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.