The list of unexpected, animal-derived ingredients used in skin care is a lengthy one, featuring everything from bird poop facials to slug slime serums. The latest ingredient everyone is talking about? Bee glue — which, no, isn’t honey. Technically called bee propolis, the ingredient has long been used as an herbal remedy in Eastern medicine, but, thanks to an increase in popularity in the K-beauty space, is now a major player in the mainstream scene. Ahead, top dermatologists explain why everyone is buzzing about propolis (pun intended), and what it can do for your skin.
What Is Bee Propolis?
A compound produced by bees, propolis best described as a sticky, brown resin that bees use to help build their hive, explains board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
“If you think of beeswax as the ‘bricks’ of the cell wall of the hive structure, the propolis is the ‘mortar’ that holds everything together,” he explains. It’s unique in that it’s packed — and I mean packed — with a variety of minerals and nutrients. In fact, recent research suggests it contains over 300 active compounds, many of which can be very beneficial for your skin. This includes everything from antioxidants such as ferulic acid and flavanoids to vitamins C and E to zinc, says Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. (Related: The Absolute Best Vitamins and Minerals for Beautiful Skin)
The Skin Benefits of Bee Propolis
As is the case with honey and royal jelly, the list of bee propolis benefits is is long. First and foremost, propolis has great antioxidant properties, according to Dr. Gmyrek. Meaning, it can help neutralize oxidative stress caused by free radicals (harmful molecules that, in excess, can lead to cell and tissue damage), thereby decreasing inflammation, a key culprit responsible for signs of aging in skin. Antioxidants can also help combat the breakdown of collagen and elastin, the two proteins responsible for keeping skin looking firm, healthy, and youthful. In fact, a recent study found that propolis can help block the degradation of collagen caused by exposure to UV light. (Related: Why You Should Be Using an Antioxidant Serum)
What’s more, propolis is anti-inflammatory and promotes wound healing, not to mention is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, adds Dr. Gymrek.
Who Should Use Bee Propolis?
In short, pretty much anyone. The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it an especially good choice for those with acne-prone skin, says Dr. Gmyrek. For one, because propolis contains enzymes that deliver a mild exfoliating effect. The antibacterial element is also noteworthy, given that most acne is actually caused by a bacterium known as P. acnes. Meanwhile, the anti-inflammatory properties of bee propolis can help tone down the redness and swelling often associated with blemishes while the exfoliation can help keep pores unclogged and the skin free of pimples going forward. (Battling breakouts? You might want to check out these best drugstore acne products as well.)
Dr. Gymrek also says that bee propolis a good pick for those focused on anti-aging, given the strong antioxidant benefits. And Dr. Hartman agrees, adding that he also likes the ingredient for those with sensitive or dry skin. “It has a thick consistency and helps form a protective layer over the skin barrier, which aids the skin’s ability to repair itself. A healthy skin barrier reduces the likelihood of skin irritation and helps lock in hydration,” he explains. (FYI, even though it has a thicker texture, many of the products containing bee propolis are still very lightweight — but more on that soon.)
Is There Anyone Who Shouldn’t Use Bee Propolis?
The biggest possible side effect of this buzzy ingredient is an allergic reaction: “There’s a potential for allergic reactions, especially if you have lots of allergies to begin with or if you’re allergic to bees or bee venom,” explains Dr. Gmyrek. (BTW, bee venom is also a fairly common skin-care ingredient.) Steer clear if you have a bee allergy; otherwise, it’s always a good idea to try any new ingredient by doing a patch test before applying it all over your face, cautions Dr. Hartman.
Here’s how: apply a small amount to your inner forearm and look for any signs of redness, irritation, or itching over the course of 48 hours or so. If any of these pop up, then propolis is probably not the best skin-care ingredient for you. But if your skin remains free of any of these symptoms, then you should be okay to give bee propolis a go on your face. (That said, it’s always a good idea to check with your dermatologist before swiping on any skin-care product.)
How to Use Bee Propolis
Depending on why you’re using it, you can easily combine it with your existing skincare ingredients and products, says Dr. Gmyrek. Both dermatologists point out that there are no common skin-care ingredients known to have a negative interaction with propolis. (Just make sure you’re applying your skin-care products in the correct order.)
If you’re using it for acne, you could use a propolis-containing product in the morning for the antibacterial effects and a retinoid or salicylic acid at night to decrease oil production and help keep pores clear, explains Dr. Gmyrek.
Speaking of, Dr. Hartman says he especially likes pairing propolis with a retinoid; the former helps keep the skin hydrated and minimizes the likelihood of unwanted side effects that can come with retinoids, such as dryness and flaking. And if you’re after the anti-aging benefits, again, a retinoid is great to pair it with; it can also be combined with other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, to boost the overall antioxidant potential, says Dr. Gmyrek. (Related: The Best Vitamin C Skin-Care Products for Brighter, Younger-Looking Skin)
Another major pro is that you can find propolis in all kinds of product formulations, from serums to masks and everything in between. Ahead, a few derm-recommended picks for propolis products.
The Best Bee Propolis Products
Farmacy Honey Grail Ultra-Hydrating Facial Oil
Dr. Hartman likes this lightweight, non-comedogenic face oil because it combines both propolis and buckwheat honey for a potent dose of antioxidants. It also features six different oils rich in fatty acids to impart plenty of hydration. Dry, winter skin? It’s time you meet your match. (Related: How to Find the Perfect Face Oil for Your Skin)
COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Cream
Both dermatologists recommend this moisturizer from celeb-fave brand COSRX. Dr. Gmyrek says it strikes the perfect balance between being lightweight yet moisturizing and applauds the fact that propolis is the first ingredient, so you can feel confident knowing you’re getting plenty of the good stuff. She also adds that it’s anti-inflammatory, helps fight the signs of aging, and is gentle enough for sensitive skin.
Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
An ultra-calming, ultra-soothing gel moisturizer, this is a good pick for any and all skin types, including those with acne and/or sensitive skin. It’s another favorite of Dr. Hartman’s, touting a hefty dose of the two namesake ingredients, along with other calming and hydrating ingredients such as glycerin and allantoin. (Related: Aloe Vera’s Benefits for Skin Go Way Beyond Sunburn Treatment)
Hey Honey Come Clean Propolis & Minerals Facial Scrub
“This is effective yet gentle for acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Gmyrek of another one of her picks. “It uses mineral salt as a physical exfoliant and includes propolis extract for additional exfoliating and antibacterial benefits, as well as skin-brightening vitamin C.” As with all facial exfoliants, it’s important to use this bad boy only two to three times per week to avoid unnecessary irritation.