British Society of Cutaneous Allergy (BCSA)


What are the aims of this patient information leaflet?

This leaflet has been written to help you understand more about your contact allergy. It tells you what a contact allergy is, what causes this allergy and what you can do about it.

What is contact allergy?

Dermatitis, also known as eczema, describes a type of inflammation of the skin. Contact dermatitis or contact eczema is a term used when this inflammation is caused by direct or indirect skin contact with something in your environment. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system causes allergy to a very specific chemical or substance that has been in contact with the skin.

What causes your specific allergy?

Your patch tests indicate that you have a contact allergy to propolis.

What is propolis?

Propolis is a resinous substance collected by honey bees from buds and bark. They use it to build and protect their hives. Poplar and pine trees are the commonest source. Propolis is a mixture of essential oils, resins, waxes and flavenoids. Propolis has antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic properties and is widely used in ‘natural’ products and cosmetics.

What are some products that contain propolis?

  • Cosmetics such as face creams, emollients, shampoos and lipsticks
  • Hair removal waxes
  • Oral hygiene products such as toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Food products such as honey, glossy coatings on fruits and sweets, and chewing gum
  • Dietary supplements.

Occupational exposure occurs in beekeepers, violin makers and violinists, in timber cutters especially when cutting poplars, and in shoemakers.

Share allergies

Propolis often reacts along with Myroxylon pereirae (Balsam of Peru). Other common shared reactions include colophonium, clove oil and fragrance mix 1, due to shared ingredients such as cinnamic alcohol, cinnamyl alcohol, benzyl benzoate, benzoic acid and vanillin. A shared reaction to beeswax is  uncommon (7%) but may occur due to contamination with propolis.

Some steroid ointments and creams contain beeswax but there is usually no problem with this. Steroids containing beeswax include Dermovate cream, Nerisone cream, Nerisone Forte oily cream, Elocon ointment, Fludroxycortide ointment and Eumovate cream. Protopic ointment and Eurax also contain beeswax.

Remember, always check the label, these lists can never be complete and ingredients change.

How can I manage my allergy?

This means that you should avoid putting products containing propolis onto your skin in the future.

Contact allergy to propolis may result in dermatitis and occasionally urticaria (hives). It can also cause an airborne pattern of dermatitis. The lips may be affected (cheilitis) or it may present as hand dermatitis/eczema.

Propolis-related substances include cera flava (yellow wax) from honeycomb and cera alba (bleached wax). The main allergens in propolis are the esters of caffeic acid such as benzyl, phenethyl, geranyl, and 3-methyl-2-butenyl caffeate.

Because the composition of propolis varies, you may not react to all products that contain propolis.

Self-care (what can I do?)

Always check the ingredient listing on the product, package or package insert as these lists can never be complete and ingredients change. This is particularly important for any products purchased outside the EU where some allergens may not be banned.

Created: 2019