Somehow, the skin care world seems a bit wacky, with ingredients and treatments sounding like they could just have been the invention of an imaginative script writer: Vampire and placenta facials, bird poo, snail slime… and now bee venom. Don’t you feel it sounds like an ingredient of a horror movie script – like it could be used in the lab of Dr Moreau?
When I hear bee venom, I always remember the summer when I got stung by wasps and bees. Not fun and very painful. So, would you believe me if I told you people let themselves be stung by bees of their own volition? And no, these are not the beekeepers. You can use bee venom for medicinal purposes.
Did you know that skin care brands are adding bee venom to their products? Indeed, even celebrities have been reportedly using it and are full of praises: Natural botox, it improves their skin’s softness, tone and complexion, it combats the signs of ageing and even acne…
But, is using bee venom really safe?
And is it really giving you results?
Read on to find out if this is a beauty trend or a fad.
Bees are really wonderful. Without honey bees, we won’t have plentiful fruit and veggies crops. Beekeeping is a lucrative business and growing ever more popular as a hobby, particularly in cities.
Research has shown that honey bees originated in Asia but they now live and are kept all over the globe that is where the climate allows.
What is honey bee venom?
From using honey in your skin care, whether DYI or already formulated and packaged in a product, it’s quite a jump to using bee venom. It’s a toxin produced by honey bees and its scientific name is apitoxin if you want to look for a product formulated with it.
Bee venom is made up of several active compounds such as peptides and enzymes. The main active component of bee venom is the peptide melittin making up to 50%.
The toxin is a bitter, colourless liquid and it’s the bee’s defence. It’s what causes you the pain you feel when stung and in some cases the allergic reaction.
Like honey, bee venom was also used medicinally in ancient times by the Chinese, Indians, Greek, and Egyptians due to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and analgesic properties. In modern times, these properties could help with ailments such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
It can be or is used in combination with different bee products such as royal jelly or honey. This practice is apitherapy.
Whether used alone or in combination with other bee products, bee venom, in theory, it’s for overall health by stimulating your immune system. But, clinical studies have yet to find clear, conclusive evidence.
Research into bee venom for skin care is still developing (just as it is for medicinal purposes). Studies done so far are suggesting that it may help in a number of ways.
The idea for bee venom in skin care is that this ingredient replicates the effect of a bee sting. It misleads your skin into thinking you’ve been stung. And as defence reaction, blood flow to the stung area increases which brings oxygen and nutrients. This again stimulates skin cell growth and collagen and elastin production.
In a study done in Korea in 2015, the research found that bee venom reduces the amount, depth, and spread of wrinkles.
It does that by improving the amount of collagen and elastin in your skin. It can inhibit the enzymes that are formed when you’re exposed to the sun, stress, cigarette smoke, and other pollutants in the environment. These enzymes break down the collagen and elastin proteins in your skin. In short, less of these enzymes means more of the good proteins and so firmer, more supple skin.
Sharing with honey, bee venom is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. This is due to the most abundant active compound – mellittin. In a study also conducted in Korea, the researchers found that bee venom can both reduce the activity of acne causing bacteria on the skin as well as the inflammation that accompany spots.
To recap, bee venom is
- Anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory
- Rejuvenating because it can diminish the severity of wrinkles
It sounds great, but there’s a major downside. About 5% of the people are allergic to bees.
And even if you’re not, you can get sensitive and develop reactions over time. This can be said of all substances that are classed as allergens.
How is bee venom harvested?
In case you’re worried, collecting bee venom doesn’t harm the critters. It’s famous that bees die when they sting.
First of all, only certain species do. More importantly, for the skin care industry, a less cruel way of harvesting causes them no harm.
To harvest the bee venom, beekeepers place a collection frame of glass at the entrance of the hive. The frame has wire electrodes attached that run a low electrical current. When bees enter the hive, they get a small electrical shock and as reaction, they sting the glass but they don’t lose the barbed sting.
After the bee venom is deposited, it’s dried on the glass and the whole frame is transported to a lab for collection. The bees don’t sustain long term effects and continue just as before.
Even though bee venom appears to be the easy non-sting way of getting a botox (pun intended), personally, I’d still prefer other ways of stimulating collagen and elastin growth.
Just think of it: to get only 1g of bee venom, you need 10’000 stings. That is 10’000 bees need to sting the glass with the electrodes. And, if you’re looking to firm up your skin but without the allergy risks, why not try glycolic acid, vitamin C, or simply a short walk?