A blog that gets nerdy for beauty

Korean skin care ingredients: The Science of Bee Venom and other unusual ingredients

From kimchi, korean noodles, k-pop music to your “oppas” from your favorite k-drama, Korean skin care products are no exemption to the things we embrace from Korean culture. So, what’s up with this rave for Korean skin care products? Why do bloggers and skin care fanatics swear by these? If you’ve seen Korean dramas, I’m sure you’ll notice something about every Korean celebrity:

korean skin care

Perhaps this made you think: Maybe their stuff does work, No? If you are new to Korean skin care, one thing that would probably surprise you is the unusual ingredients they use in their skin care products. Before you get carried away by all its exoticity (is there such word?), let’s see how these ingredients work and what are the available research on these ingredients. Are these actually functional ingredients? Or are these just added to give “story” or uniqueness on their product, that gives little or no effect at all?

1. Bee Venom

What is Bee Venom?

Bee venom in korean skin care

Bawse – a slang for BOSS. 

Bee venom is the sting extracted from honey bees. Before you start to freak out, it’s not going to kill you. A 60 kg person would need about 600 stings to potentially die from bee venom. (Mohamed Ali, 2012)   When you use it in very small amounts, it will not cause any harm. Much more when you apply it on skin and not injected in to your bloodstream.

lethal dosage of bee venom

Sooo many bees

What do Korean skin care products say it does?

  • Reduce acne
  • Skin soothing
  • Reduces the appearance of wrinkles


The Science:

Vocabulary korean skin care


Bee Venom is a consortium of enzymes, peptides and other smaller molecules. The following is the theory behind bee venom’s use in cosmetics:

♦   Melittin, a peptide present in largest amount (about 50% of its dry composition) , suppress inflammation by  stopping production of  pro-inflammatory chemicals.

♦   Phospholipase, an enzyme also found in bee venom, is a protein that destroys phospholipids. Phospholipids are structural molecules that are major components of cell walls of bacteria. It is responsible for its anti-bacterial properties against Propionibacterium acnes, also called acne bacteria.

♦   According to Truthinaging.com, Hyaluronidase in bee venom dilates the capillaries and increases the blood flow. It’s like the normal reaction of the body when being stung by venom, except in this case, the concentration is too low and just enough to plump up the skin.


Research on Bee venom:

♦  Studies found that a formulation of 0.006% purified Bee venom exhibit anti-bacterial effects against acne bacteria.  A controlled double-blind study has found decrease in acne and 57.5% decrease in bacteria in test subjects. [1]

♦   Another study has found improvement after 3 weeks when compared at baseline. They observed 8.6% improvement on acne grade  at week 3 and 52.3% improvement on week 6. However, the study was uncontrolled and non-blinded. [2]

♦   A study  show that bee venom has accelerated the reduction of wound size by about 60% compared to control. [3]

♦   A double-blind clinical study by Mi Han et al. observed statistically significant decrease in wrinkle depth, wrinkle count and wrinkle area after 12 weeks. [4]


My Take:

So far from literature study, all of the studies on Bee Venom was made by San Mi Han and his team and I found no other elaborate study performed by other researcher from other institutions. The results show some potential to bee venom as an effective ingredient but more available research would have convinced me more. I had to admit though, that I’m a fan of Benton Snail bee High Content Essence which contains Bee venom. However, it is important to consider that there are other ingredients found in the product that are proven effective in hydrating skin and delays the appearance of wrinkles. So unfortunately,  I  can’t just single out the wonders of the product with bee venom.


Products with Bee venom:


2. Propolis

Didn’t get the hang of bees yet? I hope so, because next up is another bee-product : Propolis.

Propolis in korean skin care

What is Propolis?

Besides honey and stings, bees also produce another functional material called propolis. Propolis is a glue-like material produced by bees to reinforce beehives.  It comes from the greek word propolis. Pro means defense, and polis means city, that is, “defense of the city” or in this case, “defense of the hive”.  Makes sense, right?

What do Korean skin care products say it does?

  • reduces blemishes and redness
  • prevent skin damage


The Science:

It is not yet very well understood how propolis reduces blemishes and redness in the skin, as claimed in some products. Several study has pointed out its antimicrobial, anti-fungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in previous studies (12,13,14). Another tricky matter is that the composition of propolis produced by a bee varies significantly on temperature, location and vegetation. Hence, properties found in a hive’s propolis can vary significantly from another.


Research Studies on Propolis:

  • A study by Egyptian researchers shows that propolis with ethanol decreases number and severity of acne. [5] 
  • Preparation of 30% propolis has shown to improve the rate of wound healing in dogs [6]


My Take:

Research on propolis for skin care is scarce. I think a lot of work has to be made. A study on dogs found 30% positive result in healing wounds. But this study isn’t enough to convince me it actually works on humans…yet. It was reported to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However personally, I wouldn’t replace this to other products with much more proven ingredients to reduce blemishes and my trusted vitamin C as antioxidant.  But hey, don’t burn your bridges with propolis. There are Korean skin care products that use propolis along with other excellent ingredients which may work well for you.


Products with Propolis:


3. Snail Mucin

Ew, snail slime on my face?! Well I wasn’t comfortable with the idea at first but after looking closer on the chemistry of snail mucin, I had to rethink and dig deeper.


What is Snail Mucin?

Snail mucin is the slimy secretions of snails that help them stick to surfaces, lubricate their bodies, and protect their exposed soft tissues.  It is also responsible for the “slim trail” left from snail tracks.

Snail Mucin in Korean Skin care products

What do Korean skin care products say it does?

  • Hydrates skin
  • Soothes skin
  • Reduces appearance of blemishes


Science of Snail Mucin

Snail mucin is present in many Korean skin care products because of its following properties:

♦   Anti-Bacterial – Despite their exposed bodies looking so fragile, do you snails never get an infection? Well thanks to snail’s slimy secretions, also called as snail mucin. Snail mucin contains  antibacterial peptides and glycoprotein enzymes that protect snails from environmental elements.

♦   Moisturizing – the snail slime contains hyaluronic acid which has excellent moisturizing properties that keeps its tissue from getting dehydrated

♦   Antioxidant –  Their delicate soft tissues can’t hide under their shell all the time. Hence, mother nature packed their snail slime with antioxidants to protect their soft tissues from UV damage from the sun.

♦   Regenerative – Studies show that snail mucin have regenerative properties in the skin because of its ability to increase production of collagen. Snail mucin can also help heal acne wounds faster by increasing the rate of migration of skin cells that fill the gap created by wounds.


Research Study on Snail Mucin:

♦    A study by Oh Min-Jee et. al comparing hyaluronic acid and snail mucin on atopic dermatitis show great improvement with snail mucin. Though both hyaluronic acid and snail mucin significantly increased hydration, the latter gave greater results. [7]

♦    A Non-placebo, non-randomized, open-label study shows 45.5% decrease in deep wrinkles. They also observied  50% reduction of sallow appearance of skin and dryness. They also claim that snail mucin completely treated dryness of all the 15 participants after 90 days of application of 8% snail mucin [8]

♦   A controlled, double-blind, randomized study showed significant improvement on crows feet wrinkles after 12 weeks study. [9]


My Take

When skin is effectively hydrated, it can reduce the appearance of wrinkles. There is sufficient research that confirm of its hydrating properties. it’s indeed an awesome moisturizer. The “anti-wrinkle” effect of snail mucin may come from its moisturizing properties. There are also convincing studies showing that someone who suffers from frequent blemishes can benefit from snail mucin. It is particularly beneficial for healing wounds or inflammation caused by acne. If you have no issues of milking the secretions out of a snail’s delicate body, then maybe this stuff is for you.


Products with Snail Mucin:



4. Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate

What is Galactomyces Ferment filtrate?

This ingredient is pretty wordy but it becomes a lot simpler when we break it down:

♦   Galactomyces – is a species of yeast also used in fermenting sake or rice wine

♦   Ferment – This wonderful fungi babies are “fermented”. During fermentation, they are placed inside bioreactors, also called as fermenters. These fermenters provide them food and cozy environment for them to grow and multiply. As these microorganisms grow, they also excrete nutrient-dense substances that are beneficial for the skin.  (It may sound ugly, but  they are basically swimming in their own poop except these excretions are magic beauty sauce. )

♦   Filtrate – Filtrate is the liquid that comes out during filtration. After fermentation, the fungi and other undesired materials are filtered out so only the magic beauty sauce remains.

Yeast cell from galactomyces ferment filtrate

Yeah… because Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate contains Fungi by-products

What do Korean skin care products say it does?

  • smoothen skin
  • even out complexion
  • moisturizes

The Science

Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate contains a mixture of amino acids, peptides, enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Though the specific chemicals responsible for its efficacy is not fully understood, studies have confirmed that Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate improves skin functions and quality. The positive results in clinical studies made its way in many raved Korean skin care products.


Studies on Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate 

♦   Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate shows to reduce open pores by 15.66%, blackhead pores by 21.84%, sebum by 64%, and increase skin brightness by 2.49%. [10]

♦   A study also proved that  yeast ferment can protect the skin epidermis from inflammation [11]

♦   A study  found out how yeast ferment can potentially delay aging because of its capacity to prevent death of cells.[11]

♦   Shows to have antioxidant properties and brightens skin by reduction of melanin production


My Take:

Its effect of lightening skin and reducing pore size may be too low to notice (2.49% and 15.66% respectively). However, I can confirm with the study’s finding on reduction of sebum by 64% after trying Cosrx Galactomyces Essence. Though it did not significantly affect my skin’s appearance, it made my skin feel soft and less oily when I wake up the next morning. The anti-aging mechanism of galactomyces ferment filtrat is more on the preventive side so don’t expect too much when you’re trying to get rid of existing wrinkles.

A Word of Caution:

Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate is packed with nutrients. Not only does your skin love it, other yeast species too. Yeast extracts can stimulate the growth of other yeast species. So, if you are someone suffering from fungal acne or other fungal or yeast skin infection, it is best to avoid this product as it MAY worsen the condition.


Products with Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate:



So whats your favorite Korean skin care product? Do they contain unusual ingredient? I’d love to hear from you guys!


Other References:

 Farooqui T, Farooqui AA. Beneficial effects of propolis on human health and neurological diseases. Front Biosci (Elite Ed) 2012; 4:779–793.

Bastos EM, Simone M, Jorge DM, Soares AE, Spivak M. In vitro study of the antimicrobial activity of Brazilian propolis against Paenibacillus larvae. J Invertebr Pathol 2008; 97:273–281.

Holcova S, Hladikova M. Efficacy and tolerance of a hypoallergenic propolis special extract GH 2002 in the galenic form a shower gel/shampoo on patients with acne vulgaris: an open dermatological study. Kosmetische Medizin 2008; 29:142–147.


Article written by:

Anne Porter

Hi! I’m Anne. I am a chemical engineer from Cebu, Philippines. I created Zarins Beautylab because of my love for cosmetics, skin care products and all other stuff that makes me (and you) look and feel beautiful. My semesters of chemistry courses come in handy as I explain the science behind different beauty products: which works and how it works. Well, Sometimes its science and sometimes its just good ol’ common sense.

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