My coworkers and I had a laugh during the inevitable 4 o'clock office slump the other day, hypothesizing about what the future of beauty might have in store: moon dust-infused face cream, red-rock Mars masks, Alien Foot. We giggled at our desks at the ridiculousness of it all — or perhaps we just needed coffee — but more so, because these imaginary items didn't seem that off. We haven't commandeered Mars just yet, but on the quest for otherworldly beauty, things are getting pretty out-there. We've got people freezing themselves, trying vampire facelifts and placenta facials, and using skin-care products made with everything from gold to caviar to snail slime. So what's the next ingredient du jour? Bee venom — and no, that's not just a sassy nickname for honey. Honey has proven antimicrobial and antibacterial qualities, and can be used to clean, moisturize, and heal skin, as well as fight off acne. Venom (yep, the stingy stuff) shares some of these qualities, but also has its own slew of beauty benefits — they're just a little murkier than those of its sweeter counterpart. When added to a cream, mask, or lip serum, bee venom can supposedly trick your skin into thinking it's been stung, causing a plumping and tightening sensation that will diminish the signs of aging. The substance is a "potent combination of enzymes, peptides, and amino acids," says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, and it's being touted by brands as a "natural Botox" that absorbs into your skin, no needles necessary. Kate Middleton and Gwyneth Paltrow caused a media stir when they dabbled in it a few years back, and since then we've seen bee-venom products flood the market. "Apitoxin [bee venom] as a cosmetic ingredient is rapidly growing in popularity due to its ability to fool the skin into believing that it has been stung, thereby increasing the production of collagen and blood circulation," says Natalie Zinder, a product developer who works with Venofye, one of the brands capitalizing on the power of bee venom. "This rush of blood may also help skin's appearance and lead to a gentle plumping effect."
[Bee venom] as a cosmetic ingredient is rapidly growing in popularity due to its ability to fool the skin into believing that it has been stung, thereby increasing the production of collagen and blood circulation.
But before we dive further into the ingredient's effects on our skin, we know what you're wondering: What about the poor little bees? Don't worry, none are harmed in the extraction process, which involves a glass pane with a light electrical current running through it. This attracts the bees, and gets them to sting and leave their venom on the glass' surface — stingers intact. "[It's] a safe process that ensures that the bees' lifespan, well-being, and performance are not affected," says Dr. Gohara. A little history: Though the extraction process was, of course, different back then, The American Apitherapy Society states that bee-venom therapy was practiced in ancient Egypt, Greece, and China — and today, studies show that it can be beneficial in treating rheumatoid arthritis, enlarged prostates, and even cancer. But when it comes to skin care, the studies are scarce. "There is no scientific evidence," says Bruce Katz, MD, director of the Cosmetic Surgery & Laser Clinic at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "In fact, it can be dangerous. You can have an allergic reaction that causes swelling or worse, or go into anaphylactic shock. This is not something you should apply to your skin." I also broached the topic with Ellen Marmur, MD, and she brought up allergies as well. "Homeopathy [a philosophy of alternative medicine] is based on using poisons to help you, but it’s not using [substances you could be] allergic to," she says. If you're noticing any type of reaction after using a product containing bee venom, it means that "your body is getting trained to react to something, so over time you react more and more." In theory, this could eventually cause a full-blown allergic reaction — and with bees, that can be super-serious. (We've all seen My Girl. Tear.) Bee venom is also not cheap — though as it grows in popularity, we're seeing more affordable options. "The price of bee venom can often be more expensive than gold, because the cruelty-free, eco-friendly process of venom collection requires many resources and advanced technologies," says Zinder. And like many of the recent skin-care products formulated with gold, the small amount of the exotic hero ingredient in the name (which is often listed as one of the last on the back of the bottle) is what ups the price tag, while the other ingredients are actually doing the heavy lifting for your skin. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2012, "One gram of venom from New Zealand, a major producer, is the equivalent of 10,000 bee stings and costs about $304." If you’re looking for a firming and plumping effect without the health risk or the hefty price tag, Dr. Katz suggests trying a product with salicylic or glycolic acids. “[They are] mildly irritating chemicals that cause swelling and give a plumping effect safely,” he says. As for the future of beauty? Dr. Marmur ensures us it is bright with a plethora of truly buzzworthy skin-care products in the FDA-approval pipeline that will be at your fingertips way before we set foot on Mars.