Bee products are a complicated topic for many vegans. While some vegans allow room for ethically sourced, locally produced bee-derived products, others maintain the stance that bee products are animal-derived and therefore simply not vegan—end of story. Wherever you stand on bee items, it’s worth considering that the harvesting of bee products present the possibility of rough handling of the bees, and it may be difficult to truly know which bee products are indeed ethically sourced. To make matters more complex, those of us who are committed to using natural beauty products find that beeswax-laden products seem to saturate the green beauty market—particularly in lip products and mascaras. Fortunately, there are beeswax alternatives, so you don’t have to compromise your values for an effective product.
Uses of Beeswax
Before jumping into beeswax alternatives, a general overview of the uses of beeswax will help us understand why beeswax is so widely used.
Beeswax is vital to bee colonies. Female worker bees create beeswax to build the walls of honeycombs. The hexagonal cells of the honeycombs store honey (of course) and also house bee larvae. Beekeepers can harvest both honey and wax from the honeycombs. Once the honey is extracted, the wax can be cleaned and melted and put to dozens of uses from candles to wood polish.
From a beauty perspective, beeswax is an effective protective and humectant. It attracts water molecules, helping skin stay hydrated while also serving as a barrier from environmental contaminants and moisture loss. These properties make beeswax a valuable ingredient in richly moisturizing products, including lotion bars, salves, and lip balms. Its ability to act as a sealant also makes it a useful ingredient in lash-defining, smudge-resistant mascara.
It’s actually quite easy to live bee-free once you’ve found replacements for any bee product staples. Yes, this means you can have gorgeously defined, non-smeary lashes and a pampered pout without harm to bees.
1. Candelilla wax. Native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, candelilla wax is an affordable lubricant used in varnishes, lip balms, and lotion bars. Because candelilla wax is so dense, one unit of the vegetable wax is roughly equal to two units of beeswax, making it a savvy choice for those crafting DIY products on a budget.
2. Sustainably-harvested carnauba wax. Sourced from Brazilian palm trees, carnauba wax is a popular beeswax alternative in natural cosmetics. Carnauba wax replaces beeswax in vegan mascaras by Beauty Without Cruelty and Lily Lolo.
(Note that not all palm products are sustainably harvested. In fact, the palm oil industry is a leading culprit of deforestation and an environmental threat to animal populations. Try and avoid whenever possible).
3. Soy wax. Soy wax serves as a beeswax alternative in candles and lip balm. There are a few things to note about soy: First, at least 93% of soy is genetically modified (GMO), so look for non-GMO soy products. Second, many “soy candles” are actually soy blends that include paraffin, a by-product of the petroleum industry and a non-renewable resource. The Coye Candle Co. and Pacifica Perfumes both offer 100% soy candles.
4. Bayberry wax. A more expensive alternative to beeswax, bayberry wax is created by boiling berries of the wax myrtle shrub and then skimming the vegetable wax off the water’s surface. With its distinct resinous fragrance, it’s a perfect choice for candles.
5. Synthetic beeswax. Synthetic beeswax is a mixture of esters designed to almost perfectly mimic beeswax. The Environmental Working Group gives synthetic beeswax a “low overall hazard” rating but acknowledges that there is limited safety data on it. Cruelty-free brand Too Faced Cosmetics uses synthetic beeswax in its best-selling Better Than Sex Mascara; however, the mascara also contains paraffin, a deal-breaker for those avoiding petroleum products for environmental reasons.
6. Plant oils. If you’re looking for an intense moisturizer, the world of plant oils has you covered. From the olive oil in your kitchen to that bottle of pure argan oil in the luxury beauty shop, there’s no shortage of skin-soothing oils. For a bee-free lip balm, try French Girl Organics Lip Tint, or, for a richer formula, pick up a jar of Gressa Lip Boost. Seriously dehydrated skin (elbows, knees, and knuckles) can benefit from Pelle Beauty Luxe Beauty Balm, a bee-free, petroleum-free salve.
What are your favorite bee-free beauty products? Have you had success with any vegan beeswax alternative not listed here?
Photos from Kaboompics, Lily Lolo, Pacifica