Beeswax is produced by female honey bees. The wax is used for building the honeycombed cells in which young bees are raised, as well as providing an area for pollen and honey storage. Allergies affect approximately 20 per cent of the general population, and can crop up at any time. For some, allergic reactions are life-threatening.
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Allergies are the result of the body's immune system reacting to generally harmless substances. Allergens, external substances like pollen, pet dander and mould, trigger abnormal reactions in about 20 per cent of the population. Reactions include itchy and watering eyes, a runny nose, rashes or hives, and an overall feeling of tiredness. In the most severe cases, allergens cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can cause death if left untreated. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include shortness of breath or breathing difficulty, tightness in the throat and difficulty swallowing, and tingling on the extremities, lips or scalp.
The colour and scent of natural beeswax come from the honey and pollen packed into its honeycomb cells. Natural beeswax is sold in many varieties: raw, filtered or unfiltered, and cleaned or bleached. When filtered, which takes place after the wax has been melted but before it is moulded, the detritus of any dead bees, wings or scales and honey is removed. Beeswax is a common ingredient in many household goods. It is used in candles, soaps, cosmetics, furniture polish and as a resist in batik art projects. Beeswax is approved for and used in food production.
Beeswax has been around for centuries and was used more than 2,000 years ago in ancient Egypt for encaustic paintings. Because of its long history, doctors are often sceptical of reports concerning beeswax allergies. Studies of other allergens have shown that with increased exposure comes increased reactions; so with beeswax hidden in the ingredient lists of so many consumer products it seems that the reporting of allergic reactions is increasing.
Reactions to Beeswax
The most commonly reported beeswax product producing allergic reactions is lip balm. Among the reactions reported are coughing, puffy or swollen lips, and a burning pain. Other beeswax products producing reactions included wax-removal creams, eye pencils, mascara and burning candles. Reactions are reported primarily by women but men are also susceptible. In some cases, products had been used for years before an adverse reaction occurred. Reactions could start immediately with use or manifest after several hours.
Treating Beeswax Allergies
There is little that can be done medically for a beeswax allergy. For the most part skin patch tests do not indicate reactions to beeswax. Most people bothered by beeswax must find their own treatment through trial and error. Check ingredient listings when purchasing cosmetics; ingredients listed first are present in the largest quantity. Some individuals report that when beeswax is listed as the third or fourth ingredient, the allergic reaction took longer to develop but did manifest.
Avoidance is the Best Treatment
Prescription topical creams can clear up skin irritations caused by beeswax cosmetics but do not solve the underlying allergy problems. Until the medical community recognises beeswax allergies those with beeswax sensitivities should avoid products containing beeswax. People with known reactions to bee stings should also avoid beeswax products and burning beeswax candles. Synthetic beeswax is one alternative for those wanting to burn beeswax candles.
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