Discover skincare benefits straight from the hive.
By Jolene Hart
Scan the natural beauty aisle and you’ll see that bees produce much more than honeycomb. These industrious winged creatures are the source of a handful of prized skincare ingredients touted for their therapeutic properties. Honey, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly all leave skin feeling soft and smooth and looking radiant, but each offers a unique beauty benefit. Here’s a breakdown of bee by-products and how you can work them into your skincare routine. But take note, if you’re allergic to bee venom, check with your doctor before using bee-related products to prevent allergic reactions.
Honey: the hydrator
Go ahead, suspend your skepticism, and slather the sticky stuff all over your face. Use raw, unheated honey (available at natural foods stores), which packs the most active enzymes. Let it sit on your skin for 20 minutes and then rinse with warm water—your skin will feel softer, tighter, and more even. Why? While honey goes on smooth, it gently exfoliates via mild alpha hydroxy acids that loosen dead skin cells and refine pores. Combine this with honey’s ability to attract and retain moisture and its naturally occurring antibacterial hydrogen peroxide and high antioxidant content, and you have an exceptional line-reducer and blemish treatment. Luckily, you can enjoy these benefits without dipping directly into the honey jar: Try Red Bee Creamy Honey Facial Scrub Mask ($14, 4 oz; redbee.com), with raw honey crystals for additional exfoliation, and Made From Earth Holistic Honey Body Lotion ($30, 8 oz;madefromearth.com), with organic honey.
And while all honey disinfects—thanks to the hydrogen peroxide—the Manuka variety contains a special enzyme that’s even more potent in its ability to inhibit bacteria growth, making Manuka honey–based products ideal for acne-prone skin. Use Living Nature Rescue Gel ($22, 0.3 oz; livingnature.com) to minimize blemishes and
Comvita Huni Manuka Honey and Propolis Soap ($9, 3.5 oz; comvita.com) for head-to-toe cleansing.
Beeswax: the softener
Rich in fatty-acid esters and skin cell–supporting vitamin A, emollient beeswax is a natural, nontoxic substitute for synthetic petroleum jelly. It’s also a favored ingredient for lip balm, given the natural moisture barrier it forms on lips. Beeswax protects skin and seals in moisture anywhere you apply, softening skin in easily chapped places, like lips and elbows, and parts that take a beating, such as cuticles and heels. Slap on Savannah Bee Company Beeswax Natural and Organic Lip Balm in Mint Julep ($3.50, 0.15 oz; savannahbee.com), and apply Saaf Organic Foot Softening Balm ($45, 1.23 oz; saafpureskincare.com) before bed to treat feet overnight.
Propolis: the healer
Propolis is a blend of plant resins, wax, and essential oils that bees collect and coat the hive with in order to create an antiseptic defense against invaders. Its role in skincare is similar: to eliminate unwanted bacteria and preempt inflammation, which in turn hastens healing of scars, blemishes, rashes, and eczema. Propolis is known for its immune-boosting properties and healing flavonoids that stimulate regeneration in the skin; it even boosts collagen production. Try The Organic Pharmacy Antioxidant Face Gel ($86, 1.18 oz; theorganicpharmacy.com), or apply Meadowlake Farm Hive Isolates Renewing Salve ($32, 2 oz; beehiveskintherapies.com) directly to scars, stretch marks, and wounds.
Royal jelly: the fountain of youth
The one lucky larva chosen to become queen bee enjoys lifelong nourishment with royal jelly, a nutritious, milky substance bees secrete and feed to their hive-mistress. As a result, the queen lives 40 times longer than worker bees, thanks to royal jelly’s 17 amino acids, rich store of B complex, and numerous trace minerals. No surprise then that this substance offers anti-aging, cell-rejuvenating properties to skincare products. Treat your face to royal jelly–packed Burt’s Bees Radiance Serum ($18, 0.45 oz; burtsbees.com).
Nowadays, there are a host of factors working against bees’ survival and ability to thrive, primarily pesticides, genetically modified plants, worldwide climate changes, and colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon that wipes out worker bees from hives. Therefore, we should be mindful about bee preservation. For natural beauty buyers, this means seeking out companies that follow sustainable practices and source bee-produced ingredients locally from beekeepers who don’t use pesticides and, if possible, are certified organic. By doing so, along with protecting the bees, your skin reaps the rewards: Honey that’s imported or not organic is often heated to kill bacteria, a process that also destroys its most active properties, says Marina Marchese, founder and owner of Red Bee products and author ofHoneybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2009). “You really want honey products from a farmers’ market or local beekeeper,” she says. Find organic and pesticide-free beekeepers at localharvest.org.