Beeswax is one of the most popular beauty products. It is used for many purposes including making candles, cosmetics, soaps and shampoos. Beeswax is considered as a great alternative to paraffin wax in cosmetic applications because it does not have any harmful effects on human health or the environment.
The main function of beeswax is to make a protective barrier between your body and the outside world. Beeswax is made up of fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. It helps protect against environmental factors such as heat, cold, humidity and ultraviolet rays.
There are two types of beeswax: vegetable oil based and animal fat based. Both types of beeswax have their advantages and disadvantages.
Vegetable Oil Based Beeswax
Vegetable oil based beeswax is obtained from plants such as safflower, sunflower, cottonseed and other plant oils. These oils are extracted using various methods. The most common method involves heating the raw material to high temperatures which causes the oil molecules to separate into individual fatty acids (omega-6). These are then treated with strong alkali agents such as lye to convert the fatty acids into soap.
The soap is then hydrogenated to produce a mixture of liquid saturated fatty acids. These are converted into alcohols and these alcohols are oxidized into aldehydes which are subsequently treated with sodium hydroxide to produce soaps.
These soaps are then converted to hydrocarbons using very strong oxidizing agents. These hydrocarbons are converted into waxes which are treated with alcohols to remove the last traces of acid. The final step involves separating the solutions into solid and liquid phases and adding sodium hydroxide to the liquid phase to increase the pH value above 9. The purified oils are mixed with pigment and fragrance oils to produce the final product.
vegetable oil based waxes require low processing temperatures and are therefore less energy intensive
have a longer shelf life than animal fat based waxes
These waxes are more expensive than animal fat based waxes. There is also the issue of only being able to be used in certain cosmetics which can limit the potential market.
Animal Fat Based Beeswax
These waxes are made from the fatty acids of animals such as pigs, cows and sheep. These acids are obtained by treating the animal fat with a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid to produce glycerol and soluble fatty acids. The insoluble fat is filtered out and the liquid is treated with sodium hydroxide to remove excess water. The treated fat is then converted into fatty alcohols which in turn are converted into fatty acids.
The acids are hydrogenated and the product is treated with strong alkali agents such as sodium hydroxide to convert the fatty acids into soap. The soap is converted into a salt by treating it with an acid such as sulfuric acid or nitric acid. The salt is converted into a water-soluble sodium sulfate which is mixed with choline chloride or ammonia to produce the final product.
Animal fat waxes are less expensive than vegetable oil waxes. There is also the advantage that these waxes are able to be used in all cosmetics, not just those targeted at vegetarians or vegans.
There is the disadvantage that animal based products are not welcomed by all potential customers. There is also the issue of whether animal fat is a viable long-term source. With the growth of “ethical” and “cruelty free” cosmetics, this wax may become obsolete.
A number of other waxes are made using chemical reactions, most notably the Fischer-Tropsch process, which converts a mixture of water and coal or water and petroleum into a wide range of hydrocarbons. These can be hydrogenated to produce waxes of various melting points.
These waxes offer a cost effective way of producing wax for the cosmetics industry. These waxes are not dependent on animals or vegetables and can therefore be produced in mass quantities to keep costs low. The Fischer-Tropsch process also has the advantage that it is not dependent on naturally occurring substances like vegetable oils or animal fats.
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