Most people — whether they’ve been stung before or not — are afraid of bees. However, these gentle creatures truly mean no harm. They simply want to pollinate plants and keep ecosystems in harmony, and they even provide us with one of the world’s sweetest ingredients while they’re at it. Interestingly enough, they’re responsible for some intriguing beauty remedies, too. In addition to honey, which can do wonders for acne-prone and sensitive skin, bees give us venom.
If you’re on a quest for the most powerful skincare ingredients available, bee venom (also known as apitoxin) admittedly isn’t very high up on the list. However, it does have some benefits worth noting — including fine wrinkle-smoothing properties! — and it’s arguably one of the most natural options on the market. We asked a couple dermatologists to weigh in on how bee venom works, how it goes from bee to product, and what products might be worth trying.
Where does bee venom come from?
Bee venom found in skincare products is typically derived from honeybees. It’s the very venom, or toxin, that makes your “youch!” linger after getting stung. If you’ve ever been stung, then you know exactly how that works: the stinger penetrates the skin, is ripped from the bee’s body and well, c'est la vie, bee. Fortunately, this isn’t the same method of extraction used for apitoxin found in skincare products — re: no bees die in the making of your favorite formulas. Rather, bees are stimulated with a mild electric shock.
“The electric shock method shocks the honeybees, which makes them mad — wouldn’t you be mad? — and causes them to sting a sheet of glass close to the electric wires,” explains Dr. Robb Akridge, a skincare scientist with a doctorate in microbiology and co-founder of the Clarisonic®. “Since the glass does not allow the stinger to penetrate the surface, their stinger remains intact so the bees don’t die.”
The venom is then collected, stored, and utilized as needed. Dr. Akridge notes that laboratory-collected venom is often used for medical desensitization procedures for people who are powerfully allergic to bee venom. This form of immunotherapy consists of administering low doses of venom to patients over the course of several years. Over time, the patient’s immune system learns to tolerate apitoxin and sees it as less of a threat. This lab-collected venom can be utilized in skincare products.
Does bee venom actually benefit skin?
Because bee venom is a toxin, it sends your body into slight overdrive to repair the area in and around the sting location. As you probably guessed, you’re not actually injecting any bee venom into your skin when using a product that contains it. Rather, it’s applied topically and in very minute concentrations. Despite the low amount of actual apitoxin in skincare formulas, you should still steer clear if you’re allergic to bees. Consult with your doctor before trying venom-infused products if you’re unsure.
“There have been [few] studies evaluating both the short-term and long-term benefits of bee venom in skincare, although anecdotally, the ingredient has been used for anti-wrinkling and prevention of fine lines,” says Dr. Jeanette M. Black, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Care and Laser Physicians of Beverly Hills™ in California.
What should I look for in bee venom-infused skincare?
If we’re focusing on the science here, you’re probably better off relying on skincare ingredients that have a litany of scientific literature backing them up. Topically speaking, retinoids are the most popular and well-researched category of anti-aging ingredients. Alpha-hydroxy acids, potent antioxidants such as vitamin C and niacinamide, and even honey are also prime examples of highly tested ingredients.
[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]
Yes, bee venom can smooth fine wrinkles and may also help even out skin tone, but Dr. Akridge points out that what improves the efficacy of shelf-ready skincare products containing bee venom is the other ingredients included. These often hydrate, moisturize, plump, and help to improve overall skin texture. That said, if you’re shopping for bee venom products, make sure the rest of the ingredient list is top-notch.
One such product is Rodial Bee Venom® Night ($130), which combines bee venom with retinol, soy isoflavones, and anti-wrinkle complex Matrixyl 3000 Plus®. Each ingredient works to amp up collagen and elastin production, improve firmness, and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Rodial actually has a comprehensive line of bee venom-infused anti-aging products, including day cream, serum, and patches with a unique “micro-sting” delivery system (read: tiny nubs on the surface of the patch) to deliver targeted treatment to wrinkles.
Another brand on the bee venom train is WEI™. Its Bee Venom Anti-Wrinkle Cream Mask ($60 for nine treatments), boosts collagen, firmness, and luminosity with bee venom and a blend of eight peptides and five enzymes. Also, the brand’s Bee Venom Anti-Wrinkle Renewal Cream ($78) works well as a super hydrating day cream. It’s formulated with bee venom, shea butter, and an assortment of powerful Asian ingredients, including Chinese angelica, lingzhi reishi mushroom, lotus extract, ginger root extract, and centella asiatica (cica).
Though being stung obviously comes with some irritation, topical bee venom is surprisingly mild, with no discomfort associated with application (unless you’re allergic to it). “The venom must be injected to get that feeling and it hurts,” explains Dr. Akridge, who iterates that you should never inject any cosmetic product into your skin. “Bee venom in cosmetic products sits on top of the skin and it is not like being stung.”
If you do experience that sort of stinging sensation from a topical bee venom product, Dr. Akridge says to check the ingredients for capsicum, a pepper-derived active most frequently found in lip-plumping formulas. This ingredient causes an inflammatory response that makes the area temporarily swell.
Again, while apitoxin isn’t the most formidable skincare ingredient on the market, we’re fully in support of a little experimentation. There’s no harm in trying — unless you’re allergic to bees, that is.
Dr. Jeanette M. Black is a paid Allergan® consultant.
Some complimentary products were provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.
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