Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Propolis

Susan E. Walgrave; Erin M. Warshaw; Lynn A. Glesne


Dermatitis. 2005;16(4):209-215. 

In This Article

Potential Medical Uses and Biologic Properties of Propolis

Several groups of researchers have focused their attention on the biologic activity of propolis and its active constituents.[34] General medicinal uses of propolis have included dental care and the treatment of anemia, ischemia, infections, cancer, and hepatitis. In regard to dermatology, propolis has been used in tissue regeneration, wound healing, and the treatment of ulcers and eczema.[5]

Several studies have shown that aqueous and alcohol extracts of propolis have hepatoprotective effects on both chemically induced (carbon tetrachloride, acetaminophen, and D-galactosamine [D-GalN]) and immunologically induced (D-GalN/lipopolysaccharide) liver toxicity.[35–41] The antitumor activity of propolis, including cytotoxicity, has also been well documented.[34] A new clerodane diterpenoid called PMS-1, isolated from Brazilian propolis, exhibits cytotoxicity toward human hepatocellular carcinoma, human lung carcinoma, and skin tumors.[42,43] Specifically, CAPE was shown to be cytotoxic to various tumor cell lines[44] and to have antitumor properties. Studies have shown that it can arrest the growth of human leukemia HL-60 cells[45] and different oral tumor cells.[46]

The flavonoids and phenolic compounds of propolis have also been reported to have antioxidant properties that play a role in the antitumor and antihepatotoxic activities of propolis. Reactive oxidative species associated with tumor production are thought to act as second messengers for signal transduction pathways that regulate cell proliferation. The phenolic constituents of propolis reduce intracellular peroxides, thereby potentially inhibiting carcinogenesis. This activity also seems to be hepatoprotective.[34]

One of the most widely known and extensively researched properties of propolis is its antibacterial activity. Many research studies have been conducted with propolis on different species of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms.[6,34,47–51] One study examined the antibacterial activity of different fractions of Brazilian propolis against Staphylococcus aureus and observed that the antibacterial activity is mainly due to polar phenolic compounds.[47]

Propolis has also shown an antiinflammatory effect and has been used for the treatment of some skin inflammatory diseases.[8] Mirzoeva and Calder studied the in vivo effect of dietary propolis and propolis components on arachidonic acid metabolism.[52] The ethanol extract of propolis was found to suppress prostaglandin and leukotriene generation by murine peritoneal macrophages in vitro and during zymosan-induced acute inflammation in vivo. Propolis significantly suppressed the lipoxygenase pathway of arachidonic acid metabolism during inflammation. CAPE was the most potent modulator of the arachidonic acid cascade among the tested propolis components.[52]

Many of the above-mentioned studies of the biologic activities of propolis were performed with mice and therefore may not be generalizable to humans. The few studies involving human subjects were limited by small sample sizes and nonrandomized noncontrolled study designs. More detailed studies are needed to determine the potential therapeutic benefits of propolis in humans.