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Is beeswax vegan? It’s a question that seems to be popular at the moment, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on this natural wax with you today.
Knowing whether or not a product such as beeswax is vegan is vitally important as it appears in so many things. Everything from lip balm to candles can contain this special wax, but can we buy it without concern when living a vegan lifestyle?
It’s time to find out!
What is beeswax?
Before we dig into whether or not beeswax is vegan, let’s take a look at what it actually is. It all sounds rather self-explanatory, but is it?
Beeswax is a natural wax created, unsurprisingly, by bees…I bet you never would have worked that out for yourself!
More specifically, the wax is produced by honey bees from the Apis genus and it’s used by the worker bees in a hive to make the honeycomb cells we’ve all seen before.
These cells are used both as a storage facility for the golden goodness made by other workers and as protective casing for baby bees as they go through the larval and pupal stages of their lives.
In the case of honey storage, worker bees will not only use the wax to create the walls of the honeycomb, they’ll also use it to cap off each individual cell once they’re full. This keeps the honey in good shape, ready for the bees to return to and feast on during the winter months.
How do bees make wax?
Wax is made by the busy young bees of the hive while they are roughly between 12 and 17 days old. These bees have special glands (eight of them in total) along their abdomens, and it’s from these glands the bees secrete their wax.
Older bees become less active at wax production, as the glands used waste away as they age. While it is still possible for them to make wax, the older insects will naturally move on to foraging duties once they hit 20-22 days old. This will then continue up until around day 42 of the bee’s life cycle, but they may return to wax production should the colony swarm, as they will need to build a new hive fast.
While the wax is excreted in liquid form, it soon turns into very thin sheets that are often referred to as “scales” when it hits the air. These scales are pretty useless to begin with as they are both tasteless and colorless as well as being extremely fragile, but secretion is just the beginning.
In order to process the scales, bees will chew them to soften the wax and make it easier to work with. Once malleable enough, the worker will then start to create the hexagonal honeycomb structure we’re all familiar with so they can be filled with honey. Once full, the cell will be capped with the wax as well.
To find out why bees have taken to hexagons as their shape of choice, watch this short clip from Professor Brian Cox:
How do humans harvest beeswax?
Now we know what this natural wax is and how it’s created, it’s time to take a look at how we harvest this incredible natural product.
Beekeepers will harvest beeswax during the honey collection process. As all of the honey is trapped by the wax, the beekeeper needs to open each cell before they can add the hive’s frames to a honey extractor for centrifugal processing. Failing to do so would mean no honey for the beekeeper!
The common way to “decap” a frame is to run a hot knife along the face of the honeycomb, as demonstrated in the video below:
So, is beeswax vegan or not?
Looking at the video above, there doesn’t seem to be any problem with harvesting the wax. Unfortunately, however, there are other things we vegans need to take into consideration when deciding whether or not we can use products such as honey and beeswax.
Prior to reaching the stage seen above, the frames will naturally be covered with bees when removed from the hive. Beekeepers will smoke the bees to make them more docile and tap the frame against the hive in order to remove the bees so both the wax and honey can be harvested.
While the vast majority of small-time beekeepers love and care for their bees, it’s still not uncommon for them to be harmed during this process. Larger scale operations are less careful, so the damage greater still.
Unfortunately, it’s highly likely that the mass-produced items on the shelves of our local stores contain beeswax from large-scale bee farms, and the insect’s welfare is commonly disregarded as these companies chase profits.
Queen bees may have their wings clipped (see video below) so they cannot leave, as swarming can lower honey production. Should the beekeeper wish to remove the queen and transfer her to another colony, so called “bodyguard” bees are used to aid the transfer. These insects will be attacked and killed by the bees already present in the queen’s new colony.
Artificial insemination is also a common occurrence on bee farms, as is the removal of all honey – the bee’s primary winter food source – which is replaced with a cheaper, less nutrient-dense sugar solution.
The key rule to veganism is to avoid any product or practice that involves any cruelty or exploitation of ANY animal wherever possible. As we do not need beeswax (or honey, for that matter), answering the “Is beeswax vegan?’ question is simple. No, beeswax is not vegan.
What is beeswax used for?
As we now know that the humble honey bee’s wax is not vegan, it’s time to look at the range of products it is used in so that we can try and avoid it.
Beeswax is an extremely popular compound and it has literally dozens of uses. Some everyday products you are likely to find it in include, but are in no way limited to:
- Furniture polish
- Lip balm
- Hair waxes and pomades
- Hand salves and other cosmetics
- Dental floss
- Water proofing on clothing
- Food (either as a thickener or a lining for pastry cases)
- Drinks (especially alcohol)
As you can see, avoiding beeswax can be a bit of a minefield. So, what to do?
How to avoid beeswax
When it comes to eliminating beeswax from your life, you need to be on high alert. In some instances, it will be obvious that there isn’t any present, but in others it won’t be so easy to spot.
Beauty products and cosmetics use a lot of beeswax, but you can always look out for the leaping bunny or vegan symbols shown below to ensure your favorite item is safe to use.
Similarly, it can be pretty easy to spot in food and drink thanks to better labeling. Those of you living in Europe can spot beeswax used as a food additive by looking for the “E number” E901.
Other uses, such as on clothing or furniture, may be harder to spot at a glance, but you can always dig a little deeper online or ask the manufacturer.
Simply being aware of its uses will put you ahead of the game. Think about the product you’re buying – could it possibly contain beeswax? If you’re unsure, don’t buy it until you’ve done a little homework. It can be annoying, but there are always alternatives, which brings us nicely to…
What are the best vegan beeswax alternatives?
This will largely depend upon the product you are buying, as one alternative may work with one application but not another.
Some common vegan alternatives to beeswax include:
- Soy wax (candles, lip balm, etc.)
- Candelilla wax (lotions, lubricants, varnishes, etc.)
- Various plant oils (moisturizers, soaps, salves, etc.)
- Bayberry (Myrica) wax (candles, fragrances, etc.)
- Sustainable carnauba wax (cosmetics)
- Sunflower wax (cosmetics, balms, lotions, etc.)
- Synthetic beeswax (multiple uses)
Is beeswax vegan? Answered!
Beeswax is, without doubt, a fabulous natural product, but vegan it isn’t, unfortunately.
Thankfully, there are numerous alternatives and, as the trend towards plant-powered living continues, you can expect to see more manufacturers removing animal products from their lines…regardless of the animal in question.
Veganism doesn’t stop with the furry and the fluffy, after all.
Do you have any thoughts on beeswax not being vegan? If you do, I’d love to hear from you. Just pop a comment in the box below and I’ll check it out.