Carnauba wax (also referred to as palm wax and Brazil wax) is a common ingredient in a wide variety of products, from car wax to food and cosmetics. The fact that it is used in products such as car and furniture wax has made many people question whether it is safe enough to be included in those that we ingest or put on our skin. So is carnauba wax bad for you?
Is Carnauba Wax Bad For You?
Perhaps surprisingly to many, carnauba wax has been found to be safe for human consumption (at the levels that one might reasonably expect to be in any modern Western individual’s diet), and is one of the gentlest ingredients for skincare and cosmetic products.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States has declared it safe for these uses, and in Europe, the EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS) announced that the wax is safe for human consumption after a re-evaluation in 2012.
In the European Union, law dictates that a maximum of 200 mg of carnauba wax is allowed per kilogram of a food. There is an exception made for confectionary, in which there may be as many as 500 mg per kilogram. Another is for chewing gum, which can have a maximum of 1,200 mg per kilogram.
What Exactly is Carnauba Wax?
Carnauba wax is comprised of compounds taken from the leaves of the Copernica cerifera: the Brazillian Mart wax palm. All carnauba wax comes from Brazil’s northeastern region.
When purchased by manufacturers to use as an ingredient, carnauba wax is often available in flake form. Carnauba wax flakes are yellow-brown in color. It is also sold in powder form. Carnauba wax is the hardest vegetable wax available.
Carnauba wax forms naturally on the fronds belonging to the Copernica cerifera (Brazillian Mart wax palm). Harvesters cut the fronds and then dry them. After that, the wax is removed. Special processes are done, such as filtering and/or melting.
The components of carnauba wax are mainly fatty acid esters. The reason carnauba wax doesn’t have any negative (or any) effect on human health is that it cannot be digested. This means that its components cannot be absorbed. It simply passes through you.
Where is Carnauba Wax Used?
Carnauba wax is often used as a glazing or coating ingredient in foods. Foods where it is often found include coffee beans, nuts, various snacks, bakery products coated with chocolate, fruit chew snacks, and confectionary.
Additionally, it is often put on fresh fruits (such as apples) as a surface coating. Carnauba wax is the source of the glossy sheen of foods.
It has a wide variety of other uses, too. For example, it is found in car waxes and polishes, shoe polish, floor waxes and polishes, surfboards, and dental floss.
In the US, it is often used as paper coating. Coating of paper makes it smoother and more resistant to moisture and dirt. Coated paper can be either glossy or matte. Paper without coating is more porous.
Non-abrasive car wax with carnauba wax is generally considered one of the most effective kinds available. When you polish your car with this wax, you create a water-resistant barrier. This means that it helps to protect the car’s paint, and generally keeps it looking shiny and attractive.
Carnauba wax is also commonly found in cosmetics and skincare products. Examples of cosmetic products that the wax is often included in are foundation, lipgloss and lipstick, mascara, eyeshadow, lip liner, and eyeliner. One reason that it is used here is because of the wax’s ability to prevent caking. It also thickens products.
Carnauba wax is also often on the ingredients lists of skincare products such as sunscreens and moisturizing creams. The wax is also often used in hair removal products and procedures.
Carnauba is emollient (moisturizing) and hypoallergenic. It is valued for its ability to make the skin softer and smoother.
Carnauba wax is also frequently used in the pharmaceuticals industry. It is utilized as a binding and tablet coating ingredient for pharmaceutical products. When used as a pill coating, the wax makes the tablets easier to swallow.
Carnauba Wax and Concern for the Environment
While carnauba wax is a safe ingredient for use in many different products, there is major concern that the harvesting of palm-derived products (carnauba wax is just one of many) might be causing rapid destruction of the tropical rainforests.
While palms have been traditionally used by indigenous people for thousands of years, in modern times the harvesting and processing of palms has reached expansive, industrial levels. This has contributed to the alarming rate of rainforest destruction.
The rainforests of the world are necessary for many different reasons. They are essential elements of ecosystems, without which thousands of species of would not exist. The trees of the rainforests also store carbon, meaning that they help in slowing down global warming and its disastrous effects.
Because of these concerns, many environmentalists and everyday people who care about the future of our planet are working to bring more awareness to this issue and calling for reduced harvesting and production of palm products.
Carnauba Wax vs. Beeswax
Beeswax is another popular wax that is used in foods and cosmetics, as well as other products such as furniture polishes. Some people prefer beeswax to carnauba wax in foods, as it has comparable effects on appearance and consistency but offers health benefits.
As you will remember we discussed earlier, carnauba wax is neither bad nor good for health, as it cannot be absorbed by the body to any degree.
Carnauba Wax is Safe and Commonly Used
Carnauba wax is safe, and has no effect on human health. It can be found in a wide variety of products, including ones that we ingest.
“EFSA reaffirms carnauba wax safety at current usage levels”, http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/EFSA-reaffirms-carnauba-wax-safety-at-current-usage-levels
“What’s in Your Fruity Chew Snacks”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/fruit-chew-snacks-ingredients_n_1304369.html
“Copernicia cerifera wax”, https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/copernicia-cerifera-wax
“Carnauba Wax (Inactive Ingredient)”, https://www.drugs.com/inactive/carnauba-wax-198.html
“The Problem with Palm Wax”, https://www.candlescience.com/learning/the-problem-with-palm-wax
“What’s the Difference Between Coated and Uncoated Paper?” http://maconprinting.com/coated-and-uncoated-paper
“Benefits of Using Carnauba Wax?” http://www.autos.com/car-maintenance/benefits-of-using-carnauba-car-wax
“Saving Rare and Endangered Palms”, http://www.htbg.com/wordpress/?p=23
“Wax Facts”, https://www.afpm.org/wax-facts