You see it in candles, crayons and lipstick. As a child, you probably even used it to decorate Easter eggs. It's wax. Wax plays a starring role in beauty treatments as well -- it's a popular way to remove unwanted body hair from legs, arms, chests, eyebrows and bikini lines. But you may not know that wax has another cosmetic use: the paraffin wax bath.
Paraffin wax is a mineral wax derived from petroleum [source: Cosmetics Info]. Unlike the wax used for depilatory procedures, which is viscous and sticky to bond to hair and skin, paraffin wax is a soft wax with a low melting point, which means that it melts at a temperature cool enough to safely immerse your skin. Paraffin wax is an emollient approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment to soften and smooth skin [source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration].
Paraffin wax has a long history of treating a variety of physical conditions. In fact, it was used in massage therapy as far back as the Roman Empire, and, in more recent years, it's become a popular physical therapy treatment for people with sports-related injuries [source: Sports and Physical Injuries Clinic].
Today, paraffin wax treatments are offered at many spas and salons, and these treatments are good for more than just softening and smoothing the skin. Read on to learn more about paraffin wax treatments and how they work.
Benefits of Paraffin Wax
You may already be familiar with paraffin wax treatments at spas and nail salons -- it's a luxurious addition to a manicure or pedicure. But you may be surprised at what else paraffin wax is used to treat.
Paraffin wax is a common option in heat therapy treatments for people with arthritis or other rheumatic diseases -- the heat helps increase blood flow and relax the muscles, which can help relieve caused by arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia [sources: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, WebMD]. Paraffin wax can even soften hardened skin caused by scleroderma, a disease in which collagen accumulates on the body -- it increases the skin's elasticity, allowing for increased movement and mobility, especially on the skin covering the hands [source: Sandqvist et al.].
But the benefits of paraffin wax don't stop there. Because paraffin wax treatments are a form of heat therapy, they're often used for muscle, tendon and ligament ailments. As with conditions like arthritis, they increase blood flow, improve joint stiffness and reduce pain. They're also used to treat bursitis, tendonitis, sprains and pulled muscles [source: Merck].
Now that you know about some of the benefits of paraffin wax, read on to learn how treatments are administered.
Paraffin Wax Baths
The phrase "paraffin wax bath" may evoke images of full immersion in a giant, waxy tub, but paraffin wax baths actually occur on a much smaller scale.
Paraffin wax baths are typically small tubs that are just large enough to submerge your hands or feet. The tubs are heat-producing appliances, so when paraffin wax is added to the tub, the wax melts into a warm liquid in which hands, feet or elbows can be immersed. Because paraffin wax has a low melting point of 125 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit -- which is slightly cooler than your average latte -- it's generally safe for extended skin immersion [source: Southwest Wax].
There are also many paraffin wax baths available for home use. These at-home spa treatments typically come with wax, fragrances, and protective gloves and booties. However, if you're making your own paraffin wax bath at home, be sure to follow the instructions carefully to avoid injury.
Keep reading to learn more about paraffin wax treatments.
Paraffin Wax for Hands and Feet
When paraffin wax baths are offered as a service at a spa or nail salon, the hands or feet are typically dipped into a tub of warm paraffin wax -- often two or three times -- to create a thick coating that will retain heat for several minutes. As the wax hardens, the paraffin's natural emollient softens skin and the heat opens pores. When the cooled wax is pulled away from the skin, it also removes dead skin cells, leaving skin smoother [source: Barajas].
Paraffin wax treatments are also beneficial to dry, cracked hands and feet. Paraffin is an excellent moisturizer because it forms a light waterproof coating over your skin that helps it retain the oils produced by your body. This "waterproofing" makes paraffin treatments great for soothing and healing dry, cracked skin -- particularly winter-worn hands and feet -- because it offers protection from external elements [source: Clar et al.].
For more information on paraffin wax treatments, check out the links on the following page.
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- Barajas, Erin. "Building Custom Pedicures." Nails Magazine. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.nailsmag.com/Channel/FEET/Article/Story/2009/01/Building-Custom-Pedicures.aspx
- Clar, E.J.; Her, C.P.; Sturelle, C.G. "Skin Impedance and Moisturization." Society of Cosmetic Chemists of Great Britain. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://journal.scconline.org/pdf/cc1975/cc026n07/p00337-p00353.pdf
- Cosmetics Info. "Paraffin." (Accessed 9/16/09)http://cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient_details.php?ingredient_id=447
- Harris, R., Millard, J.B. "Paraffin-Wax Baths in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Vol. 14, no. 3, 1955. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1006816
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- Myron, Elizabeth. "The Evolution of Paraffin Treatments." Skin Inc. Magazine. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.skininc.com/treatments/body/19398959.html?page=1
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- Sandqvist G., Akesson A., Eklund M. "Evaluation of Paraffin Bath Treatment in Patients with Systemic Sclerosis." Disability and Rehabilitation. Vol. 26, no. 16. 2004. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15371046
- Southwest Wax. "Paraffin Waxes." (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.southwestwax.com/paraffin.html
- Sports and Physical Injuries Clinic. "The History of Paraffin Wax Therapy and the Benefits It Can Bring." (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.injuries-clinic-oundle.co.uk/page26.htm
- Underwriters Laboratories. "Paraffin Bath Search Results." (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/search/index.jsp?q=paraffin+bath&site=default_collection&x=0&y=0
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21." (Accessed 9/15/09)http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=349.14&SearchTerm=paraffin
- Wallace, James Smythe. "Chemical Analysis of Firearms, Ammunition and Gunshot Residue." Boca Raton, FL: Taylor and Francis Group, 2008. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://books.google.com/books?id=dHbHS5GhCN4C&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=nitrate+test,+paraffin+wax&source=bl&ots=x0Nsew-lP-&sig=Vxz1NItBzl8NfZiGjStEAvvgfks&hl=en&ei=CrSxSr-mLJTWNrz6vPIN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5#v=onepage&q=nitrate%20test%2C%20paraffi&f=false
- WebMD. "Osteoarthritis Treatments: Know Your Options." (Accessed 10/15/09)http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/osteoarthritis-treatment-options