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A Sweet Escape: Bees, Honey and Skin Care

By: Michele Steinert
Posted: April 1, 2014, from the April 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Honey is made from bees gathering nectar from the flowers, plants and trees they visit. When a bee locates a “good find” of nectar, it may return to the hive and do a “bee dance” to show the other bees where to find that flower or plant. Bees are always working together for the benefit of the hive and never just to fill their own bellies. Once all the nectar and pollen has been collected, the bees go back to the hive and wax comb cells are filled. The cell is capped with wax, and the honey is left to cure until the bees need it.

Beeswax is created by the bees to hold honey and pollen, and keeps them efficiently stored until needed. It takes an incredible amount of energy for bees to create wax. Wax colors range from white to yellow to brown, and is used in all kinds of things from furniture to candles to cosmetics. In a water-based cream, it can be used to bind water and oil together to create an emulsion. In addition, it is a moisturizer. Often, beeswax is included in lip balms, body balms and creams due to its moisturizing and skin-protecting qualities.

Propolis is a sticky resin the bees gather from trees and other plants. Plants produce resins and gums, which are produced at wound sites, or in new buds or leaves. Propolis is usually dark brown and sticky. When cold, the propolis is brittle and when warm, it has a thick taffy consistency. Bees use the propolis to protect the hive. They seal any cracks and open areas with propolis to keep invaders out, as well as wind and rain.

Propolis is antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and stimulates cell regeneration. Some of its uses are as a remedy for colds, flu and sore throats, and it is used topically to treat inflammation and wound-healing. Propolis is full of flavonoids and antioxidants that help fight infection and boost immune function. It can be found in tincture form, cosmetic creams or alone. Brazilian green propolis is being studied extensively for menopausal support, cold care, dental issues, wound-healing and multiple other medicinal uses. If you use propolis in tincture form, it is an alcohol base and when used topically, can sting. Propolis can cause contact dermatitis, but this is a rare outcome.

Honey for the skin and the body

The beauty industry is a multibillion dollar industry and the trend toward incorporating more natural ingredients is growing. Clients are interested in experiencing natural farm-to-table types of treatments. There are many products to choose from that incorporate honey, beeswax or propolis and can be added to your spa offerings, and honey itself can be one of the easiest ingredients to incorporate into spa and skin care treatments.

  • Honey has been used since ancient times as a medicine and beauty aid. The Egyptians used it as both, and it is depicted on tombs and hieroglyphics with high regard. It was also used by the Chinese, Arabs, Greeks and Romans, and there are a variety of historical texts listing the benefits of honey. Both Dioscorides and Hippocrates wrote of its numerous medicinal uses.
  • Honey contains more than 180 substances, which include a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and other compounds. It also contains flavonoids, which are like super antioxidants—darker honeys are said to have more antioxidants. Today, honey and its chemical components are being extensively studied for their wound-healing abilities.
  • Honey is anti-inflammatory; it reduces inflammation in the body, as well as topically on the skin.
  • Honey is a humectant, meaning it draws moisture to the skin, helping keep it soft, supple and protected.
  • Honey is a slight emulsifier, meaning it can help contribute to creating a water-based cream by adding to the emulsion’s stability. It also has some minor preservative qualities.
  • Honey is antibacterial, and it’s wound-healing properties are well-known, not only among herbalists and naturalists, but also among the medical and scientific communities.