Bees create an arsenal of wonderful things that take a holistic approach to our well-being. When we talk about what those hard-working pollinators make, honey seems to be the most familiar to us. But in fact, it doesn’t end there. Apart from honey, royal jelly, propolis, bee venom, bee pollen and beeswax have long been renowned for their medicinal properties. In the modern day, more bee-based beauty products are taking the spotlight. In this post, let’s take a look at the top six bee products holding the secret to clear, youthful-looking skin.
Honey is a sweet, viscous juice collected from flower nectar by honeybees. Then, the composition of honey greatly depends on the plant which the bees are using to make it. The antimicrobial activity of honey is chemically proven by its composition including the presence of hydrogen peroxide, high osmotic pressure, high acidity (low pH) and the concentrations of phenolic acids, flavonoids, and lysozyme.
Microorganisms in Honey (2017) stated that this “spoonful of sugar” prevented the growth of bacteria and fungi on the skin’s surface as a dressing for wounds and burns as well as relieving a variety of skin lesions like pityriasis, dermatitis, psoriasis, tinea or dandruff.
More importantly, compared to ordinary kinds of honey, manuka honey, produced by honeybees that feed on manuka flowers, has strong antimicrobial and wound-healing effects. That is because it contains both hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal. Methylglyoxal is converted from dihydroxyacetone, a unique substance found in manuka flowers.
Honey is enriched with carbohydrates (simple sugars), organic acids, vitamins and minerals, all of which are responsible for its rejuvenating and moisturizing abilities. Given its tremendous nutritional value, it should come as no surprise that honey is an ideal ingredient in lots of skincare products like bath soaps, face cleansers, lip balms, and face moisturizers.
Many laboratory studies have focused on adding honey to beauty products and its topical application for enhancing skin’s texture, tone and elasticity. Also, the study published in 2017 indicated that the hygroscopic properties of honey made it a natural humectant to make skin bind in moisture.
In cosmetics, honey is named “Mel” or “Honey” and its concentration is usually up to 10%, according to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. Typical derivatives of honey included in some personal care are “Mel Extract”, “Hydrogenated Honey” and “Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey” as skin conditioning and antistatic agents.
2. Royal Jelly
Simply put, royal jelly is a yellowish secretion produced by worker bees to nourish their queen bees. Nowadays, it’s harnessed in health tonics, beverages, food supplements, and beauty products. Royal jelly is a powerhouse of proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and phenolic compounds.
Many studies have indicated the wide range of biological activities of bee milk for topical uses. Jelleines and Royalisin are two primary peptides exerting antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties in royal jelly.
A research project published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in 2020 investigated using royal jelly as a potent adjunct for treating atopic dermatitis, ulcers, burns, shingles and other kinds of skin inflammation.
Also, recent research has mentioned that royal jelly can alleviate acne vulgaris by regulating sebum production, despite the lack of peer-reviewed work about this matter. Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City says one of the most phenomenal skincare benefits of royal jelly is to promote collagen production, thanks to its high content of lipids.
10-hydroxy-trans-2-Decenoic acid, a major fatty acid of royal jelly, has been reported in clinical trials to support the generation of transforming growth factor (TGF), stimulating fibroblast proliferation of collagen.
Furthermore, “royal jelly is highly moisturizing, and affects hydration of the stratum corneum by retaining water in it,” King adds. As a result of increased collagen synthesis and moisture retention, it’s inclined to diminish signs of accelerated aging like fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and skin sagging.
Based on the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, royal jelly is most likely to be used in a lyophilized form, which is less viscous and fast-absorbing. Its concentrations are 0.5% and 1%.
Another bee-based ingredient living up to the buzz is propolis, also called bee glue. It’s a resinous concoction that honeybees collect from parts of plants, buds and exudates to build their hives. Similar to honey and royal jelly, the wound-healing of propolis has been evident for centuries.
It’s well-tolerated, safe and highly effective to soothe burns and skin infections. Propolis is packed with over 300 active constituents, among which phenolic acids, benzoic acid, cinnamic acid and flavonoids are the most essential biologically active compounds responsible for its antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and regenerative activities.
Bee Products in Dermatology and Skin Care (2020) stated that propolis extract, in the concentration of 5% to 20%, encouraged skin to repair itself by supporting the building blocks of the skin. Hence, it increases skin’s thickness and firmness, improves transepidermal water loss and decreases signs of skin aging. Additionally, lots of skincare experts gush over using propolis in the treatment of acne vulgaris.
The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make propolis a good option for those with blemish-prone skin, notes Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. Gmyrek also says it can relieve reddened, swelling bumps, but also fight against the bacteria associated with acne, Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes), formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).
Another skincare benefit of bee glue is to provide photoprotective activities. Athanasios et al. (2019) concluded that topically applied propolis warded off the oxidative and photo damaging effects of UVB radiation thanks to the presence of caffeic and ferulic acids (phenolic acids), and flavonoids as antioxidant agents. (Source: Propolis Extracts Inhibit UV-Induced Photodamage in Human Experimental In Vitro Skin Models)
In cosmetics, it’s listed as “propolis” or “propolis extract”. Its aqueous and ethanol extracts are most frequently utilized, according to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients.
4. Bee Venom
Bee Venom, or apitoxin, has become one of the key players on the mainstream scene. The colorless, liquid poison is excreted through their stingers when they sting. It has been prized for its broad-spectrum biological and pharmaceutical properties to expedite body healing since ancient civilizations.
Peptides make up a great proportion of bee venom’s composition including apamine, adolapin, mast cell degranulating peptide, and especially melittin. Plus, it contains enzymes, amines and some non-peptide components. With state-of-the-art technologies, apitoxin is effectively incorporated into cosmetics manufacturing.
First and foremost, it helps dampen the severity of acne vulgaris. The presence of melittin dramatically determines the bactericidal and bacteriostatic activities of bee venom. The toxic peptide is able to break down the bacterial cell wall, and it has inhibitory activities on C. acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis, both known as pus-forming bacteria inducing inflammation in acne.
Plus, the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects of apitoxin have been shown to calm atopic dermatitis, alopecia, psoriasis and eczema.
The topical application of bee venom helps diminish the appearance of photodamaged skin. Overexposure to UV radiation triggers the increased secretion of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), or matrix-degrading enzymes that impair the dermal connective tissue and hence, make the skin wrinkled and aged prematurely.
Sang et al. (2015) demonstrated that apitoxin, added to face serum as an anti-wrinkle agent, minimized the total number of creased areas and wrinkle depth by prohibiting the expression of UV-induced MMPs. (Source: The beneficial effects of honeybee-venom serum on facial wrinkles in humans)
Additionally, bee venom can be a potential whitening agent for the treatment of hyperpigmentation. UV rays provoke the development of melanogenic enzymes, causing the accumulation of melanin synthesis. Many laboratory studies have discovered the anti-melanogenic effects of apitoxin through the inhibition of tyrosinase-related proteins. (Source: Anti-melanogenic properties of honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) venom in α-MSH-stimulated B16F1 cells)
Simultaneously, the most-talked-about theory behind how bee venom works when applied on the skin is that it mimics the effect of being slightly bee-stung, which raises blood flow and sends the skin into repair mode to generate collagen. As a result, it plumps up the skin and fills in fine lines and wrinkles. However, there is no hard proof backing it up.
According to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, apitoxin is obtained by utilizing low voltage electrical stimulation and bee venom collectors without harming the bees. Then, a great amount of apitoxin will be purified under rigorous clinical conditions. Before being formulated in cosmetics, the purified bee venom needs to be diluted in water, centrifuged, lyophilized and refrigerated.
5. Bee Pollen
Bee pollen, or sometimes called bee bread, is flowering plant pollen that is picked up by worker bees and mixed with bee saliva and/or nectar. Then, similar to honey, the nutritional value of bee pollen varies considerably depending on the plant from which it’s collected.
It’s a diverse set of chemicals comprising more than 200 biologically active compounds. Bee pollen is characterized by the presence of polyphenols and fatty acids, all of which exhibit antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative properties. Besides, it’s a good source of proteins, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.
A few studies have examined the skin-boosting effects of bee pollen. It’s believed to have the ability to relieve skin distress caused by exposure to environmental aggressors and revitalize damaged skin cells since it’s loaded with powerful antioxidants.
Bee Products in Dermatology and Skincare (2020) showed that face creams formulated with bee pollen extract as an active ingredient in the concentration of 0.5% to 5% helped soothe the irritation of atopic skin and smoothen skin texture.
Not to mention, bee pollen is considered a raw material and it’s covered by an outer layer, called exine, which is highly resistant to degradation, making it hard to utilize for medicinal or dietary purposes.
Before being added to cosmetics, it requires processing that removes the exine shell in order to increase bioavailability. Additionally, nano-sized bee pollen will be prepared by using a wet grinding technology for enhancing percutaneous absorption. (Source: Effects of Nano-sized Bee Pollen as a New Cosmetic Ingredient, Korea Institute of Dermatological Sciences)
A laboratory study published in the Asian Journal of Beauty and Cosmetology in 2017 confirmed that topically applying exine-free, microsized bee pollen in the concentration of 1% helped improve skin’s firmness and hydration and reduce the appearance of wrinkles around the eyes.
Beeswax was one of the very first bee products used cosmetically dating back to ancient civilizations. It’s a natural substance excreted by honeybees to construct their honeycomb, where they store honey. The chemical structure of beeswax may be altered among different breeds and different families of the bees because it’s linked closely with bee genetics and diet.
In general, hydrocarbons, esters of fatty acids, free fatty acids and fatty alcohols are dominant components in beeswax. Compared to other bee-based ingredients, beeswax has narrow-spectrum biological activity.
Despite that fact, it still has skin protective agents. Squalene, 10-hydroxy-trans-2-Decenoic acid (a fatty acid) and chrysin (a main phytochemical) are primarily responsible for the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties of beeswax.
Slathering on ointments and creams infused with beeswax was demonstrated to be effective for the treatment of burns, wounds, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and diaper dermatitis (Filippo et al., 2016). (Source: Beeswax: A minireview of its antimicrobial activity and its application in medicine, Hainan Medical College)
In addition, β-carotene occurring in beeswax is a valuable source of vitamin A, which has been shown to mitigate the breakdown of collagen synthesis.
Furthermore, beeswax is most likely to be used as a moisturizing agent due to its water-insoluble, occlusive characteristics. Then, it’s commonly incorporated into the formulations of lip balms, lotions and moisturizers. beeswax intends to create a protective barrier that prevents external factors from stripping the skin of its natural oils.
Last but not least, beeswax can be a multitasker in skincare, but also makeup products. As an inactive ingredient, it works as a thickener, an emulsifier and a texture enhancer. It tends to impart a silky feel to the touch, make the product’s consistency spread evenly and stabilize the integrity of the product’s formulation.
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