The 9 Best Beeswax Candles
The Benefits Of Burning Beeswax
To create these hexagonal, honey-holding structures, worker bees secrete wax from glands located on their abdomens.
Many consumers don't realize it, but a large number of low-cost, run-of-the-mill candles contain paraffin wax, a petroleum by-product borne of crude oil refinement. While paraffin wax has a handful of practical aspects that make it well-suited for use in cosmetics, polishes, and candles, it still has plenty of drawbacks. For one, it's derived from a non-renewable resource that causes myriad environmental problems. It's also not particularly good for you to be around it when it burns — studies have found that it emits harmful fumes linked to lung cancer and asthma. While it would take years of burning paraffin wax in an unventilated space to make you sick, you can reduce indoor pollution and help the environment out by opting for green, non-toxic alternatives. In addition to soy, the candle industry has another beloved champion: beeswax.
If you've ever seen a honeycomb, then you've witnessed beeswax in its natural habitat. To create these hexagonal, honey-holding structures, worker bees secrete wax from glands located on their abdomens. When the time comes for beekeepers to extract honey from the comb, they find themselves with leftover wax, which can be made into things like candles and moisturizers. Because apiaries need their bees to be in optimal health, they'll only harvest the excess a colony doesn't need, resulting in a sustainable commodity.
Beeswax candles also boast long burn times. Their complex molecular structure and high melting point enable them to burn slower than paraffin and soy, and as an added bonus, they're virtually dripless. They're extremely stable and have few solvents, so they'll hold up for long periods of time if necessary. And if you're a consumer who has sworn off products that use chemical fragrances or want to diversify your naturally-scented candle cache, you'll appreciate beeswax for its delicate honey scent.
What To Look For In A Beeswax Candle
Whether you’re in search of pillars, tapers, or votives, there are a few things to consider before you purchase beeswax candles. To start, you’ll want to ensure the product you’re eyeing is made from 100 percent beeswax. When in doubt, check the color — a pure candle should maintain its natural hue, which can range from off-white to deep golden brown. Beeswax begins as a colorless substance and gains its characteristic yellow shades from propolis and pollen added by worker bees. It should also develop a light, powdery coating called bloom over time. This is the result of naturally-rising oils in the wax, and you can buff it off with a soft cloth if you don’t like the way it looks.
Thankfully, most producers have the science behind wick selection down pat.
Next, there’s the wick to account for. Whether it’s crafted from hemp or unbleached cotton, you’ll want to look for knitted or square-braided options, which are usually the mark of a higher-quality item. They’re robust, they burn consistently, and they curl in the flame, which results in a convenient self-trimming effect. It’s also imperative that the wick is the correct thickness for the candle in question, as one that's properly-sized will burn brightly and avoid tunneling. Thankfully, most producers have the science behind wick selection down pat. A good rule of thumb is to choose hand-poured or dipped products, as there’s less room for error and better quality control.
Then, there’s fragrance. While many people are perfectly content with the subtle scent of beeswax, others may prefer something other than honey. To achieve this without bringing synthetic irritants into your home, opt for selections that use pure essential oils. You can also add your own to the candle’s wax pool if you prefer a little variety.
And finally, if you’re a conscientious consumer, try to make it a priority to purchase from responsible apiaries, especially those that are local or family-owned. Bees are integral to our ecosystem and responsible for pollinating a huge percentage of flowering plants, which includes a large chunk of our food supply. By patronizing companies that practice ethical beekeeping, you're supporting some of the planet’s hardest working insects.
A Brief History Of Beeswax
Some of the earliest evidence we have of human interaction with bees comes from cave paintings that date back 8,000 years. The Cuevas de la Arana of eastern Spain boast artwork that depicts a human form gathering honey from a beehive. We're not sure who that Epipaleolithic hero was, but we can attribute our long history of honey and beeswax harvesting to the curiosity and ingenuity of prehistoric peoples.
Typical households of the time period relied on tallow candles rendered from animal fat for their lighting needs, but they weren't ideal.
Ancient Egyptians were industrious beekeepers who valued their hives, as they believed bees to be a sacred gift from Ra. While honey was an integral component of their cuisine and numerous medicinal salves, beeswax also served myriad purposes. They used it for everything from cosmetics and embalming to preserving papyrus scrolls and protecting paintings. It could even be relied on to ward off evil on occasion.
Egyptians weren't the only civilization who recognized the versatility of beeswax. Romans molded death masks and effigies with it, and Persians were fond of using it for mummification. And if you've ever come across the Greek legend of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun on homemade wings of feathers and wax, well, you can guess what type of wax that might have been.
During the Middle Ages, it was so valuable that it was considered an acceptable form of payment in much of Europe. It also enjoyed religious preference, as the Roman Catholic Church would use nothing less than 100 percent beeswax for their candles (these days they make do with just 51 percent). Typical households of the time period relied on tallow candles rendered from animal fat for their lighting needs, but they weren't ideal. Beeswax candles were far superior due to their clean, bright flame and lovely scent. Because it was in such short supply and demand was so high, only the wealthiest had the opportunity to bask in the light of these candles in their homes.
Beeswax is still a highly sought after commodity to this day, but thankfully, people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can get their hands on some.