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January 28, 2022

Beeswax is a building material for the hive, which the bees use to raise their larvae and store food. Extracting this organic material for human consumption makes it difficult for the bees to maintain their hives and is therefore considered exploitative and not vegan-friendly.

Even though beeswax is not vegan, are the impacts of beeswax extraction really that cruel? In this post, I'll go over the ethical aspects of the beeswax industry so you can decide if you want to actively support this bee product.

How is beeswax produced and harvested?

Bees Wax

Beeswax for hives is the equivalent of plaster, lumber and bricks for real estate. And like humans, bees make their building materials - but in their own unique way.

Female worker bees turn honey into wax by clustering together and raising the temperature in the hive. When the temperature reaches the right level, the wax glands in their abdomens convert sugar into wax before excreting it through tiny pores in their abdomens. Think of it as making building materials!

To produce one pound of wax, bees must consume 6-8 pounds of honey. In addition, bees must visit an estimated 30 million flowers to produce one pound of wax.

The wax is used to store honey, pollen (bee bread) and eggs. However, since bees produce only a small amount of wax relative to honey, they use a hexagonal comb shape to get the maximum amount of storage space with the minimum amount of wax. This is really very efficient.

Once the bees have worked hard to create wax structures in the hive, humans come into play.

The beekeeper scrapes the wax and combs off the frame with special equipment or simple tools like a spatula. This mixture often contains other parts of the hive, including bee pollen.

The next step is to melt down the combs, wax and pollen in a double boiler. The honey settles to the bottom and the wax separates at the top. After cooling, the wax solidifies and you can scrape it off and use it.

The economic importance of beeswax

Bees Wax

People have been using beeswax as a consumer ingredient for thousands of years. Today, beeswax is a $525.1 million industry and is expected to reach $653.1 million by 2026.

Beeswax is found in many products such as packaging, candles, beverages, shoe polish, surgical material, skates, and cosmetics and personal care products, which represent the largest segment of the wax industry.

Beeswax is a natural alternative to harmful plastics derived from petroleum. Therefore, environmentally conscious people prefer to pay a little more for beeswax candles than for cheaper conventional candles made from toxic chemicals.

Small and large beekeepers have several ways to make money (or some sort of profit) from their hives, including:

  • Production of honey
  • Bee pollen
  • Propolis
  • Selling their bees
  • Pollination services
  • Beeswax

Beekeepers will tell you that the wax business is only economically viable if you have hundreds, if not thousands, of hives, because the wax content is small compared to honey.

Although beeswax is usually referred to as a byproduct of honey, it is actually a byproduct of beekeeping - much like leather is a byproduct of beef. It depends on what beekeepers want to do with their hives.

Is beeswax vegan-friendly?

Bees Wax

To answer this question, we need to ask, "Is beeswax fundamentally important or necessary?"

On the one hand, there are certainly benefits to using beeswax for human consumption. You probably already know that beeswax is an important natural ingredient in cosmetics and skin care products.

But are the additional benefits of using beeswax really that important? I'm not convinced they are. There are plant-based alternatives that achieve comparable results without taxing the resources of honeybees. More on that in the next section.

A better argument is that fish is more vital to some people in remote villages who must subsist on fish - but as vegans who have a choice, they choose not to eat fish for ethical reasons.

There are claims that there are benefits to eating eggs or wearing wool to keep warm. But again, we vegans find alternatives and continue to live well.

My life hasn't changed a bit since I went vegan in 2014 and gave up beeswax. The same goes for my wife MaĆĄa, who has much more experience with cosmetic products containing beeswax than I do.

We've written about the ethical complexities of consuming resource-intensive crops like avocado and almonds, which depend on pollination by migratory honeybees because they are grown in large monocultures. Although there are more ideal ways to farm, bees are responsible for pollinating most of the plant foods we need to survive.

Going without beeswax won't kill anyone - so why use it? Remember, bees must visit 30 million flowers to produce just one pound of wax.

Vegan and eco-friendly alternatives made from beeswax.

Bees Wax

There is a misconception that by using plastic, you are compromising on sustainability if you want to support vegan alternatives. While this may be true in some cases, we believe that you should do your best to be a conscious consumer and support cruelty-free, toxin-free, and fair-trade ingredients and practices.

Unfortunately, meeting these standards can be expensive and sometimes unattainable. Until demand reaches critical mass, delivery costs will continue to be high.

Fortunately, there are 100% natural, plant-based alternatives for beeswax without taking away the structure of the house from our busy honeybees. Below are six of the most sustainable and effective vegan beeswax alternatives.

1. rice bran wax

Reiskleie Wachs

Rice is the most popular crop in the world, with half of the world's population feeding on it.

To harvest a grain of rice, it must be processed, removing the broken rice, rice husk and rice bran.

You may be familiar with the cooking oil made from rice bran. Well, rice bran can also be melted down and solidified into a sustainable wax source. Turning rice bran into oils and waxes instead of throwing it away is a resourceful way to reap the benefits of this historically productive crop.

Applications of rice bran wax include balms, lipstick, body butter, lotion bars, ointments, mascaras, creams and hair pomade.

2. berry wax


Toxicodendron vernicifluum, better known as Chinese or Japanese lacquer tree, is a plant native to Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

The tree sap is commonly used to make lacquer, which is used to coat products such as instruments, tabletops and jewelry. What is special about this tree is that it also produces berries from whose husks wax can be made.

The soft texture of the wax makes it perfect for lipstick, lip balm and mascara.

3. candelilla wax


Candelilla wax comes from a small shrub in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.

The name of the candelilla shrub means "small candle" because this was the first product made from the properties of the plant.

In nature, the shrub forms a thick layer of wax on its leaves and stems to protect it from the harsh weather conditions in the desert.

The wax is obtained by boiling the plant, which separates the natural wax for processing.

Applications include crayons, paints, varnishes, polishes, medicines, lotions, balms and of course candles.

4. carnauba wax


Carnauba wax is extracted from the leaves of the carnauba palm, native to the northern areas of Brazil.

Like the candelilla shrub, the carnauba palm also develops natural waxes for protection against sultry and humid climates.

The wax is obtained by collecting, drying and crushing the leaves. The carnauba tree produces up to 60 leaves, of which only 10-20 are harvested so as not to interfere with the growth of the plant.

It is used as a coating for confectionery, a binder for chocolate and candy, lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow and deodorant, among others.

5. myrica fruit wax


Myrica fruit wax is derived from Morella Cerifera, a large berry shrub native to the East Coast of the United States. Also known as candleberry, candle bush or bayberry, the shrub grows rapidly and is found on most continents.

The tiny fruits have a natural powdery wax coating that is obtained by boiling, separating and extracting.

The wax yield is one of the highest of any plant, making laurel a popular source for candle making.

Applications include candles, soaps, balsams, medicinal ointments, molds, and leather polish.

We know sunflowers as the stereotypical pretty yellow flower that represents summer all over the world. But aside from the beauty of this plant, we harvest sunflower seeds to eat or turn them into oil that can then be made into wax. Pretty resourceful, isn't it?

6. sunflower wax


Sunflower wax is white in color and relatively odorless, making it an attractive alternative to beeswax.

Sunflower wax is used in massage butter, mascara, balm, foundation, and various hair care products, among others.

If you want to learn more about plant-based alternatives to beeswax, I recommend reading Vegan Waxes For Organic Formulations. The author also explains why other plant waxes from soy, hemp, and avocado are not technically waxes, but hydrogenated oils.

And if you're having trouble finding quality vegan cosmetics, check out our list of the best vegan cosmetic brands. One of my favorites on the list is Hurraw's lip balms! They use candelilla wax instead of beeswax, and I've been using their balms for almost six years.

Maybe it's time we started looking into making our own beeswax?

Beeswax is a byproduct of the honey and beekeeping industry, and while it has some benefits, it's not necessary.

There are plenty of eco-friendly and vegan alternatives, so why not leave the bees' building material alone?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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