Thanks, Rachel.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say THANK YOU for not jumping on the bandwagon of declaring all petroleum-based products evil. For some of us who are allergy-prone to lots of plant-based things, petroleum-derived ingredients are essential.

To those who want "all natural," petroleum things come out of the ground. What's not "natural" about that? I bet you smear rocks on your face in the form of mineral makeup. That's not much different from using petroleum-based ingredients. The ones used for cosmetics are clean and safe.

Anyways, that's enough of my little soap box today. Thanks again for using real science.

stella said...

Hello! Could you discuss floral waxes? I just bought white lotus floral wax and am looking forward to finding lots of uses for it!

C.Steven Kane said...

How much petrolatum could we ingest from lip balm? Not much, unless we fully devour quite a number of tubes at a time. I'm guessing most of us don't swallow them in quantity. For perspective on consuming petroleum products, look up Swedish Fish!

Angel K said...

Pure soy wax "hydrogenated Soy Oil" with no additives for making candles, making lip balm or salves from candelilla wax is easy 1:4 works great. As for the soy wax, there's not a lot of info on using soy to make lip balms or salves and what I have found there recipes don't work. One of the other problems I've found is it can take up to 3 days before it fully hardens. Any comments?

KMY said...

Susan - could you analyze and post on Castor Wax, Soy Wax, and Floral waxes? Obviously in body/lip products, not candle or soap making.

Rose Marie said...

hello !

I would like to know what are the parameters you would look for while choosing carnauba wax for lipsticks.what properties do they need to have or qualify for its selection.