Bee-venom face cream

Bee-venom face cream is the latest miracle cosmetic to hit the market.

Auckland company Abeeco touts its cream as a "natural alternative to Botox". But if you've forked out the $90 for this product, you may have got more than you bargained for.

Abeeco's cream contains a preservative called benzisothiazolinone, also known as "BIT". This ingredient is found in products such as paint. But it's not approved for use as a preservative in face creams or other cosmetics sold here.

The same restriction applies in the EU. The EU Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products last reviewed BIT in 2004. It concluded there wasn’t enough information available to assess the chemical’s safety and further data was needed on BIT’s reproductive toxicity and absorption through the skin.

There are no specific rules on BIT's use in the US, where Abeeco says it's also been targeting the cream.

As a result of our inquiries, Abeeco told us it has now stopped using BIT. The company appeared to know little about the ingredient. Abeeco's Raewyn Bone said it used a contract manufacturing company to make the cream and relied on this company for advice on product formulation.

Abeeco said it was in the "process of issuing a recall" of the affected batch. It told us the use of BIT was "a genuine mistake" and it "sincerely apologises to those customers affected". If you've bought this cream, we think you're entitled to a full refund.

Reaction risks?

We also asked Abeeco about whether using bee venom could cause allergic reactions in some people. Raewyn Bone said bee venom comprised 0.05 percent of its cream and believes the product was safe to use unless you have a bee allergy.

But experts we've spoken to say there may also be a risk other people could experience an adverse reaction to the cream.

Immunologist Dr Richard Steele says the proteins contained in insect venoms do cause “allergic responses”.

Dr Steele says he's not aware of any reports of problems. But he says consumers should be warned there’s "at least a theoretical concern" that using such creams may result in local skin reactions. He says there's also a possibility that it may lead to sensitisation – which increases the risk of more severe and life-threatening reactions to bee stings.

As for claims bee venom will get rid of your wrinkles, evidence is hard to find. At $90 a pop, the only guarantee is that the cream will lighten your wallet.

Good enough to eat?

Last year, the UK Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes declined an application from Nelson Honey and Marketing to sell honey with added bee venom. The committee stated it was "unable to conclude with certainty that the ingredient is safe for consumers".

Immediate and serious allergic reactions in people who are unknowingly allergic to bee venom were among the potential risks the committee identified. It said there was also a possibility that low oral doses of bee venom may "sensitise" some genetically susceptible individuals and they could suffer a serious allergic response on later exposure to bee venom. However, the committee said it was unable to quantify these risks.

Food products containing bee venom are allowed to be sold here. There are currently no specific rules on its use. But Food Standards Australia New Zealand says it's now considering whether there are "any public health and safety concerns and specific need for regulation" following the UK's decision.

 

Report by Jessica Wilson.

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