Bee-auty: The 101 on Bees & Beauty
By now you know that I love beauty products that come from nature, and bees are a part of our ecosystem that I've become fascinated by for all their amazing health and beauty benefits! Apitherapy, the use of bee products for medicinal purposes, has been in practice throughout history and has been seriously trending over the last year. From honey to beeswax to pollen, there are a myriad of ways bee products can heal us inside and out, improving skin tone, healing wounds, and even alleviating pollen allergies. Read on for a crash course on all things bees...
Raw honey is full of amazing benefits and there are so many ways to use it in your beauty routine both internally and externally. Not only is honey a natural alternative to processed sugars and synthetic sweeteners, it's also full of flavonoids, enzymes, minerals and antioxidants. When eaten regularly, honey helps fight disease, regulate blood sugar, improve sleep, boost energy and fight allergies. I love to drizzle Beekeeper's Naturals Raw Raspberry Blossom Honey over yogurt and berries for a sweet treat. Externally, honey's antibacterial and anti-fungal properties make it great for treating skin irritations, cuts and even blemishes. It's also a natural humectant, meaning it holds onto moisture to help hydrate and improve elasticity, so it's a great addition to face and hair treatments. All the antioxidants in honey also make it a light chemical exfoliator and skin brightener. Some of my favorite raw honey infused products are May Lindstrom's The Honey Mud, a white clay and honey based cleanser with cacao extracts, and Gisou's Honey Infused Hair Oil (you can read my full review on that here). When using honey make sure that you are buying raw! Commercial honey is often pasteurized, filtered and heated, which kills all those good enzymes and gives the honey a thick, syrup-like texture.
Raw honey's benefits, flavor and coloring all vary depending on where bees collect pollen from. Manuka honey is a special variation that comes from bees that feed on Manuka plants, a relation of tea tree, in New Zealand. So what else makes this different from other raw honey? Manuka honey contains methylglyoxal enzymes (MGO), an antibacterial compound that supercharges the honey's healing benefits. Eating a spoonful a day when sick works as a natural antibiotic and it also works for treating cuts, so you can often find it in ointments like Lano Golden Dry Skin Salve, which I love for quick, scar-free healing. Manuka also makes a great facial cleanser or mask. Not only does it deeply cleanse and moisturize skin, it has also helps fade discoloration and sun spots. To cleanse, rub about half a tablespoon over damp skin, massage for a minute or two and rinse using a muslin cloth, or for a mask, gently spread about a tablespoon over dry skin, let sit for 10-15 minutes and rinse with warm water and a muslin cloth. When buying Manuka it is important to check the honey's KFactor or UMF rating; simply put, the higher the number, the more potent the honey. For example, a jar of Wedderspoon's Manuka KFactor 12 guarantees that 65% of the honey's pollen grains came from Manuka plants, whereas their KFactor 22 Manuka contains 90% Manuka pollen. My personal favorite for skincare is Wedderspoon Gold Raw Manuka KFactor 16+. Like other raw honey, Manuka honey should not be heated as heating kills all those beneficial enzymes.
Raw bee pollen is flower pollen that worker bees collect, pack into pellets and then eat for protein. For humans, bee pollen contains almost all of our required nutrients and contains more protein per gram than animal protein products. It is also chock full of amino acids, making it an easy to digest, bio-available source of vitamins and minerals, and its known to aid in muscle recovery, boost energy, alkalize, and balance the thyroid and hormones. Overall, it's a clean, deeply nourishing protein superfood that is great for athletes and active people. A big plus is that it's easy to incorporate into your everyday routine! Bee pollens mild flavor goes with just about anything, so you can add it to your morning smoothie, sprinkle it on avocado toast, mix it into a salad...the possibilities are endless! This is powerful stuff, so start small with a half teaspoon and work your up to one to two tablespoons a day. My favorite U.S. brand for bee pollen is Moon Juice and Canadian brand Beekeeper's Naturals has a fantastic version, which is now also available stateside!
Bee propolis is a beauty ingredient that has been used since ancient times by the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians for it's incredible healing benefits both internally and externally. It's a sticky substance that bees make from plant and tree resin and use to seal their hive from outside invaders, so it's often considered the hive's "immune system". Since propolis is rich in flavonoids, it has anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a powerful wound treatment and illness fighter. A few sprays of this propolis spray from Beekeeper's Naturals does wonders for soothing a sore throat and, when taken daily, acts as an immune system booster. It also doesn't hurt that it tastes like a really sweet honey! When used externally propolis helps to speed up healing, so (like honey) it can be used to treat small cuts or skin irritations, and it's even made a big difference in my hair health! Gisou's Propolis Infused Heat Protecting Spray uses propolis to help reinforce damaged or broken strands (much like it reinforces bee hives), wrapping hair in a light protective coating to keep it safe from heat. A few sprays of this before blowdrying leaves my hair strong, shiny and beautifully scented!
Apitoxin or bee venom is a clear liquid that bees release when they sting, and while many people fear it, it actually has some great skincare benefits. Applying small amounts of bee venom to the skin is believed to trick it into thinking it's been stung. This increases blood circulation to the "stung" area, stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, both essential to smooth, youthful skin. It's also believed to be a mild muscle relaxant, so topical use can have a firming and tightening effect. You can find it in many anti-aging face creams and I've personally enjoyed using Wedderspoon's Manuka Honey Night Cream with Bee Venom - it's a rich, hydrating blend of manuka honey, avocado, rosehip & apricot oils with just a dash of bee venom - a little goes a long way! It also contains vanilla planifolia, which gives it a warm vanilla scent, so it's such comforting product to use before bedtime. I only use it during the colder months because it is very rich, but would recommend it anytime for very dry or aging skin.
There's no denying that royal jelly is something special! While worker bees eat pollen, the queen bee lives exclusively on a diet of royal jelly and lives about 40 times longer than the average bee. Like honey, it provides antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and is a great healer - just try it in Egyptian Magic, a rich skincare salve of royal jelly, propolis, honey, beeswax and olive oil. But royal jelly really shines when used as an internal supplement. It's is believed to be a brain booster that improves memory and mental sharpness and fights inflammation; it's even being researched as a treatment for Alzheimer's. Royal jelly's makeup of protein, fatty acids and amino acids also means it helps improve collagen production in the skin, so it's often marketed as a skincare "fountain of youth". It's extremely powerful, so just half a teaspoon a day should be plenty to have you seeing and feeling the benefits.
So those are the basics! There are so many wonderful ways bee products can aid our health and beauty routines and these are just the beginning. It goes without saying that common sense should be used when using bee products and they should not be used by anyone with a known bee allergy unless directed to do so by a physician. For those of you who are not allergic to bees, I highly recommend giving some of these products a try!
With all the things bees do to help us - from providing us with these products to pollinating our crops and plants - it's crucial for us to support them and the environment. Colony Collapse Disorder, where bee communities suddenly and inexplicably disappear, is causing many North American bee colonies to die out each year, so it's important to make sure that we are shopping from ethical companies that promote sustainability. As you can guess from the products I've mentioned here, I am a big fan of Wedderspoon and Beekeeper's Naturals, both of which support bee charities and research, but there are so many more out there working hard to save the bees, so please be sure to do your research. With our support they can continue to do great work and keep the world's bees happy and healthy!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. While I've had success with these products, please consult your physician prior to trying any new supplements or treatments. While apitherapy is believed to lessen allergic reactions to bees and stings, people with known bee allergies should not use any of these products without a physician's direction or supervision.
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