The desire for natural cosmetics and personal care products has taken the industry into an exciting and challenging direction over the past few years. Indie brands and startups are now seen as proactive pioneers.
They are growing and flourishing while leading the way forward in the segment. These small companies are often being purchased by large multinationals to secure market share in an increasingly competitive landscape. Store shelves are lined with all things natural, constantly evolving through innovation and reacting to customer preference.
To capitalise on this growth, raw material suppliers and manufacturers are constantly using advanced chemistry and technology to unlock or discover the next unique natural ingredient. Natural waxes have existed far longer than the personal care and cosmetic industry. Natural waxes are simple, effective, safe and offer a multitude of performance characteristics that enable formulators to create cosmetic and personal care products tailor made to ride the natural wave that we find ourselves on.
What is natural? Why is it so fashionable?
The definition of natural is quite subjective and varies depending on who you ask. There are products that are 100% natural and others that are naturally derived or marketed as naturally inspired. The reason for the rising popularity of ‘natural’ is directly related to rising consumer awareness and concern for health related issues and our adherence to trends – whether natural or not. Natural is no longer just a trend, rather a growing lifestyle. Companies will either adapt to succeed in the segment or remain static and fail or remain flat.
What is wax?
Waxes are functional compounds found in nature or produced by industry through various refining processes. Generally speaking; waxes are inert and moisture resistant which makes them microbial resistant and safe for direct human contact.
Waxes are comprised of long alkyl chains, fatty acids and alcohols. Waxes in general, come from two sources. Some are petroleum based (mineral) – think Paraffin Wax and Microcrystalline Wax. Others are natural – think Beeswax and Carnauba Wax.
Mineral waxes can be thought of as once living organic matter (plant/animal). Through natural geologic processes, that organic matter was buried deep in the earth millions of years ago. The natural process of decay combined with heat, pressure and time transformed the matter into what we know as crude petroleum. This crude is refined into many common products we use every day to include fuels, lubricants, plastic and waxes to name a few. Mineral waxes are exceptionally useful, have significant performance characteristics and are cost effective. However functional and practical, they are not considered natural in the eyes of the cosmetic consumer.
Natural waxes are generally defined as being intimately derived from natural sources such as living plants and animals. Natural waxes include; Beeswax, Carnauba Wax, Candelilla Wax, Genuine Rice Bran Wax, Laurel Wax, and many others of note. The source of these waxes varies widely as does their appearance and functional applicability. Some are produced directly from the source material with minimal processing, while others are blends of naturally sourced materials to achieve a specific performance characteristic while maintaining the natural moniker.
Strahl & Pitsch refines, produces and markets the world’s finest 100% natural and naturally derived blended wax products. These products can be used to create, modify and enhance natural formulations while keeping true to a natural concept.
The following serves to introduce the reader to some of the different natural waxes and goes on to explain functional differences and practical functionality in formulation.
Beeswax is secreted by the honeybee (Apis mellifera) Latin for “Honey Bearer”, which is used for building its hexagonal combs within the hive. Wax is collected by removing a portion of the hive’s ‘cappings’ and then refined for use in a wide variety of applications. Great care is taken by the beekeepers to remove only what is necessary and not harm the bees. The bees are their livelihood after all and the revenue source of which these people rely on for their survival.
With over 100 years of experience and tradition, Strahl & Pitsch is the largest importer, exporter, refiner and marketer of Beeswax in the world. This commerce directly supports Beeswax producers, their families and workers in over 30 countries throughout the world by introducing capital into often overlooked regions. Decades old relationships with Beeswax producers positions Strahl & Pitsch to be able to offer customers consistent material of the highest quality and consistency batch after batch, year after year, generation after generation.
The most significant application for Beeswax is the manufacture of emulsions. Beeswax emulsions are very stable in creams and lotions. Simply blending Beeswax with natural oil will produce an all natural emulsion. Beeswax is also an effective gelling agent. It is used in emollients, ointments, lip balms and lipsticks where its natural plasticity improves payoff. Beeswax is compatible with most vegetable and mineral waxes and a large variety of natural and synthetic resins. With a moderate melt point range of 62°C-65°C and great plasticity, Beeswax can be found in a wide range of products including colour cosmetics, creams, lotions, balms, hair styling, lip care, mascara and countless others.
Carnauba Wax is obtained from the leaves of the palm tree known in Latin as Copernicia cerifera, also referred to as the ‘Tree of Life’. The Carnauba palm flourishes in northeastern regions within Brazil, and proliferates naturally along riverbanks, streams and damp low-lands. The tree exudes wax through the pores on its fanshaped leaves, which prevent dehydration in the equatorial climate. The palm leaves, harvested in the dry months occurring from July/August through yearend are sun-dried and mechanically thrashed to separate the wax from the leaf. The colour and quality of the wax are governed by the age of the leaves and care used in processing.
Carnauba Wax is extremely hard, has brilliant gloss and has the highest melt point range, 80°C-86°C, of all the natural waxes. These properties make Carnauba Wax attractive for natural cosmetic and personal care applications. Carnauba Wax enhances oil retention, is a stable coemulsifying agent and is therefore extremely effective as a viscosity builder in creams and lotions. When manufacturing gels such as lip sticks and lip balms, Carnauba Wax functions to raise the melt point, increase viscosity and strengthen the gel while aiding in pigment dispersion. Carnauba Wax is compatible with most vegetable and mineral waxes and a large variety of natural and synthetic resins.
Candelilla Wax (Euphorbia antisyphillitica) is obtained from the plant of the same name. The Candelilla shrub grows naturally in the Chihuahua desert, a semi-arid region of more than 100,000 square kilometers located in the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila in Northeastern Mexico. The plant creates its exterior wax coating in the form of grey-green scales on slender shoots or simple branched limbs of the reed-like plant offering protection from moisture loss. Hotter and dryer weather patterns nurture higher crude wax yields, as the plant builds greater wax protection. Candelilla is classified as endangered and its trade is closely regulated by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
The production of Candelilla Wax is relatively simple and has remained unchanged for many generations. The plants are harvested by workers called Candelilleros on parcels of land known as Ejido’s – Communal land used for agriculture and/or Candelilla development, on which community members individually possess and farm a specific parcel. In the wild desert Ejido’s, the plants are cut by hand, bundled up and secured to mules for transport back to camp. Here they are boiled in water over open fire pits where the wax rises to the surface and is skimmed off. This material is known as ‘Cerote’. The Cerote is mechanically filtered in Mexico to remove water, dirt and debris. From there it is imported into the US and refined through multiple stages at the Strahl & Pitsch facility in New York.
The global Candelilla Wax market is a fraction the size of Beeswax and Carnauba Wax. The wax is sensitive to a wet climate and government regulation. Strahl & Pitsch is fortunate and proud to have strong, longstanding relationships with the few remaining Candelilla growers in Mexico. As with Beeswax, this commerce directly supports the growers, their families and the workers in the fields. These relationships help to ensure Strahl & Pitsch maintain workable stocks of prime raw material to support a growing global customer base.
Similar to Carnauba in regards to appearance, gloss and hardness; Candelilla Wax has a lower melt point range, 68.5°C-72.5°C, and different functional properties which make it highly desirable and crucial for certain applications. Unlike Carnauba Wax, when blended with other waxes, Candelilla Wax will impart hardness without raising melt point. Significant resin content allows Candelilla Wax to be used as a plasticiser. Because of its GRAS listing, gelling properties, hardness and compatibility with oils, Candelilla Wax is an ideal ingredient for manufacturing lipsticks, lip balms, mascara and various colour cosmetics.
Laurel Wax is a natural, vegetable wax obtained from the fruit of the Myrica pubescensbush. The wax is water extracted and greenish in colour. It is a hard wax with a low melting point range, 38°C-46°C, and a high saponification value. Laurel Wax is considered extremely stable and is useful in the development of natural cosmetics, personal care products and hair conditioning systems.
Laurel Wax contributes considerably to the texture, overall feel and performance of a product. Often described as ‘solid’ oil, Laurel Wax brings emolliency without greasiness. It imparts a glossy, rich, creamy skin feel to formulas – particularly to sticks. Laurel Wax increases o/w emulsions viscosity without additional drag. It softens the stick, increasing the pay off without changing the stability of the Control formula at higher temperatures. Laurel Wax can also be used as a Beeswax substitute for vegan- or animalingredient-free formulas.
Genuine Rice Bran Wax
Genuine Rice Bran Wax, Oryza sativa, is a light yellow, hard natural wax with excellent gloss and a high melt point range, 79°C-85°C. Genuine Rice Bran Wax is mechanically extracted from the de-oiled cake of rice bran, not from hydrogenation of rice oil. Similar to Carnauba Wax, there are functional differences between the two. Genuine Rice Bran Wax is a superior binder of oils and has been useful in combining with and stabilising oils in both anhydrous and emulsion systems.
Of its many beneficial functions, Genuine Rice Bran Wax is seen as particularly effective in reducing syneresis in lipstick, lip balm and other oil-based systems. Other typical applications of Genuine Rice Bran Wax include use as a thickening agent, as a binging agent, as a plasticiser and as a standalone gelling agent. Genuine Rice Bran Wax is very effective, notable results being achieved with percentages as low as 1% in some formulations.
The use of natural wax throughout the personal care and cosmetic industry is prolific. Natural waxes are unique ingredients because they offer diverse functional benefits. Natural waxes give the formulator confidence because they are using an ingredient with proven performance. Additionally, natural waxes are well positioned to facilitate the formulation of natural products that actually perform well and accommodate the consumer’s preference for natural ingredients.