Cosmeceutical Critique

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


Honeybees, Apis mellifera, play an important role in the web of life. We rely on bees for pollinating approximately one-third of our crops, including multiple fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.1,2 Bees are also instrumental in the propagation of other plants, flower nectar, and flower pollen. A. mellifera, the European honeybee, is the main pollinator in Europe and North America, but other species, including A. cerana, A. dorsata, A. floria, A. andreniformis, A. koschevnikov, and A. laboriosa, yield honey.3 Honey, propolis, and royal jelly, along with beeswax and bee pollen, are among some of the celebrated bee products that have been found to confer health benefits to human beings.4,5 Bee venom, a toxin bees use for protection, is a convoluted combination of peptides and toxic proteins such as phospholipase A2 (PLA2) and melittin that has garnered significant scientific attention of late and is used to treat various inflammatory conditions.6-8 This column will focus on the investigation of the use of bee venom to treat atopic dermatitis (AD) and acne.

Two bees temmuzcan/Getty Images

Atopic dermatitis

In 2013, Kim et al. assessed the impact of bee venom on AD-related symptoms in mice, finding that it attenuated the effects of AD-simulating compounds in 48 of 80 patients injected subcutaneously. They concluded that bee venom acted by suppressing mast cell degranulation and proinflammatory cytokine expression.9 Three years later, You et al. conducted a double-blind, randomized, base-controlled multicenter study of 136 patients with AD to ascertain the effects of a bee venom emollient. For 4 weeks, patients applied an emollient with bee venom and silk protein or a vehicle lacking bee venom twice daily. Eczema area and severity index (EASI) scores were significantly lower in the bee venom group, as were the visual analogue scale (VAS) scores. The investigators concluded that bee venom is an effective and safe therapeutic choice for treating patients with AD.10 Further, in 2018, Shin et al. demonstrated that PLA2 derived from bee venom mitigates atopic skin inflammation via the CD206 mannose receptor. They had previously shown in a mouse model that PLA2 from bee venom exerts such activity against AD-like lesions induced by 2,4-dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB) and house dust mite (Dermatophagoides farinae) extract.11 Gu et al. observed later that year that intraperitoneal administration of bee venom eased the symptoms of ovalbumin-induced AD-like skin lesions in an experimental mouse model. Bee venom also lowered serum immunoglobulin E levels and suppressed infiltration of eosinophils and mast cells. They concluded that bee venom is a viable alternative for attenuating the allergic skin inflammation characteristic of AD.12 At the end of 2018, An et al. reported on the use of an in vivo female Balb/c mouse AD model in which 1-chloro-DNCB acted as inducer in cultures of human keratinocytes, stimulated by TNF-alpha/IFN-gamma. The investigators found that bee venom and melittin displayed robust antiatopic effects as evidenced by reduced lesions. The bee products were also found to have hindered elevated expression of various chemokines and proinflammatory cytokines. The authors suggested that bee venom and melittin appear to warrant consideration as a topical treatment for AD.13 In 2019, Kim et al. demonstrated in mice that bee venom eases the symptoms of AD by inactivating the complement system, particularly through CD55 induction, which might account for its effectiveness in AD treatment in humans, they suggested.6 Early in 2020, Lee et al. demonstrated in a Balb/c mouse model that bee venom appears to be a possible therapeutic macromolecule for treating phthalic anhydride-induced AD.7


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