The Bee’s Knees

honey skincare, bees and honey, spas and honey,While most people generally keep their distance from bees (and for good reason), the spa industry has embraced the pollinating little buggers for the beneficial skin ingredients they provide. Driven in part by the farm-to-treatment-table trend, onsite beehives have become a key selling point at many resorts, where the biggest concern is how to divide the harvested honey between the kitchen and the spa. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to maintain your own hive (or duke it out with the chef) in order to give your clients the benefits of bee-related ingredients, such as beeswax, honey, propolis, and royal jelly. Instead, you can rely on a local producer or choose from a variety of products and treatments taking advantage of the sticky goods bees produce.

Honey, one of the most popular ingredients, can be found in many products and treatments. “Honey is a trusted ingredient in skincare, because it has antimicrobial and humectant properties,” says Barbara Close, founder and CEO of Naturopathica. “The sugars in honey strongly attract and maintain water, allowing for sustained hydration and barrier reinforcement. This protective barrier absorbs bacterial fluids to eliminate infection while glucose oxidase found in honey produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic.” And if that isn’t reason enough to make you want to incorporate honey into your spa’s menu then consider the fact that it can help exfoliate the skin. “Honey also contains mild alpha hydroxy acids, such as gluconic acid, which can loosen the bonds between dead skin cells, making it easier to shed this unnecessary layer,” says Angela Portella, spa director of Guerlain Spa in the Towers of The Waldorf Astoria New York. It’s also effective at fighting free radicals. “Studies indicate that honey contains significant natural antioxidant properties, which play a huge role in the revitalization of damaged skin cells, making it a great component for many anti-aging treatments,” says Szilvia Hickman, senior vice president of Szép Elét, which distributes Ilike Organic Skin Care. “Not only can honey’s antioxidants help to eliminate free radicals in the body, but they are also part of the nutrient supply for growth of new tissue and cell regeneration. The precious honey properties help protect the skin under the sun and help the skin to rejuvenate and stay young looking.”


honey skincare, bees and honey, spas and honey,Why Natural is Better

In order to offer the most beneficial honey, it’s important to consider the source. According to Hickman, there is a big difference between using raw organic honey versus refined honey. “Raw honey is only slightly filtered with a cloudy consistency and contains essential phytonutrients, such as enzymes, minerals, and vitamins, from the pollens,” she says. “Buying or using local honey from small producers usually eliminates large volume filtering technologies.” This is important, because you want to ensure your clients are getting the maximum skincare benefits from the honey used. “Processed honey loses a lot of its beneficial properties when it undergoes a heating process, and therapeutic value decreases when additives, such as high fructose corn syrup, are introduced,” says Close.

Also important is the type of honey you choose to use. For many spas, it’s another way to put an indigenous spin on a treatment by offering a locally produced honey. “The search for the most effective honey is an ongoing quest for Guerlain,” says director of research Frederic Bonté, Ph.D. “We know that it depends on three criteria: environment, biodiversity, and bee species, which influence the substances’ composition, and therefore, the skin repair activity.” Different honeys have different attributes that can add to a treatment’s effectiveness.


Manuka Honey

One honey, in particular, has gotten a lot of buzz for its healing properties. Manuka honey is produced in Australia and New Zealand from bees that pollinate the manuka bush, also known as the tea tree. In Australia, the honey may also be known as jellybush honey, as the tree there is called the jellybush. “Manuka honey is often used in alternative medicine as a skin healing agent for burns and wounds, and it is digested internally for many conditions including sore throats and irritable bowel ailments,” says Elda Argenti, founder and president of Plantogen, which developed the first manuka honey facial protocol.

What makes the honey so unique is methyl-glyoxal (MGO), a naturally occurring compound guaranteeing antibacterial activity. It’s also an indicator that you’re dealing with a genuine manuka honey. Last year, the New Zealand government released new guidelines for labeling manuka honey, making the MGO content the only approved number value permitted on labels. The MGO rating, which correlates to the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF), is a more precise indicator of the purity level of the honey and lets you know that you’re getting a true manuka honey with the active ingredient that makes it so beneficial to the skin. Always look for a UMF rating higher than 10 or an MGO rating of at least 100 to ensure you’re getting a honey with bacteria-killing abilities. And remember, the higher the numbers, the more effective the honey will be. “Our Plantogen manuka honey comes from the nectar flowers of the manuka bush that grows wild in the countryside, free from pesticides and human intervention,” says Argenti. “We then send it out to a third party laboratory to test it for its effectiveness and assign an activity number to it.”

At Peninsula Hot Springs (Victoria, Australia), manuka honey plays a prominent role in the spa’s treatments. According to spa development coordinator Amy Gourlay, the honey is also ideal for those with dry and itchy skin. “Not only did we want to encapsulate the spirit of the Mornington Peninsula, it was also important for us to utilize an ingredient in its rawest form that also offered therapeutic benefits,” says Gourlay. “Honey is soothing, softening, and offers amazing results.” In the colder months, spa-goers are encouraged to apply the honey directly onto their skin and immerse themselves in the Peninsula Honey and Lemon Myrtle Bath (starting at $110, 30 minutes) to keep head colds at bay and boost their immune systems. The spa also offers the Peninsula Vine and Honey Infusion ($75, 30 minutes), which involves warm honey being drizzled and massaged into the skin followed by an application of Shiraz grape balm to help hydrate the skin. “We chose honey from a farm called Pure Peninsula Honey in Moorooduc on the Mornington Peninsula,” says Gourlay. “This area is renowned for its quality honey due to the number of tea trees on the property and in the area.”


Melipona Honey

On the other side of the world, Melipona honey, which comes from the stingless Melipona bee, takes center stage. At Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Mayakoba (Mexico), guests can take part in Honey in the Heart ($189, 60 minutes), a treatment involving a nourishing honey body mask, a rainforest rinse under a Vichy shower, a relaxing massage, and a sip of honey. “The Melipona honey we use in the treatment comes from one of the 120 beekeepers who still exist in the Yucatán Peninsula, supporting Fairmont’s promise to help the local community,” says spa director Roselía Flandes. According to her, Melipona honey has been used in the region since pre-Hispanic times. In fact, Mayan families relied on it for its medicinal properties and incorporated it into Mayan rituals used in the preparation of beverages for religious ceremonies. “Studies have proved that the Melipona honey contains a high level of bacillus, which inhibits pathogenic bacterial growth,” says Flandes. “It also has a higher acidity than regular honey.”

The resort is home to two Melipona beehives, which each produce two to three liters of honey per year. “All guests are welcome to buzz by for a peek and to learn more about the Melipona bees,” says Flandes. “Our bees arrived as part of a partnership between the hotel and the Melitsak, a local group of 14 women who have developed bee-related goods and donated the hive in thanks for the hotel’s ongoing support. The honey produced onsite is combined with honey from other Melipona hives throughout the area for use in custom spa treatments at Willow Stream Spa and in select dishes at each of the hotel’s award-winning restaurants.”


Wildflower Honey

One of the most common honeys, wildflower honey comes from a variety of blossoms and is reputed to help vaccinate the body against allergies when ingested. It is also found to benefit the skin. “Our raw wildflower honey is harvested from the Sacramento Valley,” says Close. “During the months of spring and early summer, honey bees forage on a wide variety of delicate blossoms throughout the Sacramento Valley, creating a light and aromatic spring wildflower honey.”

Wildflower honey can also be found in New York City, thanks to rooftop apiaries like those atop The Waldorf Astoria New York. According to Portella, treatments that require a small amount of honey, such as the Milk Haute Honey & Rooftop Herb Manicure ($60, 60 minutes) and Pedicure ($80, 50 minutes), incorporate honey sourced directly from the rooftop beehives. Rosemary from the rooftop garden is infused into a lemon-sugar scrub to exfoliate the skin followed by an application of Top of the Waldorf Rooftop Honey and hot towels to leave skin silky smooth.

Inspired by the rooftop beehives, the spa recently launched the Urban Island Escape ($325, 80 minutes), which incorporates the hydrating effects of honey and extra virgin organic coconut oil. It uses the rooftop honey when it’s in season but relies on other organic honey distributors when quantities run low. The treatment involves a coconut-honey body mask, a scalp massage, a coconut-honey sugar glow, a rain-shower rinse, and a soothing coconut-oil massage. “The spa began using honey from the Waldorf Astoria’s rooftop beehives, as well as rosemary from the rooftop garden in order to bring the roof-to-spa concept to guests,” says Portella. “The homegrown ingredients provide natural benefits, making it both a luxurious and Earth-friendly experience.”

The sweet offerings don’t end there, however, as the spa also offers the Abeille Royale Expert Treatment ($295, 80 minutes), featuring Guerlain’s Abeille Royale range. The honey comes from the island of Ouessant, off the coast of Brittany, France. According to Bonté, the island’s unique ecosystem, which is composed of wildflowers, serves as a unique refuge for the black bees. The signature facial helps diminish fine lines and improves firmness and tone. It also begins with a sweet treat. “We add a taste of the Waldorf’s own rooftop honey prior to the facial treatments,” says Portella.


Royal Jelly

In addition to honey, royal jelly also features prominently in the Abeille Royale line. “Royal jelly is the rarest, most valuable, and most extraordinary product of the bee,” says Bonté. Secreted by worker bees to nourish the larvae, it is also the only food fit for the queen. “Royal jelly is a natural product rich in amino acids,” he says. It’s no surprise then that Guerlain chose to pair it with Ouessant honey in the Abeille Royale range. According to Bonté, royal jelly has shown exceptional results in repairing the skin and fighting against skin aging.

That’s why it’s used in the Hill Country Honeybee Massage and Body Treatment ($195, 80 minutes) at The Spa at Travaasa Austin (TX). The service incorporates a soothing bee propolis compress, a myofascial massage using warm organic honey and ginger massage oil, and a nourishing face mask with avocado oils, bee propolis, jojoba, and royal jelly. A portion of the proceeds from each treatment is given to the Texas Beekeepers Association, which seeks to preserve and promote honeybees and beekeeping in the state. 

While bee-related ingredients are sure to create a buzz in your spa, it’s important to remember that some people are allergic to bees. To be on the safe side, always ask about any allergies beforehand. And don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when incorporating honey and other bee ingredients into your spa. Serving organic honey with a cup of tea, retailing beeswax candles and soaps, and leading a workshop on how to make herb-infused honey are all ways you can promote the healthy benefits bees have to offer. It certainly gives a newfound appreciation for bees and the work that they do.

Discover how the bee-related ingredients in these products can benefit your clients’ skin.—H.M.

1. Amber Products Nutri Bee Serum: Infused with natural bee pollen, this anti-aging formula relieves congested and inflamed pores. Bee propolis and rhamnus bark condition and protect skin cells against infections.

2. Circadia by Dr. Pugliese Micro-Exfoliating Honey Cleanser: Microbeads of natural beeswax gently cleanse and exfoliate while absorbing excess oil.

3. Epicuren Discovery Brazilian Propolis Mist: Developed to balance and restore the skin’s pH, this nourishing toner features the healing properties of bee propolis. Good for problematic skin, it helps inhibit bacteria.

4. ESPA Nourishing Cleansing Balm: Containing beeswax, this comforting cleansing cream removes makeup and impurities while nourishing skin with antioxidant-rich grapeseed, youth-restoring rose damascene, and calming rose geranium.

5. FarmHouse Fresh Honey Heel Glaze: This honey-based hydrator, fragranced with velvety cinnamon notes, sweet cloves, and genuine honey, seals in moisture and brings color back to tired feet.

6. Gigi Milk & Honee Wax: In this all-natural wax blend, honey extract rejuvenates and hydrates while milk extract contains essential nutrients to soften and soothe skin.

7. Ilike Organic Skin Care Apricot Mask: Packed with potent antioxidants and essential vitamins, this mask with acacia honey moisturizes and improves skin’s elasticity.

8. Naturopathica Honey Vanilla Lip Balm: This nutrient-packed balm features honey, shea butter, and wild mango butter to soothe and soften lips.

9. Osmosis Colour CC Cream: This color-correcting foundation transforms the skin, giving it a flawless and even tone. It is full of skin-conditioning ingredients, such as beeswax, which provide antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

10. Pure Fiji Coconut Milk and Honey Sugar Scrub: Raw honey, fresh sugar cane crystals, and rich exotic oils buff away aging skin cells, unclog pores, and polish the skin clean.

11. Skinprint Soft Touch Lotion: Containing honey and tea extracts, this hydrating formula helps reduce redness and irritation, making it ideal for sensitive skin. It’s also perfect for post-treatment use.

12. Waxxxpress That’s Beeswax Strip Wax: Leaving skin naturally silky smooth, this wax, available in 400g and 800g microwaveable jars, removes stubborn and coarse hairs as short as 1mm.