Cosmeceutical Critique

The cutaneous benefits of bee venom, Part I: Atopic dermatitis and acne



In 2013, in vitro experiments by Han et al. showed that purified bee venom exhibited antimicrobial activity, in a concentration-dependent manner, against Cutibacterium acnes (or Propionibacterium acnes). They followed up with a small randomized, double-blind, controlled trial with 12 subjects who were treated with cosmetics with pure bee venom or cosmetics without it for two weeks. The group receiving bee venom experienced significantly fewer inflammatory and noninflammatory lesions, and a significant decline in adenosine triphosphate levels (a 57.5% reduction) was noted in subjects in the bee venom group, with a nonsignificant decrease of 4.7% observed in the control group. The investigators concluded the purified bee venom may be suitable as an antiacne agent.14 Using a mouse model, An et al. studied the therapeutic effects of bee venom against C. acnes–induced skin inflammation. They found that bee venom significantly diminished the volume of infiltrated inflammatory cells in the treated mice, compared with untreated mice. Bee venom also decreased expression levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and interleukin (IL)-1beta and suppressed Toll-like receptor (TLR)2 and CD14 expression in C. acnes–injected tissue. The investigators concluded that bee venom imparts notable anti-inflammatory activity and has potential for use in treating acne and as an anti-inflammatory agent in skin care.15

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann, a dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami.

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann

In 2015, Kim et al. studied the influence of bee venom against C. acnes–induced inflammation in human keratinocytes (HaCaT) and monocytes (THP-1). They found that bee venom successfully suppressed the secretion of interferon-gamma, IL-1beta, IL-8, and TNF-alpha. It also galvanized the expression of IL-8 and TLR2 in HaCaT cells but hampered their expression in heat-killed C. acnes. The researchers concluded that bee venom displays considerable anti-inflammatory activity against C. acnes and warrants consideration as an alternative to antibiotic acne treatment.16 It is worth noting that early that year, in a comprehensive database review to evaluate the effects and safety of a wide range of complementary treatments for acne, Cao et al. found, among 35 studies including parallel-group randomized controlled trials, that one trial indicated bee venom was superior to control in lowering the number of acne lesions.17


More research, in the form of randomized, controlled trials, is required before bee venom can be incorporated into the dermatologic armamentarium as a first-line therapy for common and vexing cutaneous conditions. Nevertheless, the current evidence provides reasons for optimism that bee venom can play a role among the various treatments for AD and acne.

Dr. Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann has written two textbooks and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers. Dr. Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Galderma, Revance, Evolus, and Burt’s Bees. She is the CEO of Skin Type Solutions Inc., a company that independently tests skin care products and makes recommendations to physicians on which skin care technologies are best. Write to her at


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