This K-Beauty Ingredient Has Seriously Transformed My Skin

Propolis—or “bee propolis” as it’s sometimes called—might not have the same instant name recognition as hyaluronic acid or niacinamide. But if you aren’t familiar with it yet, you’re definitely about to be. The skin-soothing ingredient is quickly on its way to becoming the next hydration and glow-boosting all-star.

I first came across propolis last fall while looking for a hydrating serum that could tackle the rough patches on my combination skin without weighing it down. When I spotted the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum during my routine Soko Glam browse, I was intrigued—it was under $20, had pretty packaging, great reviews, and most importantly, it was developed to soothe and hydrate while also gently removing dead skin. I placed my order and waited for this potentially holy grail product to arrive in the mail.

I decided I would start off using it as part of my morning skin-care routine and the effects were immediate. My skin, which gets a bit red even after a gentle cleanse, felt instantly calmer and my skin was glowing. The type of glow that makes you pause and stare yourself in the mirror because the light reflecting off all angles is kind of mesmerizing. The serum sank into my skin nicely, so there wasn’t any stickiness and layered well under my moisturizer. And that’s when I knew me and propolis were in it for the long run. 

What is bee propolis?

As the name implies, propolis is a compound created by bees. “Propolis, often referred to as ‘bee glue,’ is the material that holds bees’ hives together,” says Charlotte Cho, esthetician and co-founder of Soko Glam. “This brown resin substance is made from botanical sources, like tree buds, and is what honeybees collect to fill the spaces in their hives.”

Like beeswax, it plays an important role in the hive infrastructure, but they’re not the same. “Beeswax is often confused for propolis but they’re completely different,” says Corey Hartman, M.D., dermatologist and founder of the Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. “Beeswax builds the ‘bricks’ of the cell wall and the propolis acts as the mortar that holds it all together. ”

It’s also not to be confused with other popular bee-produced compounds used in skin care products—like honey, which aids with wound healing and inflammation, or royal jelly, a viscous, jelly-like substance that’s used for antiaging protection and boosting collagen production. (“It’s produced by worker bees to feed the queen bee and the larvae,” says K-beauty expert Felicia Lee, one half of the duo from Beauty Within.) 

And while Cho points out that no bees are harmed in the process of collecting propolis—“beekeepers safely harvest propolis by gently scraping it off the frames and lids of hive boxes,” she says—it’s worth keeping in mind that propolis isn’t considered vegan

What are the skin care benefits of propolis?

While bee propolis has been used for thousands of years in eastern medicine as an herbal remedy, its adoption into skin care has taken off thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which make it perfect for blemish-prone skin. “The rise of propolis’s popularity in Korea is due to its incredible versatility,” says Cho. “It achieves everything from hydration and healing to curbing acne and reducing oil production.” Here’s a rundown of all its superstar skin care properties. 

It protects your skin barrier. 

“For dermatologists, one of our holy grails is a product that will protect your skin barrier and keep it intact as much as possible,” says Hartman. That’s because a compromised skin barrier leads to dehydration and raises your risk of infection. 

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