Find the bee products to suit you

Student Rachel Ward will conduct research into extending the lifespan of honey bees after Clarin Ireland provided funding to Maynooth University.

From honey to venom, Rachel Marie Walsh is all about beauty and the bees this week.

Clarins Ireland, ever keen to work in harmony with nature, is to fund research at Maynooth University into extending the lives of honey bees. 

The two-year project, which will be conducted by Rachel Ward under the supervision of professor Kevin Kavanagh and Dr Mary Coffey (University of Limerick), will examine the immune response of winter bees. These can live for up to six months, but may be susceptible to infection. 

It will analyse the effect of different treatments on their immune systems and identify the optimum time for treatment to ensure survival of hives through the winter.

Insect populations are in decline due to climate change, the emergence of new pathogens and developments in agriculture. Beekeepers face problems in maintaining populations of honey bees in Ireland and can lose up to 25% of their hives each year due to disease or adverse weather conditions.

“This project will make a significant contribution to reducing the losses of bee hives each year and assist Irish beekeepers in maintaining bee populations,” said professor Kavanagh.

Honey bees are responsible for pollinating food crops that account for approximately 35% of global food intake.

Bee products also have many wonderful uses in the cosmetic and perfume industries. Honey, beeswax and bee propolis are well-tolerated and reparative for hair and skin. Clarins Honey Instant Light Lip Comfort Oil, €21, shows how glamorous they can look. Honey is perhaps best known for its humectant (moisture-trapping) power, but regardless of skin type, there is a bee product to suit you.

Bees in skincare

Honey, a multipurpose beauty aid, is surely the nectar of the goddesses. Its powers stem from a complex amino acid, peptide, antioxidant and antibacterial composition. It is very hydrating, with a moisture content of 14%-18%, according to US cosmetic science database cosmeticsinfo.org.

Honey acts as a potent antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory in skincare. It is wound-healing and forms a barrier on skin that can help soothe and protect.

Beeswax is secreted by honey bees. It is used in cosmetics to keep an emulsion from separating into its oil and liquid components, especially in products that require a creamy consistency. These waxes also increase the thickness of the fatty part of stick-like products, such as lipstick, giving them shape, allowing for a smooth application and keeping them solid. When used in eye makeup, the wax stiffens but does not harden the eye makeup, and actually facilitates application.

Bee propolis is a brown, resinous material that is collected by bees from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees for use in hive construction. In skincare it is valued for its antioxidant, antibacterial and skin-soothing properties.

Royal jelly sounds luxurious but, beauty-wise, this is the least useful of all bee-related ingredients. A honey bee secretion that is used in the nutrition of larvae, it is mainly water, with small amounts of protein and fatty acids and traces of vitamins. Skincare claims related to this extract are exaggerated, in my view.

What is the deal with bee venom?

Bee venom (listed as apitoxin or melittin on skincare) is collected from living bees ‘stingers’ and has been in the news periodically since it was reported that the Duchess of Cambridge uses Deborah Mitchell’s Heaven Honey Bee Venom Mask. The Daily Telegraph also reports that Ms Middleton had bee sting facials (which can involve bee venom injections) in preparation for her wedding.

When you are stung by a bee the melittin causes your skin to release histamine, making the area swollen and tender. Melittin itself also contains histamine, confusingly, and the logic behind putting it in skincare is that it can ‘trick’ skin into stimulating blood flow to the face. Swollen skin looks plumper and smoother. Bee venom injections are also thought to stimulate collagen development.

This is not the only ingredient to irritate/stimulate skin into swelling, cayenne and camphor have been doing it through lip glosses since the Nineties. They do work temporarily as surface plumpers, provided there is enough of the irritant in the bottle to do anything at all (a tingly feeling indicates effect). I think it is worth noting that constantly irritating the skin with topical products sensitises it to UV damage and other environmental aggressors. 

It also encourages collagen breakdown, which is the opposite aim of most anti-ageing skincare.

Bees in haircare

As a humectant, honey can be a water-binding gift to dry hair. It also imparts great shine and is used in a broad variety of colour and colour-protective products. Applying raw or manuka honey to your hair as a pre-shampoo treatment is a pure route to better condition. 

You could also try Garnier Ultimate Blends Honey Treasures Strengthening Hair Mask, €6.79 at Boots.

It strengthens and protects hair with honey and bee propolis. I really like this mask, but do not recommend the shampoo from the ‘Honey Treasures’ collection. Though it contains honey, it is higher in skin-sensitising sodium lauryl sulphate.

Honey in fragrance

There are lots of hit fragrances with honey notes. The scent, like the taste of honey, depends on the variety: It can be predominantly woodsy, floral, herbal, or even tobacco-scented, so you needn’t be super-girly to get into it.

However, the most popular examples are honey-florals, such as Marc Jacobs Honey, €63.50, and Nectarine Blossom & Honey, €54, by Jo Malone London. I also like Laura Mercier’s Ambre Vanille Honey Bath, €53, which offers both scent and skincare.

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