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Waxing lyrical on candelilla

Softening candelilla wax has a rich, buttery texture that protects and hydrates the skin and hair. A popular, vegan alternative to beeswax, you'll find it used as an emulsifier in creams and lotions where it helps to bind together ingredients and adds texture.

In a remote region of Mexico, a few hours' drive outside of Monterrey, candelilleros are busy harvesting a shrub. Candelilla (Euphorbia cerficera), a plant that thrives in the semi-arid conditions of the Chihuahuan Desert, produces a waxy substance that can be used as an excellent substitute for beeswax in cosmetics and hair care products.

With a history of candelilla being overharvested, the candelilleros need a permit to be able to collect the protected plant, ensuring its sustainability. Before this happens, each specific area of land is surveyed and monitored in order to ensure that the process is not detrimental to the local ecosystem and is done sustainably. The production of the wax is now around a tenth of what it was in its peak in the 1940s. Not only are there regulations in place to prevent overharvest, but there are also conservation and reforestation measures to replant and re-cultivate candelilla.

Harvesting candelilla has been taking place for around 100 years and the process has not changed much in this time. Providing education to candelilleros and the younger generation to care for their land and practice safe harvesting techniques is crucial, not only for the candelilla species and the rich local habitat, but also for the people and communities who depend on this natural resource.

One of the biggest issues that surround these rural communities is people abandoning agricultural activities. This is being addressed through an organisation called the Candelilla Institute, which works to unite academics, businesses, the government and also candelilla-producing communities. The aim is to not only improve the social, economic and environmental conditions of the region, but also to develop new ways of using the candelilla for other purposes and to improve systems currently in place.

When harvesting is underway, the candelilleros never take more than 60% of a plant so it has enough strength to regrow. Previously, candelilla plants were pulled from the ground by their roots rather than cut, which meant the plant could not grow back.

The crude wax (called cerote) is extracted by the candelilleros once the harvested candelilla is taken to a processing area in the local village. It is then transported to the manufacturing plant near Monterrey where it is filtered and processed further to produce the wax that Lush purchase. Around 220kgs of candelilla plant produces approximately 7kgs of crude wax, which demonstrates just how important sustainable techniques and reforestation practices are to the species.

Going beyond these practices, Lush’s supplier has put sustainable principles at every level of the company and has committed to international standards, such as the 2030 United Nations’ Agenda for Sustainable Development. This means that they constantly work to improve their environmental impact, but also the well-being of their employees, from the workers on their manufacturing sites to the local communities harvesting candelilla.

The supplier must align and adhere to Lush’s ethical buying policy. The company provides the candelillero communities with all the necessary equipment to extract the wax safely and have been working on finding an alternative to sulphuric acid as an extractor. Indeed, this acid has been used traditionally to extract the crude wax from the plant but as it is a very dangerous material to manipulate, the company has been researching alternatives and are introducing a new method using citric acid to its farmers. 

In addition, they’ve been supporting farmers in many different ways. The company has a team dedicated to helping obtain harvesting permits which also provides legal resources for any paperwork. They help the candelilleros access social security benefits such as medical services, financial protection in the case of accidents and injuries, and pensions. Finally, they guarantee purchase regardless of the ups and downs of the market, providing a minimum fixed income to every farmer.

The wax therefore provides a valuable, regular income and formal job source to the people of the remote and rural regions of the Chihuahuan Desert. Candelilla is not the only valuable resource to the people of these areas. When harvesting rates are reduced during the rainy season, other desert plants such as lechuquilla and oregano provide alternative sources of income.

There are many Lush products that feature candelilla wax, from Slap Sticks solid foundation to solid perfumes. This versatile ingredient provides a protective layer on the skin that helps to retain moisture. To see all the products with candelilla in, head here.

Comments (10)
10 Comments

sihill44_7053855

about 1 week ago

Thanks for your answers so far on this, but again, can you be specific about the entire supply chain making sure that the farmers harvesting and the workers extracting the wax are paid a fair wage and have the personal protective equipment to keep them safe - it would be great to see you show us the difference with your supplier and the one we all saw in the documentary.

Lush Customer Care

about 1 week ago

Staff

The supplier we buy Candelilla Wax from supports communities harvesting the candelilla by
Helping them obtain harvesting permits that allow them to collect candelilla plants without harming the sustainability of the species.
Visiting the more isolated communities to help provide the farmers with a guaranteed purchase of their candelilla to ensure regular income
investing in courses and training to foster employee development. They provide them with the tools to acquire knowledge, innovate, and increase their productivity.
helping Candelilleros access government social security benefits, such as medical services, financial protection in the case of accidents and injuries, and pensions
providing Candelilleros with the equipment they need to extract the candelilla wax. Supply them with all the necessary items used during the wax extracting processes, such as the extracting agent and packaging materials

You can also find out Buying policy online: https://uk.lush.com/article/ethical-buying-policy

I hope this information has been useful and eased some of your concerns. If you do have any further questions please let me know. - Arran

rachelj_campbell_7052656

about 2 weeks ago

I’d like to second @kate.hadley_7051253 ‘s question also about the recent documentary on BBC Three. Can you be more specific about where your wax comes from and what processes are used to produce it? Also do you know how much workers and farmers are paid for having to produce and harvest the plant itself? Likewise to Kate, I’m trying to be more conscious about the products I use.

Lush Customer Care

about 2 weeks ago

Staff

Hi There,
Thank you so much for your question. The supplier we buy from the biggest suppliers of Candelilla wax. We also help to provide them with all the necessary items used during the wax extracting processes, such as the extracting agent, in our case citric acid, and packaging materials. As a company, we also visit the people we buy from to ensure the fair treatment of all staff and we are also third-party audited by Ethical consumers to ensure we are doing this. ~ Tasha

about 2 weeks ago

I was wondering the same as Kate.Hadley. Do lush pay a fair price for the candelilla?

Lush Customer Care

about 2 weeks ago

Staff

Hi There,
Thank you so much for your question. The supplier we buy from is the biggest supplier of Candelilla wax. We also help to provide them with all the necessary items used during the wax extracting processes, such as the extracting agent, in our case citric acid, and packaging materials. As a company, we also visit the people we buy from to ensure the fair treatment of all staff and we are also third-party audited by Ethical consumers to ensure we are doing this.

jessicavf87_7052097

about 2 weeks ago

Yes- Like Kate Hadley has commented, I have specifically opened this article for information on the same issue. I too am conscientiously looking to change my beauty (and household) to be more ethical and eco-friendly. I hope the candelilla farms used by Lush are a world above those seen in the documentary.

Lush Customer Care

about 2 weeks ago

Staff

Hi There,
Thank you so much for your question. The supplier we buy from is the biggest supplier of Candelilla wax. We also help to provide them with all the necessary items used during the wax extracting processes, such as the extracting agent, in our case citric acid, and packaging materials. As a company, we also visit the people we buy from to ensure the fair treatment of all staff and we are also third-party audited by Ethical consumers to ensure we are doing this.

kate.hadley_7051253

about 2 weeks ago

Can Lush comment on the recent BBC documentary that suggests candelilla wax is harvested in dangerous conditions, putting those who harvest it at great risk. The same documenary suggests they are very poorly paid. How does Lush ensure the candelilla wax used in it's products is ethical. I'm keen to know as watching the documentary I realised I need to up my game when it comes to using ethical cosmetics and a quick search showed that many companies claiming to be ethical use candelilla wax in their products.

Lush Customer Care

about 2 weeks ago

Staff

Hi There,
Thank you so much for reaching out, I have contacted our buying team to get some answers for you. We buy our Candelilla wax from the biggest suppliers of Candelilla wax. We also help to provide them with all the necessary items used during the wax extracting processes, such as the extracting agent, in our case citric acid, and packaging materials. As a company, we also visit the people we buy from to ensure the fair treatment of all staff and we are also third-party audited by Ethical consumers to ensure we are doing this. ~ Tasha