≡ Menu

How do paraffin manicures work?

Renee asks…How do paraffin manicures work?

The Beauty Brains respond:

A paraffin manicure is a treatment that involves plunging your hands (or feet) into hot, molten wax. The wax is then covered with plastic and allowed to “soak into” your skin. When the hardened wax shell is removed, you skin is left feeling smooth and moisturized. The process supposedly improves the quality of your manicure and some people even allege that it opens pores to release toxins and even soothes arthritis.

Waxing eloquent

Believe it or not, the magic ingredient in a paraffin manicure is not really paraffin at all, it’s actually….mineral oil! Yep, that’s right the same petroleum byproduct that’s vilified by so many people because they believe it is unsafe. You see paraffin wax and mineral oil are both extracted from crude oil and then purified to remove any impurities, particularly cyclic compounds, that can be hazardous. So, both mineral oil and paraffin wax consist of almost pure alkanes which are straight chain hydrocarbons that are nearly inert and about as safe as they can be. The name paraffin comes from the Latin “parum (barely) and affinis (affinity) meaning it lacks affinity or lacks reactivity.

Many commercial paraffin manicure products are are actually mixed with mineral oil. For example, here’s the ingredient list for a Thermal Spa product: paraffin, mineral oil, Aloe barbadensis leaf extract, lanolin, soybean oil, fragrance, citronellol, coumarin, eugenol, limonene and linalool. Even “pure” paraffin wax contains about 0.5% oil.

Mineral oil (a.k.a. baby oil) is an extremely effective moisturizer. The wax shell helps hold the oil place to make sure that it is absorbed into your skin. When I say “absorbed” I’m talking about only into the stratum corneum which is the upper layer of skin which is dead. Mineral oil does not penetrate into the deeper layers or into the bloodstream. The mineral oil is very hydrophobic (repels water) so it helps keep moisture locked deep in your skin. While the wax-oil mixture does soften skin it won’t really provide any benefit for your nail polish. That’s because paraffin is much softer than the resins used to polish your nails.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

A paraffin manicure is certainly a pampering indulgence but don’t expect to do much for your nails or cure your arthritis. And if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to melt a pot of wax, try rubbing a little baby oil on your hands and feet to get a similar softening effect.






Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eileen September 6, 2014, 12:24 pm

    I’ve got a bone to pick. I’m not sure why you denigrate hot paraffin as a therapy for arthritis–not once, but twice–in a post about manicures that use paraffin. Perhaps it was unintentional?

    In your first paragraph you say, “. . . some people even allege that it opens pores to release toxins and even soothes arthritis.” Well, we all know pores don’t open and close like doors, but as for alleging that it soothes arthritis, that is a valid claim. It has long been known in the medical community and by those of us with osteoarthritis that hot paraffin therapy can be extremely beneficial because it provides deep, moist heat to stiff and painful joints. Applying comfortably hot paraffin to the affected joints, wrapping them in plastic wrap followed by towels, and then allowing the heat to penetrate for about 20 minutes is especially beneficial in reducing joint pain and stiffness which allows for easier, more comfortable movement.

    In your last paragraph you bring up arthritis again when you say, ” . . .don’t expect it to . . .cure your arthritis.” I don’t think for one moment that anyone with arthritis believes hot paraffin is going to “cure” this debilitating and degenerative condition. It is; however, widely accepted and often recommended as a therapy to mitigate pain and stiffness in the affected joints. It is considered a form of pain management; not a cure. If dipping a joint into hot paraffin was going to “cure” the problem, think of all the rheumatologists who would be out of work!

    As I initially said, perhaps the negative swipes at paraffin/arthritis were unintentional. It probably would have been better to not bring up the topic of arthritis unless you were going to explain how paraffin is used in therapy.

    • Randy Schueller September 6, 2014, 2:45 pm

      Eileen and Rosarita: You are both correct about the heat from paraffin treatments helping to soothe the symptoms or arthritis. I apologize for my “swipes.” When I was searching for information on this topic I read in a couple of places that paraffin is considered a “cure” and I guess that’s what I was reacting to. Still, I didn’t make that clear in the article and I really appreciate that you pointed out the error. Thanks!

  • rosarita September 6, 2014, 12:25 pm

    I have severe arthritis in my hands and while hot paraffin doesn’t cure arthritis, the warmth is long lasting and very soothing. I have packs to heat up in the microwave to put on my hands but they don’t cover all the joints. I’ve found the paraffin to be more effective for pain relief and soft skin is a nice side benefit.

  • Stace September 30, 2016, 1:42 pm

    Agreed–that paraffin baths are good for arthritis pain! My insurance company covered it in an OT session, a strong indicator it is accepted in the medical community.☺ A 5 quart oval crock pot (oval so you can dip feet) and 4-6 pounds of Gulf brand wax (at hardware stores in the canning aisle) is an affordable way to begin at home. You can purchase more expensive wax and wax melters at beauty supply stores.

  • Henrietta Allen February 25, 2019, 2:12 pm

    Why does my cheap nail polish smell like parrafin

    • Perry Romanowski February 25, 2019, 8:46 pm

      It’s probably because some of the solvent has evaporated.