The Wellness World’s Buzzy New Best Friend

Posted June 20, 2018 2:16 p.m. EDT

Huilian Anderson’s bee regimen revolves around Manuka honey, the syrupy strain native to New Zealand and Australia. She adds a dollop to her daughter’s oatmeal each morning and stirs it into her own tea.

“I feel wonderful, and I hope the ingredients are contributing to my overall wellness,” said Anderson, a publicist in New York. Beyond ingesting it, she recently began applying a Manuka honey facial moisturizer by the brand Manuka Doctor. She said her skin looks radiant and hydrated.

Each spring, Jacque Ostrom loads up on local bee pollen to combat seasonal allergies. She tosses a tablespoon into her smoothies or stirs it into yogurt. “I’m happy to commit to something that’s good for my body as I go from spring to summer,” said Ostrom, a media strategist in New York who considers pollen a pantry staple. “It’s like sunscreen.”

Amanda Chantal Bacon has been snacking on bee pollen since she was a teenager and credits it with improving her complexion. She keeps Manuka honey on hand for cuts, but it’s royal jelly that has her canvassing local farmers’ markets.

“Royal jelly is such a delicacy,” said Bacon, whose Los Angeles company Moon Juice sells bee pollen among supplements, herbs and vegan snacks. “I’ll take one teaspoon and feel energized and buzzy. It also does incredible things for the libido.”

Bee supplements, once considered a hippie-dippy diet fad, are now a common additive in the wellness movement. A search on Amazon yields nearly countless forms of honey, pollen, propolis and royal jelly touting such benefits as fertility, immunity and energy. Some studies back up various promises. Royal jelly, the queen bee’s food source, may be a remedy for maladies as diverse as glucose intolerance and mental health, while honey is historically credited with nourishing the body and protecting against inflammation, bacteria and infection.

“In the recent past, there’s been increased awareness of and appreciation for the products of the beehive beyond just honey,” said Andrew Coté, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association and proprietor of the bee farm Andrew’s Honey. “Right now, 80 percent of our customers are purchasing local honey and pollen to alleviate symptoms of seasonal allergies. I’ve also noticed an uptick in propolis, where people are using it to stave off bacterial infections, as it’s antifungal.”

And now luxury skin care labels are getting in on the hype with beauty products pledging collagen stimulation, cell repair and hydration. It’s wellness courtesy of nature’s peskiest critter.

The brand Guerlain sent some of its staff to the French island of Ushant to source ingredients for its Abeille Royale Collection, an assortment of creams, facial oils, masks and skin balms with high concentrations of royal jelly and honey. According to Sandrine Sommer, Guerlain’s head of sustainability, the tiny island in the English Channel has an abundance of European dark bees feeding off one of the purest ecosystems in the world. To protect the bees in Ushant, Guerlain has entered into a 10-year partnership with the Brittany Black Bee Conservatory.

Last fall, the Swiss beauty brand Valmont introduced Essence of Bees, a skin care line that combines honey, propolis and royal jelly from beehives in the Swiss Alps and the Jura Mountains along the French-Swiss border. The honey moisturizes, while propolis, the beehive’s own sealing agent, is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Valmont bought 50 beehives in Switzerland to help sustain the life span of its bees.

“We’re bringing awareness of how important bees are to the environment and to humans,” said Amanda Macino, Valmont’s retail training manager.

Bee sustainability is a central issue among enthusiasts. Last year, the rusty patched bumblebee was the first bee added to the endangered species list in the continental United States. Michele Colopy, the program director at the Pollinator Stewardship Council, said that the biggest threat facing the future of bees is pesticides.

“Every creature, including us, has a pest or disease trying to get at them,” Colopy said. “It’s the same with honeybees, but when you continue to use pesticides to wipe out their food sources, and then use them on remaining food sources, it’s too much for the health of the bees.”

The general public has begun rallying around the honeybee, too. In April, Bryant Park added 3 million Italian honeybees to its apiary to sell to beekeepers and anyone looking to own a beehive. In Battery Park, the Battery Bee Sanctuary shelters thousands of bees insides hives designed to reflect New York’s architectural history, including tenement-style apartments and Dutch-style step gables.

Colopy said that wellness or skin care companies interested in bee products should work with beekeepers who house their hives among chemical-free plants and crops. “It can be a totally sustainable practice, if you give bees what they need to do the work and stay alive,” she said.

Before you go sticking your hand in a hive, though, know that not everyone believes bee products to be miraculous beauty agents. Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist in Manhattan, finds their properties soothing and anti-bacterial, to be sure, but is skeptical of the bigger claims.

“These ingredients taste great, smell great and make excellent moisturizers, which leads to healthy skin,” Wechsler said. “Other than that, I don’t think they do anything magical.” For those who suffer bee allergies, she recommends consulting an allergist before use and then testing a small dose over three days.

Bacon advises that anyone interested in consuming bee supplements do the research and purchase high-quality products; bee pollen, for example, should be soft and velvety to the touch and taste sweet.

She is not concerned with whether the benefits are proven. “When I’m chewing on bee pollen, something pops into my imagination,” Bacon said. “It’s that sweet, velvety, soft, chewy superfood. It makes me happy and excited.”