Natural waxes are produced by plants and animals, although their exact chemical composition depends on both the species and geographic location of the organism. Waxes can also be derived from mineral deposits or refined from petroleum.
|From Plants||Bayberry wax, from the surface wax of the fruits of the Bayberry shrub, Myrica faya.|
|Candelilla wax (E902), from the Mexican shrubs Euphorbia cerifera and Euphorbia antisyphilitica.|
|Carnauba wax (E903), from the leaves of the Carnauba palm, Copernicia cerifera or the Brazilian palm, Copernicia prunifera.|
|Castor wax, produced by the hydrogenation of Castor oil, in the presence of a nickel catalyst.|
|Esparto wax, a by-product of making paper from Esparto grass, Macrochloa tenacissima.|
|Japan wax, a vegetable triglyceride (not a true wax), from the berries of Rhus and Toxicodendron species.|
|Ouricury wax, from the Brazilian feather palm, Syagrus coronata.|
|Rice Bran wax (E908), from rice bran, Oryza sativa.|
|Soy wax, from Soybean oil.|
|Tallow Tree wax, from the seeds of the Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera.|
|From Animals||Beeswax, white and yellow (E901), produced by honey bees.|
|Chinese wax, produced by the scale insect Ceroplastes ceriferus.|
|Lanolin (E913), produced by the sebaceous glands of sheep and extracted from their wool.|
|Shellac (E904), a wax-containing resin secreted by the Lac insect Kerria lacca.|
|Spermaceti wax (E909), from the head oil and blubber of the sperm whale.|
|From Minerals||Montan wax, a fossilised wax extracted from lignite and brown coal.|
|Ceresine wax, refined from Ozokerite.|
|Ozokerite, extracted from lignite beds and rock fractures.|
|Peat wax, extracted from peat.|
|From Petroleum||Petroleum wax (E905c) (i) Microcrystalline wax, produced by de-oiling Petrolatum.|
|Petroleum wax (E905c) (ii) Paraffin wax, refined from slack wax by vacuum distillation.|
|Polyethylene wax, synthesized by cracking polyethylene at 400 degrees Celsius.|
Natural waxes are chemically defined as an ester with a very long hydrocarbon chain that also includes a long chain alcohol. However, waxes can also contain chemical structures such as wax esters, sterol esters, alcohols, aldehydes, hydrocarbons, ketones and sterols.
Plants secrete waxes containing a mix of unesterified hydrocarbons and esters onto the surface of their cuticles as a way to control hydration and evaporation. The epicuticular waxes of plants are mixtures of substituted long-chain aliphatic hydrocarbons, containing alkanes, alkyl esters, fatty acids, primary and secondary alcohols, diols, ketones and aldehydes.
Waxes produced by animals typically consist of wax esters derived from a variety of carboxylic acids and fatty alcohols. Waxes are malleable solids near ambient temperatures but typically melt into low viscosity liquids at temperatures above 40 °C (104 °F). However, some waxes have a higher melting point, such as Beeswax at 62-65 °C. Waxes are hydrophobic and insoluble in water but dissolve in organic, nonpolar solvents.
Many waxes are edible and are used as food additives, having been allocated E numbers by the European Union, often functioning as a preservative coating. For example, Paraffin waxes are used as a coating for cheeses and a wrapping for other food products. Waxes are also used to coat wooden cutting boards and spoons, plus other items that come into contact with food.
Carnauba wax is used as a confectionery glaze, while Paraffin wax is an ingredient in chocolate covered candies and chewing gum.
Waxes and hard fats such as tallow are used to make candles, used for lighting and decoration.
Waxes are used as water resistant coatings and polishes for furniture, musical instruments and other wooden products, as well as slip agents. For example, Beeswax is used as a lubricant on drawer slides.
Waxes are used in leather shoe polishes and to and to provide a waterproof coating for fabric and leather.
Waxes are used in the manufacture of paper and card to modify their surface properties or as a coating to improve resistance to water damage or staining. Polyethylene waxes are also included in inks to decrease friction.
Waxes are commonly used as lubricants and slip agents, and provide a waterproof barrier to improve corrosion resistance.
In the Paints industry, waxes improve wear resistance and confer matting effects.
In the Plastics industry, Polyethylene and polypropylene waxes are used in the formulation of colourants.
In the Automotive industry, wax is used in polishes as a high gloss, water repelling coating.
In the Art industry, wax mixed with colourful pigments is used in the manufacture of crayons, coloured pencils and encaustic painting.
In the Injection Moulding and Jewellery industries, wax is used as mould release agent, and for lost-wax casting of gold, silver and other materials.
In the Sport & Leisure industry, wax is used as a lubricant in skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding and to improve grip in on surfboards and ice hockey sticks.
In the Personal Care industry, waxes such as Beeswax and Paraffin wax are used in the manufacture of lipsticks, mascara, and toiletries such as skin creams and emollients.
Wax is also used to seal legal documents and stamp university degrees.