What's in a Candle? - Wax

Hi! Bhryan here - 

I would like to share with you a piece of my favorite part of my human experience: Exploring the building blocks of everything. I love to discover for myself what things are made of and how they work. 

During the development and testing stages of Bhaaloo's original products I learned a ton. Now I am here to share some of what I found with you.


So... What's in candle wax?

Waxes, in general, are a class of lipophilic substances made of hydrocarbons[1]. This means waxes have the ability to absorb and dissolve in lipids (oils and fats) which is why various oils are used to scent candles made of wax.

Broken down further, there are broadly three types of wax: petroleum-based, animal, and plant waxes.

Petroleum-based waxes  are waxes derived from petroleum sources or byproducts of petroleum production, and they have a wide variety of industrial and retail-end use cases. Examples include:

  • Montan wax - used to make car polish, phonograph records, and paints. [2]
  • Polyethelene wax - used to make cosmetics, rubber, and plastic additives. [3]
  • Paraffin wax -  used to make crayons, candles, electrical insulation, and some food grade coatings [4]

Some of you reading this definitely had a hair or two stand up seeing 'Paraffin wax' and 'candle' on the same line. We will get more into that later..

Plant waxes are derived from the waxy or oily secretions of plants which are then harvested and processed. Usually these plants use the waxy secretion as a means to control evaporation. Examples of plant waxes include:

  • Soy wax - is made from the hydrogenation of soybean oil and commonly used to produce candles, and cosmetics
  • Coconut wax - is from coconut oil that goes through a hydrogenation process to raise its melting point, similar to soy wax. 
  • Carnauba wax - also known as palm wax, is derived from the leaves of the carnauba palm Copernicia prunifera. Palm wax is harvested by drying the leaves, shaking them loose of the wax, then refining and bleaching to reach a finished product. Palm wax is widely used as a food additive, a component in wood finish, and is the main ingredient in surfboard wax.[11]
  • Apricot wax - new on the scene, and is made from cold pressing pit, or kernel, of and apricot to extract oils. Those oils then go through a hydrogenation process to produce a wax. Alone apricot wax does not have much use, but blended with soy, coconut, or paraffin waxes, it is being found in more high-end candles.

Animal waxes are similar to plant waxes in that they are derived from waxy or oily secretions of, you guessed it, animals! These substances have been used by humans for hundreds(in some cases thousands) of years. Broken down by source:

  • Spermaceti - is produced by a gland in the head cavity of sperm whales. This substance is then boiled to remove impurities and increase shelf stability. Further processing is required to separate the sperm wax and sperm oil. The wax can be used in leather working, textile production, and making candles. The oil was a wildly valuable substance in the 17th and 18th centuries and was used to make premium whale oil lamps. [6]
  • Beeswax - is produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. This substance is used by worker bees in the hive to create cells and structures for honey storage and pupal protection. Beeswax is used as a waterproofing agent, as an additive in cosmetics, wood polish, and candles.[7]
  • Lanolin - is a sebaceous secretion from sheep and is a byproduct of wool production. Lanolin's uses include dietary supplement production (Vitamin D3), rust-proof coatings, and cosmetics.
  • Shellac - is a resin produced by the female lac bug, Kerria lacca, primarily in Thailand and India. The raw substance is processed and sold in flake form or dissolved in alcohol. Shellac's is currently used widely as food glaze, wood finish, and high-gloss varnish. It also used to be commonly used in gramophone production, and certain electrical applications.[10]
  • Tallow - is the rendered fat from beef or mutton fat. Although the term is often used to refer to animal fat that refers to a specific criteria, such as melting point, and may be mixed with plant fats to meet those criteria. [8] These substances can be used for cooking, candle making, cosmetic and fuel production.

You may be asking, "How does an aspiring candle-maker decide which wax to use?"

The answer is... it depends! 

What wax to use depends on what is available, affordable, and how closely that option matches your values. Read more about how we approached that issue here.


Continue shopping





[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wax
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montan_wax
[3] https://matmatch.com/learn/material/polyethylene-wax-uses-properties
[4 ]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraffin_wax
[5] https://www.toppr.com/ask/en-us/question/differentiate-betweenfats-and-waxes/#:~:text=Fats%20are%20esters%20of%20fatty,high%20molecular%20weight%20monohydroxy%20alcohol.
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_oil
[7] https://www.thisoldhouse.com/21015292/10-uses-for-beeswax
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallow
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanolin
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shellac
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnauba_wax
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