What is pharmaceutical grade beeswax?

Is it a good idea to wear gloves when handing beeswax in the studio? Or is that overkill? When I wrote about this in 2012 I was concerned about chronic exposure to pesticide residues and thought the answer might be yes even for pharmaceutical grade beeswax. More info needed, so I did some digging. Here is what I found.

How does the U.S. Pharmacopeia define pharmaceutical grade beeswax?

The U.S. Pharmacopeia defines beeswax/Yellow Wax as the purified wax from the honeycomb of the bee that conforms to the Saponification Cloud Test. White Wax is the product of bleaching and purifying Yellow Wax and also must conform to the Saponification Cloud Test. Both definitions “have been around since the mid 1930’s and it appears they have not changed much,” according to Robert H. Lafaver, M.S., Technical Services Manager at the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

What does “purified” mean?

To understand whether or not agricultural pesticides can be present in pharmaceutical grade wax you need to understand what purified means. When I asked Lafaver how the Pharmacopeia defines purified he explained that purification processes for pharmaceuticals fall under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) authority and that some of these processes may be “patented and/or priority information.” He also suggested that I would “need to talk to manufacturers of wax to see how they purify it.” When I reached out to the FDA’s Office of Media Affairs for more info I received an acknowledgment of my question but no meaningful information. “I have not found out anything and will keep researching this,” said my contact there.

Wax cleaning methods range from simple straining to more complex filtering processes. And while the U.S. Pharmacopeia doesn’t determine how wax should be purified for pharmaceutical use, Lafaver said, “it depends on the manufacturer but basically, it is heated, filtered and mixed with alcohol or other chemicals to make it more pliable at room temperature and to remove any impurities (honey comb pieces, bee carcasses, larvae, etc.)

Does the Saponifaction Cloud Test detect pesticide residues?

The Saponification Cloud Test is one of five Specific Tests for beeswax listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia. These tests are performed to ensure that pharmaceutical grade wax hasn’t been adulterated with other substances like microcrystalline or paraffin. These tests do not detect pesticide residues.

How do you know if the pharmaceutical beeswax you bought online is indeed pharmaceutical grade?

I’ve heard from a few artists who have reported receiving bad batches of beeswax (petroleum-smelling, weird texture) labeled “pharmaceutical grade” from various retailers. When I asked Lafaver what he thought might be going on he explained that the testing of pharmaceutical grade beeswax happens at the level of the pharmaceutical manufacturer and not the retailer. “Pharmaceutical companies are required to perform many, if not all, of the tests in the USP-NF.” However, it may be possible to purchase adulterated wax labeled as pharmaceutical from unknowing or perhaps dishonest retailers who are not required to perform those tests themselves. He went on to say that “if this is the case, then the FDA may not be aware . . . since no pharmaceutical product actually contains the material. Part of the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) required by the agency for pharmaceutical companies are to know the source of the material they are purchasing. Buying from retailers could cause issues. Unfortunately, the potential for counterfeiting/adulteration is out there.”


• “All foundation beeswax pressed into sheets and used as templates for comb construction sampled from North America is uniformly contaminated,” according to Pesticides and Honey bee toxicity, a scientific paper published in 2010.

• Wax producers use a range of methods to filter impurities from white and yellow pharmaceutical grade wax. These methods aren’t clearly explained by the FDA and may not (probably don’t) filter pesticide residues which can bond with wax at the molecular level.

• Pharmaceutical grade beeswax isn’t tested for pesticide residues.

• Wax sold as pharmaceutical isn’t tested for adulteration at the retail level (it gets tested at the level of the pharmaceutical producer) so it’s possible to purchase adulterated “pharmaceutical grade beeswax” from less watchful retail art and craft suppliers.

• I recommend purchasing beeswax only from reputable sellers and if you do ever receive a suspect batch, send it back.

• The main risk to artists who handle beeswax on a daily basis is chronic exposure to the stuff artists add to the wax (pigments and such) and not agricultural pesticides which can be present in small amounts. But if you are handling beeswax daily over periods of months or years you need to know that agricultural compounds, including organophosphates, are part of the mix.

• When I asked Lafaver his advice for artists who work with beeswax daily over periods of months or years, he said, “Personally speaking, I would recommend gloves.”

Pharmaceutical grade beeswax as defined by the United States Pharmacopeia and The National Formulary (USP-NF).  I scanned & trimmed pages 2277 and 2278 so the info about white and yellow beeswax fit on a single page.

Pharmaceutical grade beeswax as defined by the United States Pharmacopeia and The National Formulary (USP-NF). I scanned & trimmed pages 2277 and 2278 so the info about white and yellow beeswax fit on a single page.

Beeswax and breasts: do you know what’s in yours?
Study reveals: organophosphate pesticides cause lasting damage to brain and nervous system

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Happy New Year, 2015

wax emulsion

“Maiden,” wax emulsion on paper, 30″ x 22″

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Something new.

"Gingae," graphite on paper, 30" x 22"

“Gingae,” graphite on paper, 30″ x 22″

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Comb Object, Flying Geese

The Environmental Science and Policy Program at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia has invited me to speak on the subject of science communication from my point of view as an artist in March 2015. While science communication is never my main objective as an artist, I am thrilled whenever I can make something that reveals enough scientific information about the natural world to spark questions about it.

“Comb Object, Flying Geese,”” 2011, bee comb, wood, twine and beeswax, 72”” x 11″” x 2″

“Comb Object, Flying Geese,” which took over five years to complete, debuted at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in 2011. I made it because I am curious about wildness and domesticity and wanted to create an art object employing bees that held both those ideas.

It also shows how bee comb is constructed, the durability and efficiency of the hexagon, bee space, gravity (hanging chains), and how time changes materials.


Aganetha Dyck

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Entrepreneurship workshop for artists

It’s the artist’s dilemma: how do you get to keep making work you know is meaningful but not necessarily profitable in a world that seems to measure everything – time, labor, relationships – with money? Are there methods that people in business know to use to grow their ideas that artists can also use? Is there a new project or creative product you’d like to produce that feels bigger than you as an individual but you need help figuring out how to do it?

As a professional artist or creative worker you probably already have some business skills like maintaining a web presence and building a contacts list. And you’re probably comfortable with a degree of financial risk. But can you think entrepreneurially? Are you ready to think think big about the meaningful work you’re already doing?

If these questions interest you then check out Intro to Entrepreneurship a workshop Im producing in collaboration with Remy Arteaga, director of CU’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, and ARTology in Boulder, Colorado this fall.

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Going Postal, International Encaustic Conference 2014

Here’s my contribution to Going Postal, a postcard show produced by the International Encaustic Conference 2014 in Provincetown, Massachusetts June 6th through 8th, 2014. All proceeds benefit the Conference’s scholarship fund.

Lattice patterned postcard in green, encaustic on panel, 6" x 4"

Lattice patterned postcard in green, encaustic on panel, 6″ x 4″

These babies riff on the lattice patterned piece, “Doin’ It Right,” I made earlier this year.

Lattice patterned postcard for the international encaustic conference 2014 postcard show

Lattice patterned postcard in yellow, encaustic on panel, 6″ x 4″

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Doin’ It Right

"Doin' It Right," encaustic on panel, 22" x 22"

“Doin’ It Right” by Laura Tyler, encaustic on panel, 22″ x 22″

Here, you can listen to the song while you look at the painting:

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Sometimes you need to go back to move forward

Here’s another from the series of transitional paintings I started late last year inspired by pop music and laurel wreaths. This one is called “Some Nights.” It’s a loose piece in encaustic that harkens back to an earlier, more process-oriented way of painting for me. Sometimes you need to go back to move forward.

"Some Nights" by Laura Tyler, encaustic on panel, 22" x 22"

“Some Nights” by Laura Tyler, encaustic on panel, 22″ x 22″

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Place does shape

The second in a series of ARTology panel conversations I’m co-producing is coming up next week. The goal of the event is to get a conversation about art and tech rolling in Boulder, Colorado, a small city with just a fledgling art scene and “more tech startups per capita than any U.S. metropolitan area.”

If you’ve ever felt inspired by a city where you’ve also felt like an outsider, join us! This conversation is for you.

ARTology 2: Identity
Thursday, February 20th, 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
1750 13th Street, Boulder, CO 80302


“Place does shape people at a fundamental level.” – Victoria Plaut

Turns Out Where You Live Really Does Shape Who You Are
Cultural Identity
Boulder, Colorado, Most Popular City for Tech Startups, Study Says

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ARTology, thank you

Big thanks to all who turned out for ARTology’s inaugural event, a panel discussion about collecting and living with art, last month. Yes! We made an audio recording for the purpose of making a transcript. Stay tuned for highlights and notes. I’ll post them here when I have time.


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