Propolis in skincare
I was recently gifted some products by Ultra Bee so I thought a look into Propolis was needed if I was to review their lovely gifts. As usual for this post I will investigate the benefits of propolis in skincare and leave the medical claims to doctors and medical scientists.
What is propolis?
Listen honeys, I don’t really want to tell you its basically bee spit mixed with pollen, wax and whatever other resins they collect. Except that I do want to. And it is… Some people call it “bee glue” because the bees use it to patch up holes in their honeycomb, plaster their “walls” and protect the entrances. Bees are ultimate DIY builders. Respect.
General chemical composition
It should be made clear that propolis is not royal jelly which is a completely different thing. Nor is it honey, although some amount of propolis can be found in honey. The interesting thing about propolis, is that it has different chemical compositions depending on where the bees are, what they collect and what time of year it is. This makes it extremely difficult for researchers to study the ingredient and come to a consensus of exact propolis composition. Some scientists even go as far as claiming that research showing pharmaceutical effects should be considered pseudoscience unless the single or group of compounds responsible were identified.
In general propolis has the following ratio:
- 50% resin and vegetable balsam/gum
- 30% wax
- 10% essential and aromatic oils
- 5% pollen
- 5% other substances including organic debris
If the organic debris and wax are removed during the processing, then the propolis tincture is left. This is usually the form that is used.
One group of compounds that are always of interest in natural ingredients and extracts are flavonoids. These are usually found in botanical ingredients in some form, like in tea tree oil. Since propolis comes from the gathering of pollen, resins and waxes collected from trees and plants, its not surprising that flavonoids are found in bee products.
Usefulness in skincare products
Let’s take a look at the effectiveness of propolis and if there is any scientific backing to this iconic bee ingredient.
Antibacterial and antifungal properties
Propolis has been well studied for its biocidal activity against bacteria and fungi. Its seems to work across a broad spectrum of organisms, but the flavonoid and other organics content tends to be different with propolis from different origins. The studies also report a very large range of concentrations used (0.1-150 mg/mL doses). This variance may be due to different concentrations of certain compounds found in the different propolis types.
It does not seem to be as effective against parasites though. So don’t go relying on this for that. Take them pills.
Wound healing is a dynamic process involving synergy between different processes and tissue components. One of these important components is the extracellular matrix which contains glycosaminoglycans, some attached to protein and some not. These compounds are important for tissue repair. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a glycosaminoglycan that doesn’t bond to a protein and which some refer to as a “goo” molecule. A study demonstrated that propolis increased HA which enhanced wound healing. The same research group also found that collagen production was supported by propolis. Collagen is an important protein for the structure of the skin, it provides strength. This declines as we age and we start to sag and wrinkle more easily… How sad, but also let’s claim these wrinkles are spaces to hold wisdom and gives us the right to shout “get off my lawn”?
Together, the two properties mentioned above can help with acne. There was a study that showed propolis can be effective against some of the bacteria associated with acne lesions (although not the only factor in this condition). The study also presented an improved healing of these legions in an eight week period using a 10% ethanolic extract.
Is it safe to use?
From what I have read, propolis seems to be as safe as ingesting or topically applying honey on your skin and doesn’t cause irritation. I do caution people with pollen or honey allergies to be wary as similar compounds may be present. There has been evidence of contact dermatitis due to allergic reactions. Its best to just test a new product on your inner arm before trying it on your face anyway.
Overall opinion of propolis in skincare
I think since there is such a variance in composition of propolis that it can be difficult to pin down which specific compounds are responsible for the desired beneficial results. Propolis in skincare could be a nice addition for repair type products especially if its supported by other high performing ingredients like hydrating humectants that grab onto moisture, moisturising emollients and maybe some barrier repairing ceramides. Overall its a cool ingredient and I’d be quite happy with it in a cream or serum form.
I’m looking forward to writing about my experience with Ultra Bee’s face cream and perhaps I’ll include the hand cream too. Stay tuned.
*Image: Photo by Anton Atanasov from Canva