Over the centuries, candle waxes have been developed from a variety of fats, oils and waxy-like substances derived from animals, insects, plants and rocks.
Scientists consider "wax" to be a generic term for classifying materials that have the following characteristics:
Waxes are widely used throughout the world for a wide range of applications, including packaging, coatings, cosmetics, foods, adhesives, inks, castings, crayons, chewing gum, polishes and - of course - candles.
Development of Candle Waxes
Early civilisations depended largely on the raw materials at hand to create candle wax. Ancient Egyptians and the Early Romans relied largely on tallow rendered from animals.
In China, beeswax was used for candles as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), and candle wax derived from the Coccos pella insect had been developed by the 12th century. Extracts from tree nuts were used to make candle wax in early Japan, while in India they boiled the fruit of the cinnamon tree for candle wax.
Beeswax was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages, but was rarely used in homes because of its great expense.
Over the centuries, the development of new waxes for candles has hinged on the availability of the raw material, the ease and economy for processing the raw material into a wax suitable for candle use, and the desirability of the wax in comparison to other available candle waxes.
Tallow was the typical everyday candle wax used in Europe and the Americas until the 18th century, when the whaling industry stimulated the development of spermaceti wax, a clean-burning, low-odour wax derived from the head oil of the sperm whale.
Spermaceti remained the primary candle wax until the mid-1800s, when stearin wax and then paraffin wax were developed. Stearin wax, based on extracting stearic acid from animal fatty acids, was widely used in Europe. Paraffin wax, developed after chemists found a way to remove the naturally-occurring waxy substance from petroleum during refining, became the standard candle wax in the Western Hemisphere.
During the latter half of the 20th century, several synthetic and chemically synthesized waxes, including gels, were developed largely for speciality candle uses. Two vegetable-based candle waxes - soy wax and palm wax - were developed for commercial use in the candle market during the late 1990s by hydrogenating soybean and palm oils, respectively.
Paraffin is by far the most frequently used candle wax on a worldwide basis today. Beeswax is also used around the globe, although in significantly smaller quantities. Stearin candle wax is largely limited to European use. Soy wax, palm wax, gels, synthetic waxes, and synthesized waxes are also now used in candles, as are a variety of wax blends and customized wax formulations.
Candle Wax Facts