Honey Bee Propolis – The Star Performer in the Bees’ Medical Kit


Bees are indispensable to our lives in more ways than we may realize. They do more than pollinate flowers and crops, important as that is. Bees are nature’s pharmacists, too

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Of all the planet’s species, perhaps none is more contradictory than our own. Even as we swirl honey into our tea, for instance, we shudder at the sight of bees making their morning rounds. But bees are indispensable to our lives in more ways than we may realize. They do more than pollinate flowers and crops, important as that is. Bees are nature’s pharmacists, too. They produce substances that can heal us and even, in some instances, save lives. Think of those yellow jackets as white coats.

The star performer in the bees’ medical kit is propolis, a tar-like mixture of beeswax and resins. Worker bees use propolis to line the inside of their nests and brood combs, to repair small cracks in the hive, and seal brood cells. Propolis has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which protect bee colonies against diseases.

Those healing properties are part of the reason why human beings have treasured propolis for thousands of years. In Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind (Bantam, 2005), Stephen Buchmann, an associate professor of entomology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, writes that bees and bee products “have long inspired the human imagination, playing an important role in the evolution of myths, religious rituals, social traditions, and even a few taboos. Prehistoric men and women were avid honey-hunters”, Buchmann reports, “and the treasure they found has been used not just as food but in medicinal preparations and the distillation of delightful intoxicants.”

 Egyptian hieroglyphics depict bee propolis poultices being applied to wounds. 


The medicinal properties of propolis have proved especially useful. Egyptian hieroglyphics depict bee propolis poultices being applied to wounds. The ancient Chinese, Greeks, and Romans, as well as native populations in the Americas and Hawaii, also used propolis as a salve and natural remedy. Romanians traditionally ingested bee propolis to strengthen their immune systems, and early estheticians in Sweden and Russia dabbed propolis on their clients’ faces to strengthen capillaries and brighten sluggish complexions.

Taking a tip from the ancients, modern-day scientists are analyzing the benefits of propolis in research laboratories. A 2001 study in Anticancer Research argued that isolated components of Brazilian bee propolis inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells. And another journal, Cancer Research, published a study showing that acids in bee propolis prevent the formation of precancerous tissues in rats after they are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

According to Buchmann, the flavones found in propolis are active against many bacteria and may also be useful in healing wounds. “Propolis also contains quercetin, a flavone that has both antiviral and capillary-strengthening properties,” he notes. Some of the flavinoids in propolis are capable of scavenging free radicals and protecting lipids and may even inhibit melanoma and carcinoma tumor cells.”

Catching the buzz, spas have begun to incorporate propolis-themed treatments into their menus.

At the Spa at Cordillera in Vail, Colorado, the High Altitude Rescue Treatment is especially popular. This immune-boosting wrap begins with the application of a propolis-infused lotion, after which the body is wrapped to enhance absorption. To finish, warm coconut milk is gently massaged into the skin, leaving it moist and smooth.

“Bee propolis boosts the skin’s immune system, which can be especially compromised when you are at a higher elevation than usual,” says Cordillera’s Spa Director Angie Brown.

One might think the high mountains of Colorado have nothing in common with the desert flats of Nevada. But propolis treatments are also popular in Las Vegas, where both natives and guests suffer from dry skin conditions.

At the Bellagio Spa & Salon, the Propolis Scalp Treatment is a hydrating process used to alleviate dry patches and flakiness. The experience begins with a one-on-one consultation with a specialist, who makes certain that the guest does not have an allergy to bee products, as honey, beeswax, and propolis provoke allergies or intolerances in a small group of people. Afterward, propolis is applied to the scalp in a technique similar to a hair color treatment. During the massage that follows, the guest feels a slight tingling sensation all over the scalp. A processing cap is then placed over the hair and the guest is put under a dryer for approximately fifteen minutes to seal in the treatment’s benefits.

“Propolis is an ideal treatment for people who reside in dry regions,” says Jeff Wescott of Salon Bellagio. “Its soothing qualities help to alleviate the dryness people experience not just from arid climates, but from the additional stress caused by forced-hair heating and cooling.”

In the red rock desert of Sedona, Arizona, guests at Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment Resort, often overdose on the sun. A popular way to recover is the Natural Elements Facial – guest starring Epicuren – a deeply hydrating treatment that combines the most technologically advanced equipment with the healing powers of propolis.

Honey Bee Propolis

To start, the skin is cleansed and exfoliated, then moistened with Epicuren’s Protein Mist Enzyme Toner. Epicuren’s Alpha Lipoic Omega serum is applied while the skin is still damp. The serum, a potent blend of Brazilian rainforest propolis as well as vitamins, trace minerals, amino acids, and botanicals, tones and tightens. The face and neck are massaged with Epicuren’s Propolis Serum, and a silver ion cloth mask is placed over the face to allow the serum to penetrate deeply. Following a fifteen-minute hand and arm massage, the mask is removed, and the facial is concluded with the application of moisturizer, sunscreen, and lip balm.

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“With its deeply hydrating properties, the Natural Elements Facial suits Mii amo’s dry desert climate well,” says Spa Director Kirsten Combs. “The facial is an ideal treatment for sun-stressed skin, and is especially recommended for clients suffering from rosacea.”

The bumblebee and other native wild species of bee are more important than ever now that the population of the European species of honeybee, Apis mellifera, which is widely used in American agribusiness to pollinate crops, is in decline. According to the Department of Agriculture, there are currently 2.4 million honeybee colonies in existence, down from 5.5 million in 1945. Scientists blame mite infestations as well as a mysterious epidemic called Colony Collapse Disorder. Fortunately, native bees (of which there are thousands of species) also pollinate crops and perhaps with greater efficiency than honeybees. Bee-themed spa treatments simultaneously pamper our bodies and honor these valuable golden creatures. How sweet!

Make it at Home

Honey Bee Propolis


*Please note that both recipes are contraindicated, for individuals with allergies to bee products.

Facial Mask

Recipe courtesy of Kirsten Combs, Spa Director at Mii amo Enchantment Resort & Spa

Thanks to the skin-softening properties of the banana and yogurt, combined with the anti-inflammatory power of propolis, this facial treat will leave your face looking smooth and even-toned.


1 banana, mashed

1 tbs. yogurt

3 tbs. honey or 1 tbs. Epicuren Propolis Serum Moisturizer

Small amount of coconut milk or soy milk for consistency, under 1 tsp.


Mix ingredients together to make a paste and apply immediately to face, neck, and collet. Leave on 5-10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and moisturize.

The Flower & the Bee Propolis Milk Bath

Recipe courtesy of Angie Brown, Spa Director at The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera

If the colder weather leaves your skin dry and irritated, try this skin-softening treat.


1/2 cup dried chamomile or 5 chamomile tea bags

4 cups powdered milk

1 oz. Wedderspoon manuka honey

2 oz. Epicuren Propolis Lotion


Start by running a hot, steamy bath. Place the loose chamomile or chamomile tea bags in the tub, and pour the powdered milk into the running bath water. Add honey and Epicuren Propolis lotion for a wonderful aroma, and their moisturizing properties. Allow all the ingredients to churn under running water before stepping into the tub. Breathe deep, relax, and soak for at least 20 minutes. You’ll emerge from this luxurious bath with smooth and silky skin.

Shopping List

Propolis Powder & Capsules, Glorybee

Propolis Concentrate, Pevonia Botanica

Propolis Lotion. Epicuren

Iden Bee Propolis Hair Treatment, Iden Cosmetics



Natural Elements Facial

Mii amo, Sedona, AZ

(888) 749-2137


Propolis Scalp Treatment

Bellagio Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV

(888) 987-6667


Miracle Mirage

MGM Mirage, Las Vegas, NV

(800) 374-9000


Propolis Facial

Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, NC

(800) 438-5800


Grand Master B Body Wrap

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City, NJ

(609) 317-1000


Sunburn Face Relief

Hotel Hana Maui and Honua Spa, Hana, HI

(800) 321-4262


Golden Coast Bodywrap

The Peninsula Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills, CA

(310) 551-2888


High Altitude Rescue

The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, Vail, CO

(866) 650-7625


Susan Ciminelli Hydrating Facial

Four Seasons Biltmore Resort, Santa Barbara, CA

(805) 969-2261


Texas Wonder

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, Lost Pines, TX

(512) 308-1234


by Katherine Stewart

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