Anti-aging & Cosmeceutical Corner

A ‘Stinging’ Endorsement For Honey and Bee Venom

By Navin M. Geria, Senior Technical Advisor and Principal Doctors Skin Prescription | March 5, 2014

The term “natural” has considerable market value in promoting skin care cosmetic products to consumers. We are familiar with natural ingredients such as jojoba, safflower oil, rose hip seed oil, shea butter, beeswax, aloe vera, witch hazel, tea tree oil and chamomile, to name just a few.

More recently, cosmetics manufacturers have latched on to two natural ingredients: honey and bee venom. Neither material is new; in fact, honey’s and bee  venom’s medicinal use can be traced back to ancient China and Greece. This column will briefly discuss their emerging anti-aging benefits that are creating a lot of buzz in the cosmetics industry. Let’s take a closer look at both of these natural ingredients.

Honey: You may not be aware that honey has been used to treat wounds for centuries. Honey soothes dryness, protects against sun damage and fights acne. In the US alone, there are nearly 300 varieties of honey ranging in color from translucent yellow to dark brown. Different colors signify varying nutrient content. A darker color suggests a higher antioxidant value, as it has less water and therefore is more concentrated.

Honey benefits the skin complexion with a trace amount cocktail of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B complex, vitamin C, minerals, amino acids, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, potassium, zinc and enzymes. Honey’s flavonoids and phenolic acids are a mixture of potent antioxidants that scavenge and eliminate free radicals.

A Honey of an Ingredient
As the skin ages, it progressively thins and its capacity to retain moisture is diminished. Topically applied honey-containing products come to the rescue because they attract moisture from the air and lock into the upper layer of the skin1 creating a moisturized skin. Honey is an excellent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent, providing help in healing acne wounds because it clears infection, stimulates immune system and reduces inflammation.

Laura Mercier recently launched Crème Brulee Honey Bubble Bath.

A honey dipper is provided for swirling the skin-softening vanilla emulsion into the tub. New Zealand-based Bee Bio company has launched a complete honey-based anti-aging range. Product claims include reduction in fine lines, wrinkles, improvement in skin tone, dark spots, firmer, smoother, softer, more radiant skin.

Bee Venom: contains a peptide known as melittin, which is known to increase blood circulation. It is used cosmetically to “fool” the skin into thinking it has been lightly stung. This causes the body to direct blood toward the area, tightening the skin. This stimulates body’s own natural chemicals: collagen and elastin. Collagen strengthens the tissue while elastin helps the skin remain taut and elastic. This is often accompanied by slight tingling—a sign that the product is working.2

The process of extracting the venom from bees is an arduous process. Bees are shocked at a low level, which causes them to secrete their venom, which is then collected on glass plates. According to agricultural researchers, it takes 10,000 bee stings to generate just one gram of dry venom, which explains why high-end products containing bee venom are so costly.

Yet, the high cost hasn’t stifled a stampede for bee venom-based products in the UK. Demand for the stuff surged even higher, when it was revealed that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, tried a bee venom mask prior to the royal wedding in 2011.

The UK’s Beetox Co. has launched a skin care range employing anti-aging claims such as reduction in redness, lines, wrinkles and large pores; calming and soothing of the skin; and improving skin texture. Another UK-based company, Rodial, has launched a bee venom skin care range  with prices ranging from $178 to $248.

The Doctors’ Opinion
Honey is one of the most time-tested skin fixes around, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York. It has been used as an antibacterial remedy for centuries because it naturally contains hydrogen peroxide. Honey’s anti-aging benefits are confirmed by dermatologist Dr. Mervyn Patterson who suggests that the sugar in the honey draws water out of the skin, producing skin tightening, creating a smooth skin surface. Dr. Kristine Schmalenberg of Johnson & Johnson maintains that bee venom has really risen to the top of the list of new efficacious skin care ingredients.

According to Dr. Sang Mittan, a research biologist at the national academy of Agricultural Science in South Korea, bee venom is an effective alternative treatment to antibiotic acne therapy, and a must for anti-aging and collagen production. According to Mittan, bee venom works on both dermal and epidermal levels to reduce fine lines and wrinkles through accelerated cell regeneration, increasing production of epidermal growth factor (EGF) that, in turn, helps boost skin elasticity.

But not everyone agrees with that assessment. According to Dr. David Leffell, a professor of dermatology at Yale University, the advantageous effects of bee venom products are over blown. Similarly, New York dermatologist Francesca Fusco calls bee venom, the new flavor of the month, much like apple stem cells were a few years back. She admits that bee venom does decrease inflammation. Although some bee-venom creams claim to be safe for people with bee allergies, Dr. Fusco recommends consulting with an internist or allergist before use—as there are some kinds of hives you just don’t want!

Anecdotally, we have known for decades that Cleopatra maintained her beauty by soaking in baths laced with aromatic rose petals and honey.  Research has now confirmed the beauty and anti-aging benefits of honey and bee venom. I hope this buildup of consumer expectations for beauty that comes straight from the hives is not misplaced and does not leave consumers stung by disillusionment and disappointment.

  1. K. Erickson, Better Nutrition, 4/11/13
  2. E. Holmes, W. Journal, Style & Fashion, April 27, 2013.

Navin M. Geria
Senior Technical Advisor and Principal
Doctors Skin Prescription

Navin Geria, ex-Pfizer Research Fellow, is senior technical advisor and principal of the dermatological research company, Doctors Skin Prescription (DSP), Boston, founded by dermatologist David J. Goldberg, MD JD and plastic surgeons William P. Adams, MD FACS and Jason Pozner, MD. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick, Bristol-Myers and most recently, Spa Dermaceuticals. He has earned nearly 20 US patents, has been published extensively and has been both a speaker and a moderator at cosmetic industry events.
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