Because it is so versatile, paraffin is used in a variety of settings by a range of healthcare, wellness, and beauty professionals. Paraffin therapy is used by physical, occupational, massage, and athletic therapists; hand therapists; reflexologists; rehabilitation, pain management, and arthritis specialists; physicians and nurses; chiropractors and podiatrists; and a host of other medical professionals for the heat treatment of arthritis pain and stiffness, inflammation, strains, muscle spasms, and more.
Beauty professionals use paraffin in salons, spas, and resorts for manicures, pedicures, facials, and body treatments. Paraffin is also used in industrial settings where workers endure constant repetitive motion or intense cold, such as meat-packing. Some occupations are taxing on hands, requiring frequent hand-washing and heavy use that severely dries skin or leaves muscles stiff and tired. Because paraffin reduces joint pain, relieves stiffness, stimulates circulation, and moisturizes skin, warm paraffin is an ideal self-care remedy for many of these conditions.
In addition to providing paraffin treatments in therapy settings, medical professionals can teach their clients and patients to use warm paraffin at home in between therapy sessions. Of course, many consumers use paraffin as simply a “feel-good” experience and for skin conditioning.
Paraffin use is contraindicated for the following conditions:
- Should not be used in the presence of open cuts or wounds.
- Inflammatory skin conditions.
- Neoplasm (growths).
- Peripheral vascular disease where circulation is impaired.
- Acute inflammation, or when sensation of the extremity is reduced or absent (such as in some cases of diabetes).
- If there is any question about peripheral vascular disease or decreased sensation of the extremities, consult a physician or physical therapist before using. Should not be used on areas subject to hemorrhaging or in cases involving abnormal sensitivity to heat. Discontinue use if dermatitis due to paraffin sensitivity occurs. Discontinue use if wax feels too hot or cool, which could indicate health problems with the user.
The physiological benefits of heat are numerous. When heat is applied, the blood vessels expand, bringing more circulation to the affected area, increasing healing nutrients and oxygen at the cellular level and removing waste products that cause inflammation and stiffness. A temporary increase in the pain threshold, a decrease in muscle spasms, and an increase in flexibility occur, significantly benefiting the outcome of therapeutic range of motion (ROM) exercises. Topical heat also results in an increase in skin pliability. Warm paraffin may facilitate all of these heat-related benefits and is often prescribed in the post-inflammatory phase of injury and for chronic pain conditions such as arthritis.
Another benefit of warm paraffin is its effect on skin. While other forms of heat therapy can dry skin out, paraffin leaves skin hydrated, soft, and pliable. Paraffin rejuvenates skin in two ways: through increased circulation and topical moisturization. As heat enhances blood flow to the small capillaries in skin, sweat from eccrine glands (which open at skin’s surface) and sebum from sebaceous glands (which open into hair follicles at skin’s surface) is increased, flushing dirt and grime from pores to give skin a healthy-looking glow. In addition, increased blood flow brings beneficial nutrients to the skin.
Paraffin bath treatments use Paraffin Wax, which is a mineral wax derived from petroleum. Paraffin is a completely safe, dermatologically harmless substance that won’t clog pores. While many so-called “natural” oils are in fact common allergens and may irritate skin, the oil used in paraffin is one of the safest moisturizing agents used in the cosmetic industry. Due to the large size of its molecules, paraffin stays on skin’s surface and provides a barrier between the skin and the air, sealing in the hydrating cream and the circulation- increasing heat and infusing skin with its own natural moisture.
Many different grades of paraffin are available on the market for various applications. Paraffin that is used on skin should be labeled “food-grade” as regulated by the FDA, meaning it is of high enough quality to be used in food processing. Paraffin should also be extra filtered for purity, and have a scientifically calculated melt-point in order to be most effective.
Paraffin is easiest to apply to the extremities: hands, fingers, wrists; elbows; and feet and ankles. Using a brush or fabric strips, warm paraffin can also be applied to the back, face, shoulder, knee — any body part. First cleanse the area to be treated, using a sanitizing spray if the unit is not for personal use. Apply a small amount of hydrating cream to increase the skin-softening benefit. Then (using the hand as an example), slowly dip the hand and wrist in and out of the paraffin bath several times, building up a custom fitted “glove” of paraffin. The number of times one dips depends on the reason for use: For skin conditioning, dip three to four times; for pain relief, dip more often. (The more layers of paraffin, the longer the heat lasts.)
Plastic liners and insulated covers may be used to prolong the heat, maximizing the heat benefit. When the paraffin has cooled, simply slide the paraffin off and discard. Paraffin wax will not remove hair, but an extra layer or two of paraffin is recommended for those with more hair on the treatment area. Never entirely cover the whole body in warm paraffin.
When first used, paraffin was often heated on the stove. But because it is flammable and because the paraffin should be kept at a medically-accepted, steady temperature of about 130º F., paraffin should be heated in a warmer specifically intended for paraffin. Several professional-grade paraffin units are available, and the user should compare construction, materials, features, and warranties before making a final decision.