Photo:Natasha Breen/Getty Images
Many people credit honey as a byproduct of bees, but did you know these little stingers produce another equally beneficial substance called propolis? Propolis is a compound that bees create from sap on needle-leaved trees. When it's combined with their discharge, beeswax, and pollen, another sticky compound, propolis is formed.
This healing ingredient traces back to 300 BC, when Aristotle supposedly coined the term propolis, which means "defender of the city." It has been used widely across different cultures, including the Egyptians (Cleopatra was a big fan!), Incans, and more. In the 17th century, propolis was listed in the London Pharmacopeias as the official drug to treat wounds. Given its long-standing history of treatments and results, propolis has stood out in the test of time.
"The result is a sticky substance that is used to line the hive walls. Because it is packed with powerful phytochemicals that protect against germs and intruders, it essentially functions as the hive immune system," explains Carly Stein, CEO and founder of Beekeeper's Naturals. "They line every inch of the nursery with propolis to keep baby bees healthy and clean. They even keep a special propolis 'doormat' by the entrance of the hive to ensure no germs are tracked in as the bees bustle in and out of the hive."
Photo:Courtesy of Beekeeper's Naturals
Just like the protector of the hive's immune system, there is a myriad of benefits to this healing compound, including being antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory. All of these properties provide beneficial uses, which are explained below.
1. It Can Soothe a Sore Throat
Because of the antimicrobial and soothing nature of propolis, it is included in many formulations for cold syndromes, including upper respiratory tract infections, common colds, and flu-like infections. For the common cold, a sore throat may appear first as a symptom. Propolis in products such as Beekeeper's Naturals' Propolis Throat Spray may act as a natural defender to not only soothe the throat but to also fight germs and support the immune system.
2. It Provides Natural Immune Support
With the 300-plus compounds that propolis contains, many of them are actually polyphenols called flavonoids, which have a high concentration of antioxidants. Flavonoids are commonly found in fruits, green tea, vegetables, and red wine. Therefore, ingesting propolis can help boost the immune system given its abundance of flavonoids.
3. It Has Healing Properties
Similar to how the bees use propolis to protect their beehives, repairing and sealing any openings and cracks and fortifying the internal walls with a protective barrier, propolis can be used as an anti-inflammatory protective barrier on the skin against any environmental stressors and invaders. As a result, it can aid in wound healing. Applying this topically to any wound or burn will help soothe and speed up the recovery process.
4. It Rejuvenates and Encourages Supple Skin
Packed with vitamins, antioxidants, proteins, and amino acids, propolis also helps reinvigorate your skin at a cellular level, boosting its regeneration cycle and making it feel soft and supple again. Farmacy Beauty's Honey Halo Moisturizer is packed with ceramides and the brand's buckwheat honey with a propolis and royal jelly blend. The formula provides the moisture and antioxidants your dry skin will crave.
Propolis protects the skin against environmental damage and encourages smooth skin by increasing collagen production—now, who wouldn't want that? Because of this benefit, propolis may be good for those who experience skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. They can use it to heal and calm down inflamed skin.
5. It Fights Off Oral Germs
With the antibacterial properties, it's no surprise that propolis may also be beneficial in keeping a healthy and clean mouth. Many types of mouthwash and toothpaste may include propolis as an ingredient to prevent cavities and treat gingivitis. In addition, propolis is found in many throat lozenges to soothe the throat and, again, keep your mouth and teeth in an antifungal environment. Bad breath? Buzz off.
6. It Combats Free Radicals
When the body is stressed, propolis can bring it into equilibrium by combating free radicals due to its high antioxidant levels. In addition, this antioxidant mix can be effective in reducing the risk of cancer. While there needs to be more studies on the topic, propolis may help reduce the proliferation of cancer cells and moderate the immune system's response to those cells.
How to Shop for Propolis
While there are different types of propolis between geographic regions and places where the plant and tree resin have been collected, the benefits still remain the same regardless of its type and color. There can be green, brown, and even red propolis varieties, shares Stein. However, the important factor to note is the strength of the propolis. "You measure the strength of propolis by the concentration of the extract," Stein explains. "For example, the only three ingredients in our Propolis Throat Spray are 95% propolis extract, non-GMO vegetable glycerin, and purified water."
Take a look at some other propolis products below.
This warming face mask contains a proprietary honey blend, glycerin, and essential B vitamins.
Made for dry, dehydrated skin, this rich cream will leave your face looking plumper and brighter.
This essence contains 63% black bee propolis extract, 10% royal jelly extract, and 10% black honey extract.
A drop of this propolis might help you boost your immune system.
With 82% propolis and niacinamide, this product will work to repair, protect, and brighten skin.
You can also take propolis capsules, like these vegetarian ones. It's recommended to take one capsule two or three times daily.