Eco Skincare – Is it Ethical to Use Beeswax in Beauty Products As the Bees Continue to Vanish?

Einstein is rumored to have predicted that if bees disappear from our planet, mankind will soon perish. Although it is not proven whether the great scientist said this or not, our scientists are worried.

Wild bee populations are being wiped out by a parasitic mite and beekeepers are working hard to protect their farmed bees from the same fate.

As the bees vanish we take a look at the bee and the issue of beeswax, ethics and skincare.

Beeswax (or cera alba as it is listed on ingredients labels) is an ingredient used by both commercial skin care manufacturers and many natural and organic skin care producers.

Beeswax is obtained from the honeycomb of bees in the hive and used in skincare as an emulsifier and thickener, as well as for its reputed skin care benefits.

People choosing to buy natural and organic skin care expect green, eco and ethical credentials from the producers.

Cruelty-free is high on the list for green and ethical shoppers which is why it is important to look at the question of bees and beeswax.

Most vegans do not eat honey or use bee products although generally speaking vegetarians do.

The Vegan Society condemns the use of all bee products such as honey, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.

According to the Vegan Society exploitation of and cruelty to bees consists of:

  • Bee farming
  • Cruel treatment of the Queen bee
  • Wing-clipping
  • Killing bees when harvesting honey comb
  • Use of artificial food and pesticides
  • Vivisection
  • Destruction of hives.

Pretty damning, don’t you think. Or is it?

Looking further into the issue it would appear that not all beekeepers employ the above methods.

Whilst it is true that most if not all commercial bee farms do practice cruelty towards bees, many small ‘local’ beekeepers are more ethical.

The independent beekeeper would argue that the bees’ welfare is the most important thing to them, both as a moral obligation towards the bees and in favor of good sense for the small business.

On many small bee farms the bees are given extra room for their hives, the bees enjoy working and make more honey than they need, and by the use of pesticides they are protected from deadly mites, parasites and fungi that are killing wild bee colonies. Beekeepers are also keen to point out that although it does happen on large commercial bee farms, they themselves do not kill off the bees or destroy their hives.

Sadly the numbers of small, caring, ethical beekeepers is far outweighed by the huge commercial bee farms meeting the demand of even bigger commercial companies wanting large quantities of cheap product, regardless of the cost to the bees.

And the question of exploitation remains as the bees are still kept and farmed for their monetary value.

It is therefore important to choose cruelty-free natural and organic beauty products. This is not as easy as it sounds. Beeswax is a predominant ingredient in commercial and natural skincare, but there are bee-friendly alternatives so read the literature, website information and product ingredients carefully.

It is not enough for skincare producers to claim to be against animal testing. If in doubt, ask!

A UK natural skincare company called Maia Skin Care (http://www.maiaskincare.co.uk) believes in using only cruelty-free ingredients. They do not use any bee product in their natural beauty products and have excellent green ethics. All their products are vegan-friendly and free from beeswax, honey and any other ingredients derived from bees.

History of Skincare Part 5: Imperial China: From the Tang Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty, 618-1644

Desiring the Pale

By the time the Tang dynasty rolled around, the women of the Imperial Court had turned skin care and cosmetic application into a fine art form. Borrowing artistic techniques from the Buddhism that had spread throughout the country, women turned themselves into gilded statues, complete with smooth, porcelain skin and facial appliques. Having a pale complexion continued to rise in importance as court women went to new and greater heights to whiten their skin, both temporarily and permanently.

From Pre-Imperial times, Chinese women had desired pale skin. As agriculture became increasingly important to the culture and the economy, tanned skin grew to be associated with a working class made up of farmers and fishermen. While noble women at first desired a whiter complexion to show that they did not have to work, however, a powdered face and smooth skin soon became a fashion statement. During the Tang dynasty, courtesans began taking more extreme measures to lighten the skin on their faces. While they continued to press on white powders made from lead, they also used special gels and lotions derived from natural ingredients to remove pigment and permanently bleach their skin. One of the most popular gels was made from songyi mushrooms, an ingredient that is still used in many skin lighteners today.

The Seven Steps to Beauty

Even in this time of lead powders and pigment-altering creams, the Chinese approach to skin care was still a holistic one. Nutrition, health and circulation were still considered to be necessary to maintaining a beautiful complexion and many lotions were developed using medicinal herbs popular in traditional medicine. In fact, while skin care had been previously confined to the bed chamber, many Tang dynasty women carried small containers of lotions and other cosmetics so that they could touch up their faces at will.

This is not to say, however, that Tang dynasty courtesans applied their make up in public. Their make up was, in fact, applied in seven separate steps each morning. The first step was to powder the face with a thick white foundation. The second step was the apply rouge to the cheeks. The third step was to gild the forehead with golden ocher. The ocher was painted on in complex patterns based on the gold gilding of Buddhist statues. The fourth step was to trace the eyebrows. The fifth step was to paint the lips a brilliant red. The sixth step was to dot the cheeks. The seventh and final step was to paste a floral applique between the eyes. (You can read more about the seven steps to beauty here: http://www.chinatoday.com.cn/English/e2004/e200411/p60.htm )

The Art of Applique

Although facial appliques first gained major popularity during the Tang dynasty, they remained popular throughout the many centuries of Imperial China. As outlined by the seven steps of cosmetic application, there were actually several different types of appliques. While the dotted cheek had been around since the early days of the Imperial Court, it had, by this time, lost any remnants of a practical use and was used strictly for fashion. In fact, it was very rare for the dots to even be round anymore. While one of the most popular designs was a crescent moon across the cheek, these so-called dots could take the form of any number of shapes from flowers to insects. The floral applique placed between the eyes had a similar number of variations. It could be made from paper, gold foil or shell and the patterns ranged from flowers to fans, from dragon flies to oxhorns.

While not precisely an applique, traced eyebrows continued to be an important part of facial adornment. By this time, designs had become far more elaborate than they had been during the Qin or Han dynasties. While the different shapes were generally patterned after objects found in nature, the shapes themselves were a far cry from the natural shape of an eyebrow. Willow leaf eyebrows were one of the most popular designs, with round, olive-shaped eyebrows not far behind. The Emperor Xuanzong even commissioned a book called Shi Mei Tu, which outlined ten different eyebrow patterns. (You can read more about facial appliques and eyebrow patterns here: http://www.chinatoday.com.cn/English/e2004/e200411/p60.htm )

From lead powders to skin bleaches to eyebrows shaped like olives, many of the skin care techniques and cosmetic approaches of Imperial China seem foreign in today’s world. Their holistic approach to skin care, however, and their whimsical make up show that Imperial China still has a lot to offer the modern world.