Candelilla wax

Candelilla wax is a wax derived from the leaves of the small Candelilla shrub native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, Euphorbia cerifera and Euphorbia antisyphilitica, from the family Euphorbiaceae. It is yellowish-brown, hard, brittle, aromatic, and opaque to translucent.

The candelilla wax protects the plant from its environment and prevents excessive evaporation.

The plant has characteristics very similar to those of a catos, is hard and brittle. Without refining the wax has an opaque appearance, depending on the refining and degree of bleaching is the color it obtains and this can be from light brown to yellow, the wax is insoluble in water but highly soluble in acetone and chloroform. The plant grows in zones of semi-desert climate, it is found in greater abundance in the Chihuahua desert.

The production of this wax goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, making wax production one of the most important economic sources for the northern zone of Mexico in the desert of Chihuahua, the largest territory of this desert includes the states of Coahuila, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Durango and Coahuila and three states of the United States that are Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

Used in the sticks, the candellila wax favors the demolding, the good behavior and the appearance of the product. Often used in conjunction with carnauba wax, beeswax and other waxes, it improves touch, glue and finish. Its hardness and relatively high melting point increase the softening point of the sticks.

Its discovery and use is due to the natives of northern Mexico, who extracted raw wax by heating the stems in clay pots and then mixing it with dyes to use for ornamental purposes. Some versions indicate that in ancient times it was burned for lighting, so it fulfilled the functions of a candle; also, they used it to stretch bows, to tan skins, in medicinal preparations against toothache and as a laxative. At the time of the Spanish colony was used to make candles, hence the name of candelilla, which means “small candle.”

By the beginning of the 20th century it began to be commercialized, and in 1905 Connek and Landresc investigated its composition and properties. During the Second World War, the demand for waterproofing and protecting mosquitoes from tents was increased, to cover and prevent the deterioration of some parts of aircraft and in the manufacture of explosives, and reached a price of up to 1.2 USD. kg and Mexico exported up to 24, 000 tons year.

In those years of war, the candelilleros organized themselves to achieve a better commercialization, but at the end of it, the development of the petrochemical industry significantly affected the market for candelilla, since in many of the products made with its wax it was replaced with petroleum byproducts, for example: the components of some electronic devices, bases for glues, coatings and cosmetics. Subsequently, the use of natural raw materials was increased instead of petroleum products, due to its high cost.

Obtaining the plant:
Currently the methods for obtaining the wax are still very rudimentary and archaic which are inefficient, these methods remain unchanged from the beginning of the activity, represent a low production of wax and a very high cost for its production. The candelilleros carry donkeys or trucks to the areas where the plant is in abundance, later the plant is manually rooted, sometimes using a piece of sharp wood which allows them to extract the root plant in a simpler way.

The plants before their transportation go through a process where the collector removes all their impurities such as soil or stones and then placed in packs of around 20 to 30 kilos and are transported to a collection center where they will be carried out. the extraction process of the wax, these collection center are at a distance of approximately 150 kilometers from the collection point.

Traditional wax extraction:
It begins with the harvesting of the candelilla plant which is uprooted without respecting the provisions to later place the plant in iron cauldrons called “pailas”, with a sulfuric acid solution at a approximate concentration of 0.3% (v / v); The sulfuric acid used is a waste of the fertilizer industry, according to testimonies of the candelilleros. A “third” is the unit of measure equivalent to a “stroke”, that is, what is reached between the two open arms; in kilograms corresponds between 24 and 32 kg of plant, the variation responds to the moisture content of the plant. Each paila has a capacity of 500 L, there are introduced eight “thirds” (192 to 256 kg) of candelilla by extraction or “pailada”. The load immersed in the water-acid solution is heated to direct fire to the boiling point of the solution, which allows the wax to melt and detach from the plant.

The sulfuric acid prevents the wax from adhering to the impurities and forms an emulsion, which could be generated given the conditions of turbulence during the boiling process. Using this technique, molten candelilla wax floats on the surface of the water as foam, then is removed from the “paila” with utensils that have holes, called “skimmers”, with which it is passed to steel tanks, buckets with holes conical or clay molds that are placed at ground level. In any of the containers, the hot foam (wax) is separated by decanting, from a brown liquor that precipitates to the bottom, and then recycled in the extraction “paila”.

In the upper part of the “paila”, a layer of fine yellow cream is formed, which is the wax of candelilla, which is known as “cerote”, is removed with the help of “espumaderas” “And it is left to cool until it solidifies, at room temperature, then it is broken into pieces with hammer blows and the pieces are refunded in a cylindrical iron container (cutter) with the same acidic solution with which the extraction was carried out in the” paila “, in order to eliminate the impurities of earth and organic matter, which are finally separated by sedimentation. The decanted wax, known as “raw candelilla wax”, is allowed to cool and solidify. To refine the wax, CENAMEX (2007) indicates that it is necessary to break it, melt it and filter it through activated carbon and some other filtering media. For 2005, the price of refined candelilla wax oscillated, in Mexico, between 36 and 38 pesos per kilogram and in Italy at 52 pesos per 100 g. For March of 2009, the candelilleros of Cuatrociénegas sold the wax of raw candelilla to the intermediaries in 48 pesos kg-1 but once refined its value increases; in such a way that companies like Multiceras S.A. of C.V. commercialized the refined wax at 56 pesos kg.

Composition and production
With a melting point of 68.5–72.5 °C, candelilla wax consists of mainly hydrocarbons (about 50%, chains with 29–33 carbons), esters of higher molecular weight (20–29%), free acids (7–9%), and resins (12–14%, mainly triterpenoid esters). The high hydrocarbon content distinguishes this wax from carnauba wax. It is insoluble in water, but soluble in many organic solvents such as acetone, chloroform, benzene, and Turpentine.

The wax is obtained by boiling the leaves and stems with dilute sulfuric acid, and the resulting “cerote” is skimmed from the surface and further processed. In this way, about 900 tons are produced annually.

The wax of candelilla is characterized by its high content of hydrocarbons that constitutes 50%, the wax has a sticky consistency thanks to its content in resins that constitutes 40% of its weight.

It is mostly used mixed with other waxes to harden them without raising their melting point. As a food additive, candelilla wax has the E number E 902 and is used as a glazing agent. It also finds use in cosmetic industry and pharmaceutical industry, as a component of lip balms and lotion bars It can also be used in water / oil emulsions. One of its major uses is as a binder for chewing gums.

Candelilla wax can be used as a substitute for carnauba wax and beeswax. It is also used for making varnish.

Wax is one of the most used natural products in the industry, from cosmetics to electronics for its unique characteristics such as: transparent yellow color, its hardness, its brightness and its easy digestion without being toxic; since it is a substance generally recognized as safe (GRAS), by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). In addition, its physicochemical characteristics, such as its melting point, impermeability, its low shrinkage index and dielectric properties allow it to function efficiently in the precision molding process or lost wax in the electrical industry (Canales et al., 2006).

The processing and commercialization of candelilla wax, until 1992, was in charge of the National Rural Credit Bank, through a trust; However, that year, the Executive Branch disappeared and transferred its functions to a company called Ceras Naturales Mexicanas, S.A. of C.V. (CENAMEX), a mercantile company formed with a hundred percent Mexican capital and whose shareholders were the six thousand candelilleros of the country, represented by 300 groups. For two years, CENAMEX was the only company that processed and sold wax in the world, but in 1994, with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the opening of the market and the creation of new national and international companies. They forced it to be more competitive, in relation to the quality of the product, while increasing the price.

At the beginning of the 21st century, in 2006, Mexico produced 349 tons of natural waxes with a value greater than $ 7,677,582. For 2007, the main consumers were: Spain, Italy, Germany and China with 85.38% of the total wax of candelilla; the following year it was exported to Japan, the United States and Germany. Currently around this resource revolves the activity of more than 3,500 small producers.

In the cosmetics industry, given its protective properties, candelilla wax is indispensable for a wide range of formulations used in the production of lipsticks, body creams and hair preparations. For being a good plasticizer and for its capacity to retain essential oils, it favors the preservation of flavors, it is used in the manufacture of chewing gum. There are other applications that include coatings for cardboard and paper, industry of crayons, paints, wax candles, lubricants, adhesives, anticorrosives, drugs, lubricants, plastics, textiles, inks, anticorrosive, waterproofing and fireworks, etc .

The journal Nature published in 1941 an article by John Whitaker, in which he mentioned that the wax of candelilla was perhaps the material with the highest number of commercial applications of all the substances extracted from wild plants that grow in the American continent. Today it is used in more than 20 industries around the world.

Import regulation
Candelilla wax is currently subject to an EU import regulation. Every import into the EU as well as export outside the EU must be certified with a CITES certificate (CITES = Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The CITES declaration is issued by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Bonn.