Increase in allergies to a natural skincare product

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Study at FAU shows that the number of skin allergies to ‘bee glue’ is increasing

Propolis, also known as ‘bee glue’, is a popular natural ingredient that is available as a food supplement and is often found in ‘natural’ cosmetics and skincare products. However, the number of skin allergies to propolis has more than doubled since 2007. This is the result of a study at FAU that has now been published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Propolis is made and used by bees to build their nests. It consists of substances from living plants that are mixed with an enzyme found in bees’ saliva, partially digested and added to beeswax. Propolis has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, which is why it was used in medicine as early as the 12th century. Later, it was often used later to treat or protect wounds. Today, it is used in a large range of healthcare and cosmetic products.

In a study led by main author Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Uter from the Chair of Biometry and Epidemiology, researchers analysed data from around 125,000 patients from Germany, Austria and Switzerland who were tested for skin allergies using epicutane tests between 2007 and 2018. During this test, a series of known allergens are applied to small areas of the skin to find out whether they cause an allergic reaction. The team discovered that 2.35 percent of the tested patients were allergic to propolis in the period between 2007 and 2010, compared with 3.94 percent between 2015 and 2018. This is a rise of 68 percent.

A contact allergy occurs when the skin comes into contact with allergens causing sensitisation. If the skin is exposed to the same allergens again, this can cause redness and swelling, blisters, spots or itching. ‘The increase in allergic reactions to propolis shows that sensitisation and its causes, that is, the products that trigger a reaction, still have to be examined in a more targeted manner. If this allergy trend continues, we may have to re-assess the allergy risk and consider limiting the concentration of propolis in products used on the skin,’ says Prof. Uter.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Uter
Chair of Biometry and Epidemiology
Phone: + 49 9131 85 22720

Addition information