Used for centuries by humans for its health-promoting qualities, royal jelly is a yellowish, viscous secretion from the hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands of worker bees that nourishes bee larvae of all kinds (i.e., drones, workers, queens) after which it becomes the exclusive nourishment for queens throughout their development.1-3 A wide range of biologic activity has been attributed to royal jelly, including antitumor, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, collagen production-promoting, immunomodulatory, and wound healing.3-8 Royal jelly is used in cosmetics, health tonics (particularly in Asia), dietary supplements, and beverages.2,9
Produced from pollen, royal jelly contains water, proteins (82%-90% of which are known as the major royal jelly proteins, with five primary members), lipids – including its primary unsaturated fatty acid, 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10-HDA) – sugars, carbohydrates, free amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.4,7,10 Many of the benefits to human health linked to royal jelly can be partly attributed to the activity of its lipids, particularly 10-HDA, which render the royal jelly emulsion highly acidic and impart antimicrobial properties.10 These and other constituents of royal jelly operate in ways that are thought to yield broad protection against skin aging and cancer development, modulation of the immune system, induction of neurogenesis, and alleviation of menopausal symptoms.1 This column will focus on recent studies pertaining to the topical use of royal jelly.
In 2008, Abdelatif et al. conducted a pilot study to determine the safety and effectiveness of a then-new ointment combining royal jelly and panthenol (Pedyphar) in 60 patients with limb-threatening diabetic foot infections. After 9 weeks of treatment and through 6 months of follow-up, 96% of subjects with full-thickness skin ulcers (Wagner grades 1 and 2) or deep tissue infection and suspected osteomyelitis (grade 3) responded well, with all grade 1 and 2 ulcers healing and 92% of grade 3 ulcers healing. All patients with gangrenous lesions (grades 4 and 5) healed after surgical excision, debridement, and conservative treatment with the royal jelly/panthenol product. The researchers called for more double-blind, randomized controlled studies to confirm their promising findings of the safety and efficacy of the royal jelly/panthenol combination.11
Two years later, Kim et al. treated freshly scratched normal human dermal fibroblasts with different concentrations of royal jelly (0.1 mg/mL, 1.0 mg/mL, or 5 mg/mL) for up to 48 hours. Fibroblast migration was found to have peaked at 24 hours after wound induction, with royal jelly significantly and dose-dependently accelerating the migration at the 8-hour mark. Royal jelly also influenced several fibroblast lipids involved in the wound healing process, with a decrease in cholesterol level and an increase in sphinganines.12
A small study with eight subjects was done in 2011 by Siavash et al. to evaluate the efficacy of topically applied royal jelly for diabetic foot ulcers. Seven of the eight ulcers treated healed, with a mean healing time of 41 days. The eighth ulcer improved, diminishing significantly in size. The researchers concluded that a royal jelly dressing is an effective alternative for treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.13 However, the same team conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of topical royal jelly on diabetic foot ulcers in 25 patients (6 females, 19 males) and found no significant differences between 5% sterile topical royal jelly or placebo.6
A decade ago, Koya-Miyata et al. showed that royal jelly promotes collagen synthesis by skin fibroblasts in the presence of ascorbic acid-2-O-alpha-glucoside. They also showed that its primary fatty acid constituent, 10-HDA, facilitates the collagen production by fibroblasts treated with ascorbic acid-2-O-alpha-glucoside through activation of transforming growth factor-beta 1 production.5
Park et al. measured the 10-HDA content of royal jelly in 2011 and studied its effects on UVB-induced skin photoaging in normal human dermal fibroblasts. The introduction of royal jelly (0.211% 10-HDA) promoted the production of procollagen type I and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta-1 without affecting matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-1 levels. The investigators concluded that the impact of royal jelly on collagen production positioned the bee product as a potential photoprotectant against UVB-induced photoaging.14 The next year, Park et al. observed that the production of type I collagen in the dorsal skin of ovariectomized Sprague-Dawley rats was enhanced by the dietary supplementation of 1% royal jelly extract. Although MMP-1 levels were unaffected, the investigators speculated that the effects on collagen synthesis alone were sufficient for royal jelly to provide anti-aging activity.4
In 2013, Zheng et al. found that 10-HDA significantly protected fibroblasts from UVA-induced cytotoxicity, reactive oxygen species, and cellular senescence. They also noted that 10-HDA inhibited the UVA-generated expression of MMP-1 and -3, and stimulated collagen production. Treatment with 10-HDA also reduced the activation of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. The researchers concluded that this royal jelly fatty acid appears to be a promising agent for the prevention and treatment of cutaneous photoaging.8
In 2011, Han et al. reported that royal jelly dose-dependently inhibited melanin biosynthesis in the B16F1 mouse melanocyte cell line by reducing tyrosinase activity. Royal jelly also lowered mRNA levels of tyrosinase. The investigators concluded that royal jelly may be a viable option in the skin-lightening arsenal.3
There are some reports of contact dermatitis from the use of topical royal jelly.15 Far more significant, while rare, adverse reactions have been linked to oral use of royal jelly, including acute asthma, anaphylaxis, and even death.2,16,17
Royal jelly is one of several bee products found to have beneficial health effects in humans. Various dermatologic applications of royal jelly have been employed in recent decades. More research is necessary, though, to determine just how useful this bee product may be for a range of cutaneous conditions.
10. Ayu. 2012;33(2):178-82 .
Dr. Baumann is chief executive officer of the Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in the Design District in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann wrote the textbook, “Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice” (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), and a book for consumers, “The Skin Type Solution” (New York: Bantam Dell, 2006). She has contributed to the Cosmeceutical Critique column in Dermatology News since January 2001. Her latest book, “Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients,” was published in November 2014. Dr. Baumann has received funding for clinical grants from Allergan, Aveeno, Avon Products, Evolus, Galderma, GlaxoSmithKline, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, Mary Kay, Medicis Pharmaceuticals, Neutrogena, Philosophy, Topix Pharmaceuticals, and Unilever.