Paraffin is a hydrocarbon, a derivative of oil that at room temperature can be a gas, a liquid or a solid. The solid form, also called paraffin wax, is used in therapeutic treatments. It is a white, odourless and insipid wax that melts at a temperature of between 47 and 64 degrees, and that is highly heat retaining.
Part of the body —normally the hands, feet or the elbows— is submerged in a recipient containing hot, melted paraffin wax. This is repeated several times -up to fifteen if necessary- until a thick layer of wax is left on the part of the body that is being treated. The more times this is done, the longer the heat will be maintained. After a quarter of an hour the paraffin wax is removed.
The sustained heat stimulates the circulation and alleviates pain and inflammation. This treatment is used on people suffering from arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, muscular contractions and chronic inflammation of the joints. At the same time, it hydrates and softens the skin, an effect that can be boosted by rubbing the hand, foot or elbow with a moisturising cream before submerging it in the melted wax. This wax can contain additives, such as vitamin C or E, extract of peach, cocoa or coconut. Paraffin wax treatment is not recommended for people with diabetes, varicose veins, cuts or open wounds. Nor should it be abused as it blocks the skin’s pores, which need to breathe. The paraffin is not water soluble. If it is mixed with medicinal muds, it becomes paraffin mud. Liquid paraffin can also be consumed under medical control. In this case, it has laxative effects.