The Little-Known Ingredient Korean Women Use to Fight Acne

propolis products

I’ve gone to Seoul to beauty-hunt for my website, Peach & Lily, every few months for the past three years, and lately, I’ve noticed a meaningful increase in products that include one ingredient: propolis. This growth in popularity is for good reason. After all, it turns out propolis is also an amazing ingredient for your skin.

Meet the Expert

Keep reading to find out more about propolis and all it can do your for skin, below.

What Is Propolis?

Propolis is a resin-like substance, specifically, a combination of tree sap and beeswax made by bees to fill in honeycomb crevices for protection. It is used in beauty products to treat a variety of skin conditions, in particular, acne. "Honey gets all the hype, but propolis is another product produced by bees," explains Shirazi. "Propolis is a natural substance produced by bees from tree sap combined with their beeswax and secretions to form a sticky resin that helps seal open spaces in their hives. Historically, propolis was used by the Egyptians to embalm mummies and the Greeks [used] it to treat infections."

Benefits of Propolis

  • Antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral: "Propolis is thought to have benefits for the
    skin as it is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and also provides antioxidant benefits," says Garshick. "As an antioxidant, it can help to protect the skin from free radical damage." Propolis is also known for its ability to fight against a lot of powerful bacteria. Some studies conclude that the reason propolis is so effective against various microbes is because it’s so rich in flavonoids (you know, the same antioxidant found in coffee).
  • Smoothing and softening: Since propolis has such powerful healing properties, it works quickly to regenerate skin to help make skin texture smoother and suppler.
  • Moisturizing: Yes, it even hydrates skin without a creamy, heavy residue.
  • Soothing: Because of the healing abilities, propolis is great for sunburns; it may soothe and help to speed up the recovery process.
  • Free radical fighting: Propolis is also packed with antioxidants, helping to keep free radicals (which are an almost inevitable reality with everyday pollutants and sun exposure in the intense summer sun, even if you’re an avid SPF user) from causing cellular damage. "It also has many healing benefits and contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help fight against oxidative stress." says Shirazi. "So, they play a role in protection and repair from environmental factors."
  • Controlling oil production: Overactive sebaceous glands can be helped by the bees as well. Thank you, bees!

How Is Propolis Good for Acne?

person with bright skin

jacoblund / Getty Images

There are a lot of different causes of acne. Of course, there is hormonal acne, which may be hard to address through topical means alone. However, even then, the aftermath of hormonal acne may be helped by propolis. And for bacterial acne, propolis may go a long way in both prevention and recovery from acne-related issues.

Let’s start with prevention. Bacterial acne is caused by a tiny microbe that thrives in the skin’s pore, near the sebaceous gland. This type of bacteria can trigger an immune response, resulting in inflammation, redness, and visible acne. Since propolis has antiseptic characteristics, this ingredient can help actively fight off acne-causing bacteria. I love this about propolis! "It is thought to be helpful for acne as it has antibacterial benefits and may also nourish the skin, improve wound healing, and have antioxidant benefits, which can be helpful for post-acne marks and healing as well. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory benefits can help to reduce calm redness associated with acne breakouts," adds Garshick.

On top of that, your skin may be healthier and can function more optimally (i.e., fight bacteria off itself) when it’s well hydrated. As previously mentioned, propolis also hydrates, so this should help keep skin healthier.

However, Garshick notes, "While it can be used by all skin types, it is important to note that some people can have an allergy or sensitivity to it, in which case, it might be best to avoid this ingredient. If you are concerned you may be sensitive, it is always a good idea to apply a small amount to the inner aspect of your forearm as a patch test to determine if any reaction or irritation occurs."

And finally, acne can be tied to oily skin because overactive sebaceous glands are regular culprits for acne. It’s not as simple as oil leads to acne and dry skin leads to no acne; sebum is like glue and traps dead skin cells, pollutants, and all sorts of impurities in the pores. And there is some correlation between oily skin and acneic skin, so when propolis helps to combat oily skin and control sebaceous gland production, that’s a good thing for acne sufferers.

No matter how hard we try to protect our skin, I find that it’s nearly impossible with the environment we live in now. There are so many pollutants, and in the intense summer heat, even when I reapply SPF every couple of hours, I inevitably find that there is some sun exposure I wasn’t able to prevent. That’s where antioxidants play a critical role. SPF is the leaky fort, and when free radicals infiltrate, antioxidants are the militia on the ground, ready to protect skin. This is important for those who struggle with acne. Healthier skin means the ability to fight off bacteria and keep everything more in balance.

Let’s say that try as you might, breakouts are still happening. Propolis helps so much with the aftermath. Because of its healing abilities, it’ll help speed up recovery from scarring and heal your skin.

Which Propolis Products Are Best?

Tosowoong Propolis Sparkle Ampoule $20.00

This is a generous, lightweight ampoule for those looking for great value. It’s 80 percent propolis—there’s a reason this became an Internet sensation in Korea. This ampoule is great for those who are also looking to boost radiance.

Papa Recipe Bombee Honey Facial Mask $20.00

One of Korea’s best-selling sheet masks also unsurprisingly uses propolis as one of its hero ingredients. This one is also great and leaves your skin supple without that sticky residue afterward.

CNP Laboratory Propolis Energy Ampule $25.00

One of Korea’s most established dermatologists also includes a propolis ampoule in the lineup. This one is great for those who are also looking for a boost of hydration.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Przybyłek I, Karpiński TM. Antibacterial properties of propolisMolecules. 2019;24(11):2047. doi:10.3390/molecules24112047

  2. Martinotti S, Ranzato E. Propolis: a new frontier for wound healing? Burns Trauma. 2015;3:9. doi:10.1186/s41038-015-0010-z

  3. Gregoris E, Fabris S, Bertelle M, Grassato L, Stevanato R. Propolis as potential cosmeceutical sunscreen agent for its combined photoprotective and antioxidant propertiesInt J Pharm. 2011;405(1-2):97-101. doi:10.1016/j.ijpharm.2010.11.052

  4. Kurek-Górecka A, Górecki M, Rzepecka-Stojko A, Balwierz R, Stojko J. Bee products in dermatology and skin careMolecules. 2020;25(3):556. doi:10.3390/molecules25030556

  5. Mazzarello V, Donadu MG, Ferrari M, et al. Treatment of acne with a combination of propolis, tea tree oil, and Aloe vera compared to erythromycin cream: two double-blind investigationsClin Pharmacol. 2018;10:175-181. doi:10.2147/CPAA.S180474

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