Asian Skincare Ingredients 101: Honey, Propolis, & Royal Jelly

Shoppers Say This Bee-Based Serum Regenerates Skin and Makes Breakouts Disappear Overnight

Truly, thank God for bees. It feels like just yesterday I was terrified of the buzzing swarm flocked around ice cream wrappers at the pool, my freaked-out self trying to remain frozen so they didn't sting me. I'm proud (?) to say I still have yet to be stung, but in the years since, I've come to appreciate their mammoth impact on the environment — and according to thrilled shoppers, the insects are also responsible for their best skin ever.

Thankfully, it's not because of Gwyneth Paltrow's wilding-out approach to the "thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy," which involves being stung by bees to allegedly get rid of inflammation and scarring. CosRx's Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule is infinitely more pleasant to use, and according to shoppers, the moisturizing, softening, redness- and acne-fighting formula makes fine lines disappear unlike anything they've experienced before.

The hydrating serum uses a minimalist combination of bee-derived propolis extract, Chinese senna extract, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, and arginine to get the job done. The namesake propolis is created by bees to coat the exterior of the hive, and that protective quality means it nixes acne-causing bacteria and aging free radicals while helping your skin regenerate faster. "I feel like it's shedding years off! I'll definitely be getting bottle after bottle," one Ulta shopper writes of the high propolis-content mix. "My skin looks so radiant and so many people have complimented me."


Shop now: $28;

Even people who thought the reviews were exaggerated say they're stunned at how well the serum banishes zits overnight, even before they surface. The "magical stuff" also moisturizes skin dehydrated from acne medication, shoppers say, leaving younger-feeling skin in its wake — and 41-year-old reviewers say the $28 serum competes with Sunday Riley products at a fraction of the cost.

That checks out, since supermodel Emily Ratajkowski, a noted fan of the brand, relies on CosRx's moisturizer for plump, ageless skin. Others say that in the space of a week with the ampoule, their skin smoothed out and regained a glow they hadn't seen since they were in high school. "I am so blown away by how young my skin looks," one more shopper writes, and countless others mention how the non-oily serum tones down redness while lifting and tightening wrinkles.

Just three drops of the "miracle working" formula is enough to see your skin plump up and take on an ethereal luminosity, and it's so hardworking that shoppers say it's cut down their skincare routine without missing out on any results. Those with ample dark marks and discoloration say that it "literally fixed pigmentation in as little as three days" — and the effect is so drastic, it instantly makes their skin look supple and airbrushed.

"In just hours, it's done more than my moisturizer has done in years. My skin looks almost blurred and feels soft and hydrated," another adds, and one person going through chemotherapy writes that in the face of dreadfully peeling skin, the "miracle in a bottle" ampoule was the single thing to restore their soft, bouncy, and dewy complexion. Bottom line?The prettily packaged serum is a fast-acting magic touch for fine lines, acne, scars, and every other skin concern under the sun. Bees! I'm sorry I ever doubted you.

Always Bee My Baby: A Review of COSRX’s New Propolis Products

The cult fave brand seems to be dropping new products every week, but does newer mean better? For the new COSRX propolis line, apparently so. Jude Chao reviews.

Change comes to all brands over time, even those that were beloved just as they were, like COSRX. Sometimes brands evolve, retaining their core concepts while expanding their product lines. Sometimes they begin reaching in entirely new directions.

COSRX has done both. In my review of their Balancium Comfort Ceramide Cream, I lamented the brand’s decision to add fragrant essential oils to their product. EOs are known irritants for many people’s skin, and the addition of bergamot oil to the cream struck me as a move away from COSRX’s founding philosophy, which was to produce practical, high-performance products with minimal ingredients, making them suitable for sensitive skin without sacrificing performance.

I’m happy to find that with the release of their new propolis products, COSRX has delivered new offerings while going back to their core concept. No bergamot oil here!


What can bee products do for your skin?

I’ve loved honey, propolis, and royal jelly skincare for years. They were among my first favorite skincare ingredients, and for good reason.

All produced by adorable fat bees working hard in the fields and hives, honey, propolis, and royal jelly can be fantastic for skin. All three have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and wound healing potential. Honey, as I wrote on my blog back in 2015, is “a potent natural moisturizer packed with skin-friendly humectants, emollients, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.” Propolis, meanwhile, brings my skin a glow that few other ingredients can match.


COSRX’s past use of propolis has generally impressed me. I credit the propolis in the Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol with rapidly shrinking any surprise pimples I get, especially those big, hard, throbbing ones that pop up under the skin and otherwise cause days of pain and swelling. The propolis in their honey-free Ultimate Moisturizing Overnight Honey Mask calms my skin when it’s irritated. And while the Propolis Light Ampule doesn’t give me quite the same glow as the old LJH Vita Propolis Ampoule, it does deliver a dose of soothing propolis in a smooth, hydrating gel consistency that my skin enjoys.

This past history suggests the brand knows what it’s doing when it comes to bee ingredients, so when my old friend Hye-Young over at COSRX offered to send me their new Full Fit propolis line, I jumped at it! Here are my impressions so far.

COSRX Full Fit Propolis Synergy Toner

This was the product I was most excited about. I don’t think I’ve ever used a propolis toner before. I’m also a giant ho for a good hydrating toner. Hydrating toners are one of my favorite steps in my routine, for the way they quickly plump up my skin while leaving it feeling soft and free of heavy residue. Also, look at this ingredients list:

COSRX Full Fit Propolis Synergy Toner ingredients: Propolis extract (72.6%), honey extract (10%), butylene glycol, 1,2-hexanediol, glycerin, betaine, cassia obtusifolia seed extract, panthenol, polyglyceryl-10 laurate, polyglyceryl-10 myristate, ethylhexylglycerin, sodium hyaluronate, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, caprylic/capric triglyceride

A large amount of propolis extract, a good amount of honey extract, and no fragrant essential oils? I’m IN.

Happily for me, the Propolis Synergy Toner is exactly what I’d hoped it would be.

It has that classic hydrating toner feel: thicker than water but thinner than a serum, with plenty of slip to help it glide smoothly over skin. It sinks into my skin quickly and instantly quenches even the thirst my face feels on a super dry Santa Ana winds day.

(Yes, I’m aware that I complain about the Santa Ana winds a lot. If you had to suffer through multiple days in a row of these winds forcefully sucking the very life force out of your skin from dawn to dusk every time you leave the house, you’d hate them, too.)

Even better than the basic hydrating toner benefits that the Propolis Synergy Toner provides are the benefits of the propolis and honey in it — these ingredients aren’t added to this product simply for the label claims. When I use this as my only step before moisturizer in my morning routine, my skin stays noticeably smoother and calmer throughout the day. This toner adds that very particular weightless but substantial moisture that perfectly enhances a lightweight and fast-drying day cream.

Also, it doesn’t smell like anything.

I love it.

COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule

Ooh, they fixed the spelling! The older packaging for this product spelled it “Ampule,” which gives both me and my spellcheck fits.

Packaging is the only thing that seems to have changed for this particular product, which COSRX has been producing for a few years now. Based on the ingredients, it’s the same product. Here are those ingredients:

COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule ingredients: Propolis extract (83.25%), butylene glycol, glycerin, betaine, 1,2-hexanediol, cassia obtusifolia seed extract, sodium hyaluronate, hydroxyethylcellulose, carbomer, panthenol, arginine

As you can see, the ingredients for the ampoule bear a striking resemblance to the ingredients for the toner. Interestingly, however, while the ampoule contains a higher concentration of the propolis than the toner, I find its performance to fall a bit short of that earlier step product.

The Propolis Light Ampoule isn’t a bad product by any means, at least not for me. This thick but quick-absorbing gel has a pleasantly substantial consistency and skinfeel, and, once again, it doesn’t smell like anything, which is a major plus. But while it delivers some redness reduction, it doesn’t quite perform at the level of the best propolis products. Nor does it give quite the same plumping and moisturizing effects as the toner, surprisingly.

It is hard to tell a full story from an ingredients list, but I do have my theories. The Propolis Light Ampoule contains more propolis but no honey, and in general I’ve found that honey gives a more powerful moisture boost than propolis alone. In addition, the toner contains a no doubt tiny but still present dose of the moisturizing ingredient caprylic/capric triglyceride, which you’ll often find in creams and in lotion-type sheet masks.

For this reason, if I had to choose between the toner and the ampoule, I’d choose the toner every time. Despite that, I do think the ampoule is a nice starter product for someone interested in propolis. The relative simplicity of the ingredients list and the lack of many common irritants makes it an especially low-risk item to experiment with.

COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Cream

I felt the most ambivalent about accepting the cream product in the Full Fit line. Not because of any hesitation about using it, but because I’m currently experiencing a certain Golden Age of moisturizers. My current rotation of moisturizers is unusually full of total holy grails, including but not limited to:

* COSRX’s own Ultimate Nourishing Rice Overnight Spa Mask sleeping pack as well as the “honey” sleeping pack discussed in the beginning of this article.

* Banila Co’s updated Miss Flower and Mr Honey Cream, a magical balm-type cream that I pull out on the driest of dry nights.

* Sulwhasoo’s Overnight Vitalizing Mask and recently released Timetreasure Revitalizing Sleeping Mask for when I need to wake up with extreme radiance.

* Both the original and rich formulations of the Curology moisturizer, which I turn to frequently for day.

* seaNtree Donkey Milk Water Drop Cream, another of my daytime favorites.

* And the updated version of Soo Ae’s Donkey Milk 3D Moisture Cream, which I’ve long relied on to heal up a damaged barrier after I’ve gotten too enthusiastic with my actives.

It would be hard for any moisturizer to compete with a roster like that.

Still, I’m glad I gave the Propolis Light Cream a shot. It fills a nice gap in my routine when I want either a richer-than-usual day moisturizer or a nourishing and emollient but not $200 night moisturizer, and it does it with grace.

COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Cream ingredients: Propolis extract, butylene glycol, glycerin, caprylic/capric triglyceride, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, 1,2-hexanediol, honey extract, royal jelly extract, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, cassia obtusifolia seed extract, cetearyl olivate, beeswax, cetearyl alcohol, sorbitan olivate, allantoin, arginine, carbomer, xanthan gum

COSRX discloses the concentrations of their bee ingredients a little differently for the cream. The box states that the product contains 65.69% “Full Fit Pro-Barrier Complex,” which combines propolis, honey, and royal jelly extracts. I’m guessing here that the propolis makes up the vast majority of the complex, with the honey and royal jelly extracts present in far smaller amounts that might look silly listed out on the label. In any case, as long as the product performs well, that’s fine.

This is a light and watery-feeling cream with a silky, almost puddinglike texture that belies its intensive emollient qualities. Despite its insubstantial consistency, this cream delivers medium to medium-heavy moisture on my skin: plenty to lock in my hydrating layers at night, and plenty to protect my skin from Santa Ana winds and alcohol-heavy sunscreens by day.

As for the “Pro-Barrier Complex,” I’m not sure that’s the most accurate name for it. I wouldn’t rely on this cream to restore a barrier damaged by over-exfoliation or high pH cleansers, since it lacks the ceramides and cholesterol I’d expect to see in a cream marketed for that purpose.

On the other hand, however, the propolis, honey, and royal jelly extracts in this cream can help with the irritation and inflammation caused by a damaged barrier, so I do see the reasoning behind the name. I’ve used this cream after a peel as well as on nights when my skin felt unhappy due to heavy tret usage, and I have found that it relieves stinging and sensitivity rapidly after application. It also helps to prevent morning-after redness on my skin. The Propolis Light Cream has quickly earned a spot in my moisturizer rotation, and my complexion is happier because of it.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by COSRX Official (@cosrx) on Oct 7, 2019 at 11:33pm PDT

The final word

I’m so glad to see COSRX going back to their roots for this product line. Large concentrations of the main ingredient, simple formulations without common triggers, and a lack of bells and whistles give the toner and cream possible classic status. The ampoule, while not my holy grail, may be promising for other people’s skin as well. I’d say this line, more than any of the others the brand has released in the last year or so, is a winner!

Have you tried any COSRX propolis products yet? Let us know how you liked them in the comments!

Asian Skincare Ingredients 101: Honey, Propolis, & Royal Jelly

It’s National Honey Month, and what better way for skincare lovers to celebrate than to learn about the un-bee-lievably nourishing properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly? While people often mistake one for another, these bee byproducts are actually not interchangeable, and have incredible benefits of their own.

Let’s see what all the buzz is about!

Skincare Benefits of Honey

The most well-known of bee byproducts, honey is considered the nectar and ambrosia of the gods for a reason! It’s a thick, syrupy substance produced by forager bees collecting nectar from flowers in its “honey stomach” and regurgitating the nectar at their hives. (It’s not technically vomit since the nectar never reaches the bees’ food stomachs!)

Not only is it pure decadence as a food, it also contains at least 181 constituents such as “​​phenolic acids, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, proteins, carotenoids, and certain enzymes, such as glucose oxidase and catalase,” which act as antioxidants to scavenge free radicals.

Honey has long been used in traditional medicinal practices globally, possibly from as long as 40,000 years ago, for purposes ranging from healing wounds and burns to cleansing skin. While the exact mechanisms of honey’s wound healing abilities are not yet specifically identified, research suggests that honey does indeed speed up the skin repairing process as an immunomodulator. The antimicrobial properties of honey also aid in the wound healing process, promoting skin tissue repair while protecting the wound from infection.

In skincare applications, honey can gently exfoliate dead skin cells with its fruit acids, improve skin elasticity, reduce skin irritation, and more!

Skincare Benefits of Propolis

Also called bee glue, propolis is a “natural resinous mixture produced by honey bees from substances collected from parts of plants, buds, and exudates.” Bees use this sticky, waxy substance as a glue to repair and fortify their hives. (Spoiler alert—it can protect the skin too!)

In addition to resin and wax, propolis also contains useful minerals, phenolic compounds, esters, flavonoids, enzymes, and terpenes, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and E! These constituents, much like those in honey, exhibit high antimicrobial and antioxidant activity such as scavenging free radicals. Studies testing certain types of propolis show that the ingredient “inhibits melanogenesis . . . by downregulating intracellular tyrosinase activity.”

As such, propolis is also a favored beauty ingredient for wound healing, brightening skin and protecting the skin barrier! Acne-prone skin may find propolis’ anti-inflammatory, smoothing, and brightening properties suitable for treating irritation, scarring, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Skincare Benefits of Royal Jelly

The bee byproduct fit for royalty! Royal jelly, also known as bee milk, is a milky white substance (yes, with a jelly-like consistency) secreted from the glands of worker bees. It’s fed to worker, drone, and queen larvae for their first three days of life, and then fed to only queen larvae until the larval period ends, hence its namesake!

As it is meant to sustain bee larvae and aid specifically in the development of queen larvae, royal jelly is quite nutritious with water, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, mineral salts, and vitamins such as pantothenic acid. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, is a skincare powerhouse that hydrates skin, boosts collagen production, and improves the skin cell turnover rate.

Like honey and propolis, royal jelly also contains bioactive compounds such as polyphenols. Most notably, royal jelly’s immunomodulatory activity stems largely from the unsaturated fatty acid 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (HAD), or 10-HDA. 10-HDA, commonly called queen bee acid, is found only in royal jelly and is suggested to not onlypromote collagen synthesis, but to also “protect the skin from UVA induced photoaging.” While the exact mechanisms behind its role as a tyrosinase-inhibitor need further research, studies suggest that royal jelly does indeed reduce melanin synthesis for brighter skin. And—no surprise here—royal jelly is associated with wound healing as well!

Best Honey, Propolis, & Royal Jelly Skincare Products

Want to incorporate all three into your skincare routine in one go? This is the sheet mask you need!

CosRX Full Fit Propolis Nourishing Magnet Sheet Mask

Contrary to what the product name suggests, CosRX’s Full Fit Propolis Nourishing Magnet Sheet Mask contains much more than just propolis alone! This sheet mask is soaked in CosRX’s Full Fit Ampoule, which features propolis, honey, and royal jelly. Combined, the antioxidant-rich ampoule intensely nourishes and repairs damaged skin.

In particular, we love the way this sheet mask even increases the pantothenic acid content of royal jelly extract by adding panthenol, a derivative of pantothenic acid! Panthenol is the more stable form of pantothenic acid and has a myriad of skin benefits ranging from decreasing transepidermal water loss to strengthening the skin barrier.

What’s more, the fabric is designed to mimic a honeycomb structure, perfectly adhering to the skin for a comfortable fit and effective nutrient delivery. Talk about sticking to the theme!

If you want to break it down by ingredient, here’s a list of our favorite Asian beauty products that harness the powers of honey, propolis, and royal jelly respectively! Who knows, may-bee one of these will become your newest holy grail!

Best Honey Skincare Product

Annie's Way Honey + Lecithin Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask

In addition to being an excellent humectant and overall moisturizer for skin, honey can also clarify pores! Annie’s Way takes full advantage of honey’s many benefits to create a wash-off mask that purifies skin and replenishes much-needed moisture in just 20 minutes. Their Honey + Lecithin Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask uses lecithin alongside honey to boost its softening and hydrating abilities. Lecithin, an emollient, smooths skin and supports the skin barrier with its fatty acids and lipids. Truly a match made in heaven with the wound healing and elasticity-boosting properties of honey!

Formulated with allantoin, glycolic acid, mucopolysaccharides, proteoglycans, elastin and collagen, this honey jelly mask soothes irritation, moisturizes skin, and evens texture. Plus, it includes panthenol for that extra dose of skin soothing and strengthening!

Best Propolis Skincare Products

CosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask

If you feel like wash-off masks are too much of a hassle, we’ve got another mask for you! The CosRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask can be used as a wash-off mask or even a morning moisturizer, but mainly functions as an overnight mask applied at the end of your evening skincare routine.

Don’t be fooled by the product name! Once again, CosRX has a penchant for misleading product names—this “honey mask” is actually over 87% propolis extract. (Maybe Ultimate Moisturizing Propolis Overnight Mask just doesn’t roll off the tongue?) No complaints here about the propolis though; we are wowed by the way propolis and beeswax combine to deeply hydrate the skin and reduce inflammation. The aforementioned acne-treating properties of propolis also elevate this overnight mask to must-try status for those with acne-prone skin who want to brighten post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and even bumpy texture!

Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum: Propolis + Niacinamide

Propolis AND niacinamide?? SAY NO MORE! Beauty of Joseon’s Glow Serum combines these two ingredients for a wonderfully brightening, soothing, and strengthening effect. Since you’ve just read our mini crash course on propolis and probably already know all about the ever-so-popular skincare darling niacinamide, we want to shine a spotlight on all the other awesome ingredients in this acne-fighting serum!

First off, the much gentler form of salicylic acid, betaine salicylate, mildly exfoliates away dead skin cells while moisturizing and smoothing skin! Then, tamanu oil deters bacteria associated with acne and stimulates collagen production, promoting wound healing in the process. The antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial tea tree extract further helps treat acne!

In other words, not only does this serum contain ingredients that reduce acne formation, it also brightens existing hyperpigmentation from previous acne! In just one serum, you’re getting an expertly-formulated mix of ingredients that treats acne in all its stages, including the aftermath.

Best Royal Jelly Beauty Products

23.5°N Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask

The nutritious royal jelly makes itself known in 23.5°N’s Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask! It amplifies the hydrating and nourishing effects of bamboo, while also brightening an uneven skin tone and encouraging collagen production for improved skin elasticity.

We’re also obsessed with the way royal jelly is used in conjunction with other mighty humectants such as the three types of hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, and hyaluronic acid) in this formula, leaving skin plump and refreshed with hydration.

Royal jelly is such a great hydrator, in fact, that Japanese beauty brands love to use it beyond just skincare! See below for our favorite JBeauty hair product with royal jelly:

Shiseido Fino Premium Touch Hair Essence Mask

This hair mask makes it into just about every single “Best Of Japanese Hair Care” article on the internet, and for good reason! Shiseido’s Fino Premium Touch Hair Essence Mask is infused with seven different extracts to deliver moisture deep into dry strands and restore shine to dull, lifeless hair. One of these extracts is royal jelly extract, which contains biotin to stimulate keratin production in hair. The smoothing ability of royal jelly extract shines in this deep conditioning mask, taming the frizzy and unmanageable nature of damaged hair.

Final Thoughts

Honey, propolis, and royal jelly are all powerful soothing and wound healing agents, but allergic reactions may occur. If you’re concerned about your face reacting poorly to bee byproduct-infused skincare, patch test the product elsewhere first, like the inside of your elbow!

We hope these Asian Beauty products will help you look and feel like a Queen Bee!

Check out more of our Asian Skincare Ingredients 101 articles here:

Eric Carter