Beeswax Through History (From Prehistory To Current Days)

Beeswax Through History (From Prehistory To Current Days)

Beeswax is a natural wax produced by eight wax-producing glands in the abdomen of bees. Since the pre-historic era, it has been used as the lubricant form of plastic used for making candles, cosmetics, the wax casting of glass and metal, and in encaustic painting. Having a low melting point, beeswax can be heated and reused when required. Since it has negligible toxicity and is edible, beeswax is approved to be used in food in various European countries.


Historically, beeswax has been used in the preparation of candles, bow making, cosmetics, wax tablets, dental tooth filling, sealing wax, shoe polish, sewing thread and shoelaces, and as a lubricant for bullets and ball firearms. The amount of wax used in candles is 20%, cosmetics is 25-30%, pharmacy 25-30%, and other purposes is 10-20%. One of the earliest claimed beeswax found was in the crude form used for a tooth filling in the Neolithic era.


Candles made out of beeswax were used by ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese. They were first used in 40 BC and rapidly became the traditional preference of churches. Puerto Rico was responsible for exporting honey bees to the Roman Catholic Church. The oldest English Guild that dates back to 1371 is the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers. Since 4 AC, beeswax candles are made compulsory in Roman Catholic Church. This law still remains valid, but 100% pure beeswax candles are not required, and this percentage could vary between 5% to 50%.


Since ancient times, beeswax has been used in cosmetics, including cold creams, deodorants, depilatories, hair creams, hair conditioners, mascara, rouge, eye shadows, lip balms, lipsticks, etc. Beeswax has almost zero irritation potential with a comedogenicity rating between zero to two. It doesn’t clog the pores but is used for softening and general healing. It improves the appearance, consistency, and color stabilization of cosmetic products.


In 1st and 2nd BC, beeswax was used as an ingredient of medicines. It improves blood circulation systems and the overall balance/posture of the body. It can be applied on the skin for treating wounds, beauty enhancement, and helps in anti-aging. In traditional Chinese medicine, beeswax therapy, a skin heat treatment using cloths soaked in molten beeswax, was recommended by Ge Hong and Sun Simiao. The beeswax was used in diet therapy and as a constituent in the cooling ointment. Being inert, beeswax doesn’t interact with the human digestive system and passes through the body without adulteration. It is considered safe for human consumption in the USA and European Union.


Beeswax was also used as “wax tablets” as portable writing surfaces in early times. Made of wood and covered with wax, these could be reused by heating the tablet to around 50 degrees Celsius. The earliest wax tablet found dated back to the 14th century BC and was widely used until the 19th century.


Beeswax was traded in old Greece and Rome. The Romans were fond of beeswax and sometimes used it as fashion death masks. They demanded beeswax while conquering Corsica back in 181 BC. Beeswax remained as a unit of trade in Europe until Medieval times. Today, two grades of beeswax are traded that include cosmetic and pharmaceutical grade and general application grade. Still, different grades of beeswax, such as crude, yellow, and white beeswax, are traded. The major countries which export raw beeswax include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Central African Republic, Chile, Ethiopia, Germany, New Zealand, France, the USA, and the UK.


Beeswax has been used as an ingredient of art materials such as Batik art, Lost wax casting and figures, Bronze preservation, sculptures of Madam Tussaud, and Encaustic painting. Batik art, an Indonesian origin, in which color is introduced into fabric covered with wax. After the dying process is completed, the fabric is heated to remove the wax.

 

Various beeswax figures, dating back to 3400 BC, have been found in royal Egyptian tombs. As it could be used in “lost wax casting,” beeswax had been used in different cultures, including China, Egypt, India, and Sumerians. Lost wax casting is a process in which metal sculptures are coated with beeswax to give an attractive look. Some of the most famous statues in the world were produced with this casting process. In the museum of London, the life-sized figures of famous personalities are copied using beeswax.

 

Encaustic painting, popular among ancient Romans and Greek people, involves melting of beeswax with a pigment and resin followed by application by heatable pallet. Such paintings still are admired in different museums worldwide, including British Museum.

 

Additionally, beeswax had been one of the important constituents of sealing wax and Cutler’s resin by the Middle Ages. These have been used to verify the confidentiality of the document and as a waterproof adhesive for attaching knife handles. Since the 18th century, beeswax has also been popular for its use in furnishes and polishes, including leather furnish, wood polish, and shoe polish. In Australia, Aboriginal people use beeswax for forming mouthpieces for wind instruments. It is also used in the maintenance of many woodwind instruments and percussion instruments.

 

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Photo by Meggyn Pomerleau on Unsplash

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