If you’re health conscious and take supplements, chances are you’ve encountered propolis. It’s touted as an almost magical natural ingredient that can strengthen your immune system. Researchers say that it’ one of the few known substances that contain nearly all of the nutrients (aka vitamins and minerals) needed to sustain life.

Propolis might also be your new best friend if you have oily and acne-prone skin that also gets irritated easily. Or put differently, if you got sensitive skin, this is an all-natural ingredient that is brightening, helps you fight spots, and gives you a youthful glow.

This powerful substance has been used for ages for its healing properties. It was popular in the 80s and 90s but then vanished only to resurface as an ingredient in K-beauty products. It’s a very gentle alternative to natives such as acids and vitamin A products.

What is it?

What do you think when you hear bees? Honey? Royal Jelly? Painful stings? Well, propolis is also made by bees. People call this sticky glue-like substance bee glue. The word comes from Greek and means so much as “at the entrance to” and polis for “city”.

From this, you can more or less guess for what the bees used it: For hive defence. The bees create propolis by mixing saliva and beeswax with the protective resins of plants. The resulting substance appears a lot like honey but is an everyday tool.

Photo by Dennis Klicker

The bees use it like a glue, or concrete, to hold their hive together. Think of beeswax as bricks of a cell wall, so the propolis is like mortar that holds everything together.

It can be used to patch up holes or openings created by unfavourable weather and to protect against invaders. These can be large like bears, small like other insects, or invisible like harmful bacteria. It’s a seal, a disinfectant, and a blanket against water, all in one.

Propolis can only be made by bees. To harvest it, beekeepers gently remove it from the hive box.

Propolis in history

What works for bee hives also works for humans. The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans were all aware of the healing properties of propolis. It has been used in medicine up to WW II when it became known as “Russian penicillin”.

Propolis is a natural antiseptic and was used as a sticky gel in wound healing. It was also applied to treat rashes and burns.

Propolis in science

Propolis is well researched and documented for its healing properties. It has anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. But with the onset of antibiotics, its use declined.

It’s packed with valuable nutrients. At least 180 active compounds were identified. The composition and level of active compounds in propolis depend on where it was found and the time of year when it was harvested.

The main thing to note no matter when the harvest time was or where it came from, the major active compounds are flavonoids. It contains flavonoids such as quercetin.

Science has revealed that it’s the flavonoids that make propolis anti-microbial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.

How can it help your skin?

Now you’re probably wondering how the bee equivalent of sealant can help your skin. Similar to honey, it comes with a long list of benefits. But in the end, it all boils down to

  • Acting as an anti-microbial
  • Helping with wound healing
  • Moisturising
  • Being a powerful antioxidant

It treats and nurtures your skin. It helps boost your skin’s natural regeneration cycle and leaves behind a more supple and youthful complexion.

Fight and prevent zits

If you’re contending with spots, you may find propolis more effective yet less harsh than the traditional BHAs or retinols. It can help your skin in 2 ways: Firstly, it’s anti-microbial. This means it can fight bacteria that cause the spots.

Then, it’s anti-inflammatory. So, it will soothe your skin and ease the inflammation that often accompany zits. It reduces any redness and swelling. It’s similar to aloe in reducing inflammation and protecting a disrupted skin barrier. On the contrary, using propolis won’t bring the PH balance of your skin out of whack nor disrupt the acid mantle.

Clean up the acne aftermath

Perhaps propolis alone isn’t powerful enough for getting all your spots, but it’s great in treating the aftermath of a breakout. Think dark spots, scars, and textural issues from acne ( although it doesn’t have exfoliation effects).

Moisturise without clogging

One of the reasons why people with acne-prone or oily skin tend to shy away from moisturising is because they fear that it’ll feel all too heavy and plug up their pores.

Besides being an emollient propolis has oil controlling, moisturising, and repairing properties. It helps your skin to retain more moisture in order to maintain a healthier appearance while being lightweight and non-clogging.

UV protection

It was found that propolis offers antioxidant protection, even reverses skin damage caused by sun exposure. This should come as no surprise since propolis contains powerful antioxidants.

In general, these antioxidants offer protection against environmental aggressors like pollution, sunlight, and radiation. Just you as live your day-to-day live, you expose yourself to air pollution or the sun.

From this, free radicals are created that damage your skin. The skin damage can range from changes in your skin colour (such as dark spots) to skin weakening and sagging (think wrinkles). The free radicals damage your skin by grasping an electron from the molecules in your skin. Antioxidants protect you from that: They go around and neutralise these free radicals.

Not that it means you can go around without wearing SPF. But you can wear it under your sunscreen and enhance it effectiveness.

Slow down ageing

A research team discovered that the high content of antioxidants can stimulate your skin to produce more collagen and elastin. This is important especially when your skin weakens. You need both collagen and elastin to maintain plump and smooth skin.

However, this study only looks at what propolis can to on burn wounds. Still, it’s encouraging because it could very well be that it can stimulate the wherever it’s applied to your skin.

Danger zone?

Depending on what goal you want to achieve, you can combine it with your existing skin care. Firstly, it’s considered generally safe to use. Secondly, no common skin care ingredient is known to not work well with propolis.

That said, apply the same caution as with any other skin care ingredient. Before introducing it fully into your routine, start with patch-testing it.

Where to find and how to use

You can find propolis in an ever-increasing number of products. Of course, Korean beauty industry is leading but you can also find French and Italian products.

If you want to tackle spots, you may want to use a product with propolis in the morning and a BHA at night. Like this, you tackle the bacteria causing the zits in the morning, and in the night, you keep your pores clear.


Propolis is an amazing natural substance. It’s made by bees – not from bees and with its almost countless active compounds, it’s known to speed up wound healing as well as support a strong and healthy immune system.

It can be used by all skin types. Particularly if you fight breakouts, propolis can be your next best friend. And then it provides moisture for dry skin; moisturises without bogging down your skin, wards off free radicals from your skin and protects it from ageing prematurely. It also boosts your skin cell turnover just like a vitamin A product but without the potential flaking and dryness.

Save Recognising The Role Of Propolis In Skin Care for later

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