Bees are becoming buzz-worthy when it comes to smoothing out wrinkles. Bee venom in creams and lotions promises to fool the skin into thinking it’s been stung. The jury is still out on whether bee venom works, but using it could be dangerous for the two million Americans allergic to insect stings.
Tanya Phillips takes great pains not to feel the pain of getting stung by her honey bees.
"Bees don't like smoke, so this keeps them away from us," said Phillips as she squeezed a handheld smoker.
Deep in southern Travis County the master beekeeper knows if she stays calm the bees might too.
"I haven't done any quick fast movements that make them feel like they're under attack," said Phillips, the owner of Bee Friendly Austin.
Phillips works so hard to avoid bee venom she doesn't understand why the toxin is creating so much buzz.
"When it's injected into the skin there's a definite plumping that occurs, but it's not something that looks good," said Phillips.
She isn't sold on using bee venom, but it's becoming a trendy new ingredient for creams and cleansers. In a small study in South Korea 22 women applied bee venom twice a day for 12 weeks.
"They say the results were a reduction in the wrinkles around their eyes," said Dr. Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce.
The dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology at 3800 N. Lamar Blvd. says the study was too small to draw any conclusions. But she worries some patients might not read the warnings on the bee venom beauty products and realize there is a potential danger.
"My fear would be the people who don't even know they have an allergy or don't think it's a big deal would still purchase the package and use it on their face and maybe suffer a terrible consequence," said Dr. Geddes-Bruce. "They could have swollen lips, swollen tongue, trouble breathing, wheezing, swelling of their skin, redness of their skin. If you have a serious reaction it can be the kind where your throat closes and you have trouble breathing. It can be life threatening."
Dermatologists recommend doing a patch test before you slather bee venom or any other product all over your face. So CBS Austin recruited two producers and they each put a little dab of a bee venom cream on the inside of their arms. One producer has never been stung and doesn't know if she's allergic. The other producer has been stung and she doesn't think she's allergic. We waited 24 hours to see if either had a reaction.
The next day both women reported very similar results. They each felt a small amount of tingling right after putting the cream on their arms. But after the tingling subsided they saw no redness, swelling or other adverse reactions.
The cream CBS Austin producers tested on their arms lists bee venom as the last ingredient. Higher concentrations could cause stronger reactions especially if the skin isn't perfectly smooth.
"You might have little micro-breaks or tears or an acne bump that causes a break in the skin and then you are potentially getting exposed to it and it getting into the bloodstream," said Dr. Geddes-Bruce. "If you skin is perfectly intact I would imagine the chance of a very severe reaction is low."
At Bee Friendly Austin at 9874 Wier Loop Circle in south Austin, they don't collect bee venom or use it. What Phillips wants from her millions of bees is any extra bee glue, honey and beeswax they don't need.
Phillips uses the ingredients to make lip balms and fill trays of lotion bars. None of the ingredients promises to plump up skin like it's been stung. But there's also no fear of needing to make a bee line for the emergency room.