Don’t recognise the name carnauba wax or copernica cerifera wax? It is actually a little known ingredient of a lot of skincare products, originating from a Brasilian palm. Though it has absolutely no relation to palm oil, quite the opposite! Carnauba wax is a great ingredient! Natural, beneficial, and ecological. Want to find out more? Here’s our guide.
Why is there wax in my beauty products?
When you hear wax, you probably think of candles and wood polish before you think about beauty products. Except maybe hair removal. However, waxes are extremely common in cosmetics and often essential components! Why? For their unique properties.
Animal, vegetable, and mineral: there are some very different types of waxes out there. But what they all have in common is a specific texture and a resistance to heat: they stay malleable but solid up to a certain temperature, usually very high, called the melting point. We use waxes to stabilise, bind, adjust viscosity, and thicken emulsions. It’s generally thanks to waxes that, according to the quantity, make your creams soft, creamy, or waxy. Or that your products in stick format are at the same time solid enough, easy to apply, and last a long time. Even when it’s hot outside. Lipsticks, eyeliners, compact foundations, and balms rarely skip out on wax. They also have a film-forming ability: they form a protective film on the skin that is soothing and smooth, and that can lock in hydration.
But not all wax is good.
Animal wax: an ethical issue
Until whale hunting was banned, the most widely used wax in the cosmetics industry was spermaceti, a substance secreted in the head of sperm whales, available at the price of virtually driving the species into extinction. Ethically (and environmentally) unsustainable today.
However, the cosmetics industry still uses ingredients that are linked to animal exploitation. It’s less shocking than the mass-killing of mammals, but beeswax, secreted by honeybees to build their hives, is one of them.
This cera alba or cera flava, the most frequently used of the natural waxes for thousands of years, has its advantages: it’s very natural when it’s high quality, has a nice honey-like smell, and real benefits for the skin. It can form films without blocking your pores, it’s softening, rich in vitamin A, anti-inflammatory, cleansing, and healing… In order to collect it, the hexagonal cells that are left behind by the honeybees at the end of the season are melted with hot water, without destroying any of the unused cells.
A gentle and ecological procedure… But not enough to meet vegan standards. Extracting and using beeswax is still animal exploitation. Logically, despite its assets, using beeswax isn’t an option for us: we are committed to supporting the wellbeing of animals, all of our oOlution products are certified cruelty-free and vegan by PETA.
That leaves us with two options: mineral waxes, by far the most commonly used in the cosmetics industry, and plant-based waxes. At oOlution, it’s without a doubt that we have chosen to use carnauba wax. For ecological reasons, but not exclusively.
Carnauba wax: an ecological choice
Mineral wax: an environmental red flag!
Mineral waxes like solid paraffin or microcrystalline wax come from petrol. They are very resistant to oxidisation, very cheap, and they quickly caught the eye of manufacturers. A great move for sperm whales, true, but at what cost? With mineral waxes, we’re feasting on hydrocarbon (yum) and they’re polluting all throughout their life cycle: problematic extraction, use of non-renewable resources, washed into waterways, and non-biodegradable. They’re in the same boat as synthetic silicone waxes (particularly dimethicone), which are just as pollutant to produce, and contribute to an environmental disaster: catastrophic microplastics…
All organic certifications exclude mineral waxes as synthetic.
Carnauba wax: ecological and sustainable
Concerning carnauba wax, it’s a completely different story. The tree which it comes from, copernica cerifera, is a palm from the north-east of Brasil with incredible leaves: measuring up to two metres in diameter, they produce a fabulous substance. A waxy powder that protects the leaves from dehydration, even in intense heat. Harvested simply by manually threshing the dried leaves, it is simply melted with hot water, pressed, and then filtred of its impurities. And that’s how we get out carnauba wax, that is perfectly natural and biodegradable.
Naturally produced, and also an economic outlet for local communities, that is respectful of the local ecosystems. The trees don’t need to be cut down, or forced with phytosanitary products: copernica cerifera grows naturally. There’s no need to cut down primary forests to make space for big artificial palms. Better still, the forests themselves become a precious resource to preserve! Far from palm oil, which destroys Indonesian forests. And Brazil is not untouched either: palm too, but also soya, cattle breeding, and tourist infrastructure all destroy hectares of Amazonian rainforest every day.
Ecological, and a vegan alternative to beeswax, carnauba wax is all good!
Carnauba wax, an excellent cosmetics ingredient
The question of ecology disqualifies mineral waxes. But opting for carbauba wax isn’t just an eco-friendly choice: it is a great ingredient in the formulation of healthy and high-quality natural cosmetics.
Petrochemical and synthetic waxes: we’ll pass…
Even if the mineral waxes used in cosmetics are not toxic, they are not advisable for the skin. Being comedogenic, they will block your pores: needless to say that they’re hardly the best friend of oily skin. But they’re not good for sensitive skin either! And for dry skin, they’re even worse. The waterproof layer that the mineral waxes leave on your skin gives it an immediate feeling of comfort. But this feeling is superficial, temporary, and counterproductive: underneath, the skin is deprived of the air’s humidity and real active ingredients, it withers, and it becomes dependent on its mineral crutch. Do your lips crack without their 10 daily doses of petrochemical lip balm? It’s because of the mineral oils and waxes inside. Of course, silicone waxes aren’t any better for the skin either. Be wary of greenwashing, which is extremely common: pseudo-plant-based waxes advertised on a product’s packaging are often no more than a mixture of hydrogenated oils that have had all of their benefits squashed out of them. Only the words INCI wax or cera guarantees the presence of natural wax.
Carnauba wax: an additive, but also an active ingredient
With carnauba wax, there’s no risk for your health: no risk of irritation or allergic reaction, and no toxins to be wary of. It is also used for coating medicines and edible.
It has a very high melting point (around 85°C), and has great film-producing properties, so is the most resistant of plant-based waxes, it is great as a base for balms or sticks. It solidifies them while maintaining their malleability, and avoiding any sticky feeling when they are applied to your skin.
But using carnauba wax as just a texturiser, or to add shine, would be a real shame. With its waxy esters, fatty acids and alcohols, resins, and its neutral odour, carnauba wax has a great emollient power, and effectively protects the skin without obstructing it. The film which it leaves on the skin is, at the same time, very protective, water-resistant, but light and not obtrusive. It is also particularly rich in antioxidants. It’s far from just a simple additive! And it is great for all skin types: its antibacterial action is great for oily skin, being soothing and smoothing without blocking pores. But also, of course, sensitive, dry, and even irritated skin.
It’s the absolute best when it comes to natural lip balms. And of course, our underarms and our skin, between sweating and shaving, are worked pretty hard! Carnauba wax is fantastic for formulating stick deodorants, the best natural deodorant for the skin. So when formulating our deodorant Keep Cool, solid and gentle, and 100% natural, it’s without hesitation that we opted for carnauba wax. It gives it a luxurious texture, makes it long-lasting, and gentle on the skin. Basically, it’s not just a practical tool to get rid of the smell of sweat.
Totally in line with our values and beliefs, carnauba wax is THE plant-based wax that ticks all of the boxes for our skin, our health, and the environment. A firm favourite!
This post is also available in french.