Royal Jelly: The French Beauty Secret Missing From Your Beauty Regimen

It's the buzziest ingredient you haven't heard of, according to dermatologists.

clear skin portrait royal jelly

Anna Tabakova / Stocksy

These days, it seems like there's always a new must-have skincare ingredient that promises to deliver the fountain of youth, clear your complexion for good, and change your tires. (OK, maybe not the last one, but you get the point.) And that next big thing seems to be royal jelly.

Although royal jelly has been showing up in products stateside only recently, other cultures have used this natural ingredient in medicine for centuries. And the French have been using royal jelly as a supplement and beauty aid for decades.

"As a young girl and still today, I get a shot of royal jelly every day to support my immune system," says French public relations guru Marie-Laure Fournier. "There is a saying that you can actually live on royal jelly and water."

If glamorous Gallic women are saying this mysterious ingredient is like air for them, and legendary French skincare brands like Orlane have been using it as an ingredient since the 1960s, something has to be up. Is royal jelly really the natural solution to healthy, youthful skin we've all been looking for?

Read on for the benefits of royal jelly for skin and the best royal jelly products.

Royal Jelly

  • Type of ingredient: hydrator
  • Main benefits: increases collagen production, promotes wound healing, fights inflammation
  • Who should use it: In general, royal jelly can be used by anyone who isn't pregnant; breastfeeding; or allergic to bees, bee byproducts, or plants in the Compositae family.
  • How often can you use it: up to twice daily
  • Works well with: "Since it is not irritating, it can be used in a regimen with potentially more aggressive products, like retinol" or alpha hydroxy acids, says Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami and the founder of Dr. Loretta skincare.
  • Don't use with: No skincare ingredients are known to have unsafe interactions with royal jelly.

What Is Royal Jelly?

honeycomb honey royal jelly

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Royal jelly is a term used to describe the creamy white secretions that come from the throat glands of honeybees. Worker bees feed these secretions to bee larvae during the first few days of life. It's the single protein, called royalactin, in royal jelly that causes a young bee larva to develop into a queen bee.

Throughout their lifetimes, queens continue to dine on royal jelly. It's believed to be responsible for the queen bee's longevity and fertility; she lives five to seven years (compared to a worker bee's seven weeks) and lays more than 2,000 eggs each day.

Although these stats have led to some speculation that royal jelly could possibly have similar health benefits for humans, Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, says the data isn't exactly there. "The exact mechanism through which royal jelly may extend lifespan is not well-understood, and human data is limited to cells in vitro," she explains.

Although royal jelly doesn't have the power to transform you into a modern-day Dorian Gray, it does offer a slew of skin benefits.

Benefits of Royal Jelly for Skin

Royal jelly is rich in moisturizing lipids, minerals, and vitamins like biotin, riboflavin, and thiamine. It also contains bioactive compounds such as peptides, flavonoids, fatty acids, and phenolic acids, all of which make royal jelly a phenomenal skincare ingredient.

Some experts, like cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko, don't enthusiastically back royal jelly as a skincare marvel. Ko says that claims made about royal jelly's skin benefits—that it boosts collagen production and reduces inflammation, for example—"are not backed by strong, human evidence. The evidence that is available is from animal models. Whether or not that applies to humans [has] yet to be seen."

Krupa Koestline, clean-cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants, disagrees. "A lot of the studies not only infer potential benefits but actually show the exact biochemical mechanisms, so there is actually a lot of good evidence supporting them," she insists.

Other skin experts we queried went to bat for royal jelly, too. According to them, royal jelly:

  • Promotes skin hydration and elasticity: The high lipid content of royal jelly is amazing for keeping skin plump, moisturized, and bouncy. "Royal jelly is highly moisturizing and affects hydration of the stratum corneum by retaining water in it," King says. "In consequence, the skin becomes more elastic."
  • Encourages collagen production: Royal jelly contains an overachieving acid called 10-hydroxy-trans-2-decenoic acid, which "stimulates fibroblast production in collagen," King explains. By increasing skin's collagen production, royal jelly can help treat and prevent fine lines, wrinkles, and skin sagging.
  • Fights inflammation: Dealing with uncomfy symptoms like swelling, itching, and redness? Royal jelly helped relieve skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and skin inflammation in mice, King says. Try it on skin irritation and sunburns.
  • Speeds healing of acne and other wounds: Royal jelly not only has an anti-inflammatory effect, but it also keeps bacteria at bay. When applied to skin ulcers, burns, and shingles, royal jelly produces "strong antimicrobial activity within skin tissue," Koestline says. "It also helps reduce the redness [and] speed up healing of acne wounds."
  • Brightens dark spots: The same acid in royal jelly that boosts collagen production also suppresses skin pigmentation, which means it can help fade melasma and dark spots caused by acne and sun exposure, Koestline advises. Bonus: Royal jelly can help prevent hyperpigmentation from forming in the first place.
  • May regulate oil production: Suffer from greasy skin? Try using royal jelly to balance your complexion. "For people with oily, acned skin, [royal jelly] is found to help normalize sebum production," Koestline says, although more research about this topic may be needed. (Ciraldo cautions that "there isn't much peer-reviewed work confirming this benefit.")
  • May have antioxidant effects: Research indicates that the phenolic acids found in royal jelly may counteract free radicals that cause premature skin aging. (Ciraldo says she believes the antioxidant effects of royal jelly are "hyperbolized.")

Other Forms of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly isn't just for topical skincare; it can also be taken as a supplement. In fact, people have been scarfing pure royal jelly for its health benefits since ancient times, Koestline says. And there's interesting research suggesting royal jelly supplements may have anti-aging benefits.

"Ingesting may be helpful for skin firming, much the way that collagen powder has become popular for this," Ciraldo suggests. "In a peer-reviewed animal study, royal jelly increased collagen content and skin firmness in rats who were fed 1 percent royal jelly each day."

It's also possible the benefits of royal jelly supplements extend way beyond firming and smoothing skin, Koestline says. "Modern research supports that all the bioactive benefits (anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, neurotropic, etc.) can help improve reproductive health, balance hormones, improve mental health in older humans, and generally improve your health," she explains.

All that said, Koestline adds, make sure to "speak with your primary care physician" before starting any supplement—including royal jelly.

Royal Jelly vs. Propolis

person applying royal jelly moisturizer

ohlamour studio / Stocksy

Like royal jelly, propolis is an ingredient that's produced by bees and used in skincare, cosmetics, and medicine. Whereas bees use royal jelly to feed their young and queens, bees use propolis to build their elaborate hives.

Unlike royal jelly, though, propolis isn't just a bodily fluid: Bees create propolis using their saliva, beeswax, and tree sap. They don't call 'em busy for nothing.

Similar to royal jelly, propolis is rich in vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, which support overall skin health and have anti-aging effects. Because propolis has natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, it has also been studied for its collagen-stimulating and wound-healing abilities.

So while royal jelly and propolis are functionally similar from a skincare perspective, they're very different substances—and serve separate, super-fascinating purposes in the bee world.

Side Effects of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly "seems very safe" for most people to use in a skincare regimen, Ciraldo says—except for those who:

  • Have asthma and allergies to the Compositae plant family (e.g., ragweed, sunflower, dandelion, and certain artichokes).
  • Are allergic to bees, honey, and other bee byproducts.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding, since royal jelly isn't advised for use in children under 1 year old.

Royal jelly has sometimes been known to cause rashes and eczema when applied to the skin in ointment form, King says. If after using royal jelly products you see "an increase in skin irritation with signs like redness or warmth," discontinue using them immediately, Ko says.

If you're at all dubious about whether royal jelly is safe for you to use, schedule a chat with a medical professional.

How to Use It

Royal jelly is used in skincare products of all kinds: cleansers, makeup removers, toners, serums, moisturizers, masks—the works. How and when you use royal jelly in your routine is entirely dependent on which type of skincare product you choose.

Royal jelly can also be used on skin in its pure, virgin form—for a pretty penny, of course. Apply it like a mask, and allow it to penetrate the skin before rinsing off; you can even leave it on overnight to reap maximum benefits.

If you want to try royal jelly in its edible form, you can buy it raw or freeze-dried in capsules. Again, check with your doctor about whether this is the right supplement for you and how frequently you should take it.

The Best Products With Royal Jelly

Because royal jelly skincare is nourishing, nonirritating, and safe for most people to use, you've got pretty much nothing to lose by giving royal jelly a whirl.

"You can try it for three months to see if you notice any improvement," Ciraldo suggests. "I suggest you take some 'before' photos to document if there is any true improvement after three months."

Here are 10 of the best royal jelly products to put on your radar.

Farmacy Honey Drop Lightweight Moisturizer
Farmacy Honey Drop Lightweight Moisturizer $45
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Farmacy has bet the farm on royal jelly being a skincare cure-all. Many of the brand's products—including its bestselling mask, serums, and top-rated moisturizers—feature royal jelly, not to mention honey and propolis.

"Farmacy Honey Drop moisturizer combines royal jelly with hyaluronic acid and has nearly 500 five-star online reviews," Ciraldo says of this pleasantly light gel-cream moisturizer. "At an accessible price point of $45, I'd recommend it."

Cosrx Propolis Light Cream
Cosrx Propolis Light Cream $32
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French women are obsessed with royal jelly, and South Korean women aren't sleeping on it either, if K-beauty's fixation with royal jelly is any indication. Byrdie editor Sheryll Donerson recommends this cruelty-free, royal jelly-infused Cosrx cream for inflamed complexions.

"The Cosrx Propolis Light Cream is great to use after any sort of facial peel or when your skin is feeling a bit 'meh' after a breakout," she says. "It's a mix of propolis, honey, and royal jelly that protects skin while helping it to heal."

Mask Skincare Luminouss Sheet Mask
Mask Skincare Luminouss Hydrating & CBD Moisturizing Sheet Mask $16
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What do you get when you combine buzzy royal jelly with even-buzzier CBD? This powerful sheet mask from Mask Skincare, recommended by King.

"[It's] formulated with hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and coconut water for hydration, as well as jackfruit extract, which is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C to brighten the skin," she says. It calms inflammation; firms and moisturizes skin; and fades dark spots.

Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence
Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence $39
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If your skin doesn't crave intense moisture but you want to reap the healing, anti-inflammatory benefits of royal jelly, check out this serum from Skinfood.

"Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence is really great to use when you're having inflammation, redness, or acne breakouts," Donerson says. "It really soothes the skin."

I'm From Honey Serum
I'm From Honey Serum $28
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If your dehydrated skin finds most serums wanting in the hydration department, try this rich serum featuring a patented, proprietary blend of honey, black bee propolis, royal jelly, bee venom, and bee pollen. Antioxidant cinnamon and turmeric are thrown in for good measure.

Donerson says this serum is "great for people who have dry, sensitive skin. It's a bit thicker in texture than the Skinfood option and is really lush to use at night or when your skin needs a pick-me-up."

Naturopathica Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm
Naturopathica Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm $64
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A Byrdie Eco Beauty Award winner, Naturopathica's cleansing balm absolutely babies your face with manuka honey, royal jelly peptides, probiotics, and plant-based butters (shea, cocoa, and mango seed, to be exact). We love the way it easily cleanses makeup and debris but leaves skin soft, quenched, and glowing—not tight and dry like many cleansers do.

Jafra Royal Boost Cleanse + Tone Wipes
Jafra Royal Boost Cleanse + Tone Wipes $14
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Byrdie Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus is gaga for these face wipes from Jafra, which has an entire collection of skincare products devoted to magical royal jelly. These convenient wipes break down makeup in a snap and leave skin feeling plump and glow-y.

french royal jelly
French Royal Jelly $209
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This cult-secret skincare product features 100 percent pure, organic royal jelly made by bees in the Pyrenees mountains of southwest France. (Yes, those bees probably live fancier lives than you.) Trust us, it doesn't get more luxe than this. For more, check out our French Royal Jelly review.

Burt's Bees Day Lotion SPF 15
Burt's Bees Day Lotion SPF 15 $15
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Formulated with royal jelly, this clean daily moisturizer minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, leaving your skin looking illuminated from within. In fact, our editors think it's one of the best drugstore moisturizers with sunscreen. At just $15, why not give it a shot?

Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream $32
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It's no secret we love this all-purpose skin cream with royal jelly. (Read our full review of Egyptian Magic.) Purportedly modeled after the salve used by pharaohs in ancient Egypt, this multipurpose soothing moisturizer is worth its weight in gold. Use it as a night cream, cuticle salve, razor-burn remedy, split-end tamer—the list goes on and on.

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