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Asian Skincare Ingredients 101: Honey, Propolis, & Royal Jelly

It’s National Honey Month, and what better way for skincare lovers to celebrate than to learn about the un-bee-lievably nourishing properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly? While people often mistake one for another, these bee byproducts are actually not interchangeable, and have incredible benefits of their own.

Let’s see what all the buzz is about!

Skincare Benefits of Honey

The most well-known of bee byproducts, honey is considered the nectar and ambrosia of the gods for a reason! It’s a thick, syrupy substance produced by forager bees collecting nectar from flowers in its “honey stomach” and regurgitating the nectar at their hives. (It’s not technically vomit since the nectar never reaches the bees’ food stomachs!)

Not only is it pure decadence as a food, it also contains at least 181 constituents such as “​​phenolic acids, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, proteins, carotenoids, and certain enzymes, such as glucose oxidase and catalase,” which act as antioxidants to scavenge free radicals.

Honey has long been used in traditional medicinal practices globally, possibly from as long as 40,000 years ago, for purposes ranging from healing wounds and burns to cleansing skin. While the exact mechanisms of honey’s wound healing abilities are not yet specifically identified, research suggests that honey does indeed speed up the skin repairing process as an immunomodulator. The antimicrobial properties of honey also aid in the wound healing process, promoting skin tissue repair while protecting the wound from infection.

In skincare applications, honey can gently exfoliate dead skin cells with its fruit acids, improve skin elasticity, reduce skin irritation, and more!

Skincare Benefits of Propolis

Also called bee glue, propolis is a “natural resinous mixture produced by honey bees from substances collected from parts of plants, buds, and exudates.” Bees use this sticky, waxy substance as a glue to repair and fortify their hives. (Spoiler alert—it can protect the skin too!)

In addition to resin and wax, propolis also contains useful minerals, phenolic compounds, esters, flavonoids, enzymes, and terpenes, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and E! These constituents, much like those in honey, exhibit high antimicrobial and antioxidant activity such as scavenging free radicals. Studies testing certain types of propolis show that the ingredient “inhibits melanogenesis . . . by downregulating intracellular tyrosinase activity.”

As such, propolis is also a favored beauty ingredient for wound healing, brightening skin and protecting the skin barrier! Acne-prone skin may find propolis’ anti-inflammatory, smoothing, and brightening properties suitable for treating irritation, scarring, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Skincare Benefits of Royal Jelly

The bee byproduct fit for royalty! Royal jelly, also known as bee milk, is a milky white substance (yes, with a jelly-like consistency) secreted from the glands of worker bees. It’s fed to worker, drone, and queen larvae for their first three days of life, and then fed to only queen larvae until the larval period ends, hence its namesake!

As it is meant to sustain bee larvae and aid specifically in the development of queen larvae, royal jelly is quite nutritious with water, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, mineral salts, and vitamins such as pantothenic acid. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, is a skincare powerhouse that hydrates skin, boosts collagen production, and improves the skin cell turnover rate.

Like honey and propolis, royal jelly also contains bioactive compounds such as polyphenols. Most notably, royal jelly’s immunomodulatory activity stems largely from the unsaturated fatty acid 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (HAD), or 10-HDA. 10-HDA, commonly called queen bee acid, is found only in royal jelly and is suggested to not onlypromote collagen synthesis, but to also “protect the skin from UVA induced photoaging.” While the exact mechanisms behind its role as a tyrosinase-inhibitor need further research, studies suggest that royal jelly does indeed reduce melanin synthesis for brighter skin. And—no surprise here—royal jelly is associated with wound healing as well!

Best Honey, Propolis, & Royal Jelly Skincare Products

Want to incorporate all three into your skincare routine in one go? This is the sheet mask you need!

CosRX Full Fit Propolis Nourishing Magnet Sheet Mask

CosRX Full Fit Propolis Nourishing Magnet Sheet Mask

Contrary to what the product name suggests, CosRX’s Full Fit Propolis Nourishing Magnet Sheet Mask contains much more than just propolis alone! This sheet mask is soaked in CosRX’s Full Fit Ampoule, which features propolis, honey, and royal jelly. Combined, the antioxidant-rich ampoule intensely nourishes and repairs damaged skin.

In particular, we love the way this sheet mask even increases the pantothenic acid content of royal jelly extract by adding panthenol, a derivative of pantothenic acid! Panthenol is the more stable form of pantothenic acid and has a myriad of skin benefits ranging from decreasing transepidermal water loss to strengthening the skin barrier.

What’s more, the fabric is designed to mimic a honeycomb structure, perfectly adhering to the skin for a comfortable fit and effective nutrient delivery. Talk about sticking to the theme!

If you want to break it down by ingredient, here’s a list of our favorite Asian beauty products that harness the powers of honey, propolis, and royal jelly respectively! Who knows, may-bee one of these will become your newest holy grail!

Best Honey Skincare Product

Annie's Way Honey + Lecithin Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask

Annie's Way Honey + Lecithin Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask

In addition to being an excellent humectant and overall moisturizer for skin, honey can also clarify pores! Annie’s Way takes full advantage of honey’s many benefits to create a wash-off mask that purifies skin and replenishes much-needed moisture in just 20 minutes. Their Honey + Lecithin Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask uses lecithin alongside honey to boost its softening and hydrating abilities. Lecithin, an emollient, smooths skin and supports the skin barrier with its fatty acids and lipids. Truly a match made in heaven with the wound healing and elasticity-boosting properties of honey!

Formulated with allantoin, glycolic acid, mucopolysaccharides, proteoglycans, elastin and collagen, this honey jelly mask soothes irritation, moisturizes skin, and evens texture. Plus, it includes panthenol for that extra dose of skin soothing and strengthening!

Best Propolis Skincare Products

CosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask

CosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask

If you feel like wash-off masks are too much of a hassle, we’ve got another mask for you! The CosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask can be used as a wash-off mask or even a morning moisturizer, but mainly functions as an overnight mask applied at the end of your evening skincare routine.

Don’t be fooled by the product name! Once again, CosRX has a penchant for misleading product names—this “honey mask” is actually over 87% propolis extract. (Maybe Ultimate Moisturizing Propolis Overnight Mask just doesn’t roll off the tongue?) No complaints here about the propolis though; we are wowed by the way propolis and beeswax combine to deeply hydrate the skin and reduce inflammation. The aforementioned acne-treating properties of propolis also elevate this overnight mask to must-try status for those with acne-prone skin who want to brighten post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and even bumpy texture!

Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum: Propolis + Niacinamide

 Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum: Propolis + Niacinamide

Propolis AND niacinamide?? SAY NO MORE! Beauty of Joseon’s Glow Serum combines these two ingredients for a wonderfully brightening, soothing, and strengthening effect. Since you’ve just read our mini crash course on propolis and probably already know all about the ever-so-popular skincare darling niacinamide, we want to shine a spotlight on all the other awesome ingredients in this acne-fighting serum!

First off, the much gentler form of salicylic acid, betaine salicylate, mildly exfoliates away dead skin cells while moisturizing and smoothing skin! Then, tamanu oil deters bacteria associated with acne and stimulates collagen production, promoting wound healing in the process. The antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial tea tree extract further helps treat acne!

In other words, not only does this serum contain ingredients that reduce acne formation, it also brightens existing hyperpigmentation from previous acne! In just one serum, you’re getting an expertly-formulated mix of ingredients that treats acne in all its stages, including the aftermath.

Best Royal Jelly Beauty Products

23.5°N Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask


The nutritious royal jelly makes itself known in 23.5°N’s Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask! It amplifies the hydrating and nourishing effects of bamboo, while also brightening an uneven skin tone and encouraging collagen production for improved skin elasticity.

We’re also obsessed with the way royal jelly is used in conjunction with other mighty humectants such as the three types of hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, and hyaluronic acid) in this formula, leaving skin plump and refreshed with hydration.

Royal jelly is such a great hydrator, in fact, that Japanese beauty brands love to use it beyond just skincare! See below for our favorite JBeauty hair product with royal jelly:

Shiseido Fino Premium Touch Hair Essence Mask

Shiseido Fino Premium Touch Hair Essence Mask

This hair mask makes it into just about every single “Best Of Japanese Hair Care” article on the internet, and for good reason! Shiseido’s Fino Premium Touch Hair Essence Mask is infused with seven different extracts to deliver moisture deep into dry strands and restore shine to dull, lifeless hair. One of these extracts is royal jelly extract, which contains biotin to stimulate keratin production in hair. The smoothing ability of royal jelly extract shines in this deep conditioning mask, taming the frizzy and unmanageable nature of damaged hair.

Final Thoughts

Honey, propolis, and royal jelly are all powerful soothing and wound healing agents, but allergic reactions may occur. If you’re concerned about your face reacting poorly to bee byproduct-infused skincare, patch test the product elsewhere first, like the inside of your elbow!

We hope these Asian Beauty products will help you look and feel like a Queen Bee!

Check out more of our Asian Skincare Ingredients 101 articles here: