Welcome to Pretty Healthy, FLEETSTREET’s in-depth series. We are uncovering how bees can boost the efficacy of skin care products. Beauty starts with healthy skin and hair, and this column delivers the goods on making that a reality.
In the ever-evolving world of skin care, celebrities are always seeking out the latest and most unconventional treatments. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, made headlines with bee sting therapies – a painful ancient technique said to contain anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory compounds, including one known as melittin, which has 26 amino acids and contributes to about 50 per cent of the venom’s dry weight. While intentionally subjecting herself to bee stings sounds dreadful, there are less invasive ways to take advantage of the skin benefits from bees.
In addition to their role in producing the “liquid gold” that we know as honey, mellifera, a.k.a. honey bees, scientifically known as apis mellifera, create an array of skin-healthy compounds while constructing and maintaining their hives. These products include propolis, bee pollen, bee venom and royal jelly – each with its unique set of potential beauty benefits.
At some point, I developed a fear of bees as an adult. There was no traumatic incident, but my heart rate accelerates whenever one buzzes too close. So, when I stood in front of the beehives at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, I felt surprisingly at peace. Maybe it was the protective bee-gear or maybe it was the fact that for the first time, I witnessed them doing their jobs and it was pretty incredible.
I attended the launch event BEE RX Canada. There, I met Dr. Shaun Holt, the founder and science director of TRG Natural Pharmaceuticals. I got the chance to discuss with him the benefits bees can offer to our skin.
Holt tells me he spent most of his career developing new medicines for pharmaceutical companies and applies the same rigorous standards for innovation, research and quality control to the Bee Rx skin care range. That means human clinical study testing. In fact, some of his research on the benefit of bees for skin has been published in medical journals, such as the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.
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FS: What are the ethical practices you follow to ensure the well-being and conservation of bee populations during the sourcing process?
SH: The health of the bees we look after is paramount to us. [BeeRx’s] beehives are in the beautiful, green and natural North Island of New Zealand. [In addition to] the best beekeeping practices, we use a method to extract venom from the bees without harming them. The method involves the use of glass plates which the bee’s stingers cannot pass through. And so, instead, they deposit a small amount of pure bee venom which we can collect.
FS: There are many bee-related skin care brands already available. Why launch another one? What makes these products different?
SH: Science, dosages and Kanuka honey. We are able to put the correct dose, based on research, of active ingredients into our products, and we know not a lot of other brands do this. Kanuka honey is a key component as well. We are the first [skin care brand] to develop this natural resource. Manuka honey may be more famous at the moment, but Kanuka honey has unique properties such as strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity, which are great for the skin.
FS: What is sustainable beekeeping?
SH: Sustainability, bee health and education are at the centre of the Bee Rx brand mission and philosophy to create better products for consumers and the environment. In Canada, Bee Rx is also a proud partner of Pollinator Partnership Canada, a registered charity dedicated to the protection and promotion of pollinators. Together, they share the goal of protecting bee ecosystems through conversation, education and research.
FS: How are the products formulated?
SH: In terms of quality, Bee Rx develops skin care solutions to the same high level as pharmaceutical medicines. For example, our manufacturing partners have to achieve the highest quality standards. Also, we have proprietary testing methods for the key active ingredients in order to ensure they are of the highest standard, are reproducible, and are the same as the products that were used in the clinical trial testing.
We ensure the authenticity of the key natural ingredients by producing them ourselves and testing them in the lab. We do not simply buy them in.
FS: What specific benefits do your bee beauty products offer?
SH: As for the specific key ingredients, they have a number of special properties: Kanuka honey kills bacteria, heals wounds and reduces inflammation. Also, studies show that honey is probably the best moisturizer that there is. […] It absorbs water from the atmosphere and passes it into the skin. People who put medical-grade honey on their faces often say their skin feels moisturized and soft. Bee venom produces a small inflammation, that fills out wrinkles and reduces visibility [of lines]. Also, when used for a few weeks, it is thought to help build up collagen levels in the skin.
The general philosophy behind the products is BEE RX is backed by solid research, proving their effectiveness. Being composed of as many natural components as possible, limiting the ingredients to only those essential for the product’s purpose. They exclude any additives, colourants, and fragrances that serve no beneficial purpose. They’re also dedicated to not conducting any animal testing, ensuring cruelty-free procedures.