Ingredient trends come and go (anyone else remember when starfish had a brief moment in the sun?). That’s why I’m so grateful when a trendy ingredient that works well for me ends up getting popular enough to stick around. Like propolis, the featured ingredient in the serums I’m going to compare today. I love propolis. I’m not the only one.
Produced by bees, propolis is a resinous substance used as a sealant to protect and insulate beehives. As with so many other substances found in nature, we humans saw something other animals were making use of and decided to find ways to make use of it ourselves. Propolis has been used in folk medicine across a number of cultures; these days research into its topical use centers more on its antioxidant content and its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and wound healing properties, which may have applications for acne-prone skin.
For me, the effects of a good propolis product resemble those of my favorite snail products: calmer skin that bounces back faster after a breakout or reaction. They’re not exactly the same, though (which is one of the reasons I like to include both in my routines). Whereas snail mucin also provides a light but tangible barrier against irritation and moisture loss, the best propolis products give my skin so distinctive that I think of it as the Propolis Glow™. My completely unscientific theory is that propolis achieves this by sealing and smoothing out the subtle irregularities in skin texture so that skin reflects light much more evenly, but who knows? In any case, it’s something I look to propolis to deliver.
Some of the products featured in this post were provided by the brands for review. This post contains affiliate links, which allow me to earn a small commission on purchases made through those links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
Last year, as part of their revival of the Miss Flower & Mr Honey line, Banila Co released an updated version of my beloved Miss Flower & Mr Honey Cream, as well as a product called Miss Flower & Mr Honey Rejuvenating Propolis Ampoule. Dreaming of a resurrection of the old and truly magical Miss Flower & Mr Honey Essence Oil, I placed an order of the new ampoule and the updated cream with Banila Co US and eagerly waited for them to arrive.
At around the same time, Glowie Co started carrying products from Beauty of Joseon. Though a smaller brand, Beauty of Joseon gained cult status among fans of Asian cosmetics in the West thanks to a rave review of the gorgeously packaged Dynasty Cream from OG K-beauty blogger (and my close friend for all these years!) Cat of Snow White and the Asian Pear. Beauty of Joseon emphasizes hanbang skincare–that is, skincare with formulas that incorporate ingredients used in traditional herbal medicine–but not just any hanbang, “clean” hanbang.
“Clean” beauty marketing doesn’t interest me, because from where I’m sitting, it’s primarily driven by misinformation and chemophobic fearmongering, but while I don’t find “clean beauty” appealing in itself, I’m also not opposed to trying a “clean” skincare product if the product interests me on its own merits. Beauty of Joseon’s Glow Serum, which features propolis and niacinamide, does. Because propolis and niacinamide. So Glowie Co sent over the serum. For the next several months, I tested both serums, with plans to compare them in a review. This one, actually.
Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule vs Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum Comparison Review
It’s been a while since I did an in-depth comparison of two products, and with these two, it was a pleasure. I tested each separately at first, adding the Banila Co serum into my existing routine for one month, then taking it out and giving my skin a break for a week before replacing it with the Beauty of Joseon product, which I then used for a month as well.
For some context, I’m 41, and my skin type is normal, with some dry leanings due to age and heavy tretinoin use. It doesn’t really struggle unless the weather is unusually dry or unless something I’ve used has triggered one of my eczema-like flare-ups, which present as big dry, bumpy, scaly, extremely sensitive red patches along my jawline and on the lower half of my face (so, thank God for the face masks we’ve all grown accustomed to wearing in public). The flare-ups usually last for a few days to a week depending on how quickly I identify their trigger and remove it from my routine and end with the skin on the affected areas violently peeling off in flakes that rival the sheets of skin that come off my feet after a good foot peel. Luckily(?), I got to experience both these misfortunes during my time testing the propolis serums.
(For reference, the product that angered my skin was Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm. The fact that out of all the products I’ve used for all these years, one as bland and boring as this one would trigger a flare-up is almost insulting. It’s like getting an upset stomach from plain oatmeal.)
Although the Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule and the Glow Serum have more than a few ingredients in common, Banila Co and Beauty of Joseon emphasize different claims in their product marketing. Banila Co describes the Miss Flower & Mr Honey ampoule as nourishing and claims it can “help improve skin’s elasticity and overall skin health.” Beauty of Joseon focuses on brightening to such an extent that niacinamide gets equal billing with propolis on the product’s packaging.
Sometime last year, I was talking to a friend of mine who developed the Skincare Routine app (Android) about simple tech tools I wish I had for product reviews. One of the ideas I had was a way to quickly compare multiple products’ ingredients lists, to identify ingredients they have in common. Because my friend actually knows how to make tools like that, he did, and made it available on the app website. I plugged in the ingredients for both the Banila Co propolis ampoule and the Beauty of Joseon serum.
Both products share the following ingredients: Water, glycerin, 1,2-hexanediol, niacinamide, carbomer, sodium hyaluronate, xanthan gum, melia azadirachta leaf extract, propolis extract, melia azadirachta flower extract, curcuma longa (turmeric) root extract, ocimum sanctum leaf extract, and corallina officinalis extract.
Niacinamide is a no-brainer. It’s in a ton of products and justifiably beloved for its well supported brightening effects and ability to improve skin’s elasticity and barrier function. What I found more interesting were the plant extracts that popped up in both products’ formulations.
Melia azadirachta, or chinaberry, is a tree native to south and southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands and used in Ayurvedic medicine. As far as its skincare benefits go, even the pretty conservative Paula’s Choice Beautypedia ingredients database gives it a “best” rating and discusses its remarkable antioxidant properties. Turmeric, also used in Ayurvedic medicine, appears in skincare due to its claimed antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which make it useful both for acne and to delay visible skin aging. Ocimum sanctum is another Ayurvedic herb; research is thin on the ground for it as a topical skincare ingredient, but it may have anti-aging benefits. Finally, corallina officinalis is a type of seaweed, and I love seaweed in skincare–its humectant and emollient qualities can make skin look firmer and feel smoother and more supple, and it, too, comes packed with beneficial antioxidants.
Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule ingredients: Water, glycerin, 1,2-hexanediol, niacinamide, propanediol, betaine, glycosyl trehalose, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, glycereth-25 PCA isostearate, arginine, carbomer, sodium hyaluronate, xanthan gum, melia azadirachta leaf extract, propolis extract, adenosine, melia azadirachta flower extract, curcuma longa (turmeric) root extract, fragrance, ocimum sanctum leaf extract, corallina officinalis extract
Looking at ingredients alone, I found the Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule disappointing. I prefer propolis products that use the ingredient in high concentrations, preferably high enough to put it within the top three ingredients on the list. While the product packaging states that it contains 82% red propolis extract, I checked with the brand’s US office and confirmed that what they mean is the extract is 82% pure red propolis (with the remaining 18% presumably being solvent and preservative). The propolis extract doesn’t even show up until the bottom half of the ingredients list, along with the rest of those other intriguing extracts. There’s not much else of note to see, either. It’s too bad. An ingredients list doesn’t tell the full story, however, so despite my meh feelings about it, I still wanted to get it on my face.
Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum (Propolis + Niacinamide) ingredients: Propolis extract, dipropylene glycol, glycerin, butylene glycol, water, niacinamide, 1,2-hexanediol, melia azadirachta flower extract, melia azadirachta leaf extract, sodium hyaluronate, curcuma longa (turmeric) root extract, ocimum sanctum leaf extract, theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed extract, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) extract, centella asiatica extract, corallina officinalis extract, lotus corniculatus seed extract, calophyllum inophyllum seed oil, betaine salicylate, sodium polyacryloyldimethyl taurate, tromethamine, polyglyceryl-10 laurate, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, dextrin, pentylene glycol, octanediol, tocopherol, xanthan gum, carbomer
In contrast, Beauty of Joseon’s Glow Serum puts propolis extract right at the top of the ingredients list, indicating that propolis extract is present in the product in a higher concentration than any other ingredient. Other extracts also occupy the top half of the ingredients list.
Beauty of Joseon markets this serum as being 60% propolis. As we’ve seen from Banila Co’s clarification of their 82% propolis extract claim, however, the percentage alone tells less than we might expect. I reached out to Beauty of Joseon to find out more. It turns out that unlike the Banila Co ampoule, the concentration claim for the Glow Serum indicates that propolis extract makes up 60% of the product’s total volume.
Ultimately, this makes comparing the two products by their propolis content kind of a wash. Banila Co provided clarity on how much of their propolis extract is actual propolis but not how much of the product is propolis extract. Beauty of Joseon shares how much of the product is propolis extract but not how much of the propolis extract is propolis. It’s a good thing that focus ingredient concentrations aren’t the only way to determine a product’s effectiveness (and generally not the best way to determine it, either). What matters is how the product perform.
At a very basic level, the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum and the Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule are similar. Both are water-based, gel-textured serums with nice hydrating effects. Their lightweight consistencies allow them to layer well over and under other products in a longer routine, and their fast absorption makes them a nice addition to a quicker routine when I want a little extra moisture but can’t afford to add much extra time. Neither product caused any pilling; both sat well under my sunscreen and makeup.
The main point of differentiation for me is in overall user experience.
To my eternal disappointment, the Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule bears no resemblance to the Miss Flower & Mr Honey Essence Oil that I miss so, so much. On the plus side, Banila Co does still sell the “honey” ingredient story magnificently.
With a weighty, generously sized (50ml) glass bottle the color of honey and a hexagonal cap, reminiscent of honeycomb, the Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule’s presentation is designed to spark joy in anyone who loves honey and honey-themed skincare. The product itself smells so good that putting it on my face instantly lights up the most primal pleasure centers in my brain. It’s that soft, just-sweet-enough, floral-tinged honey scent that Banila Co has been deploying in their Miss Flower & Mr Honey products since the middle of the last decade. To my nose, it’s beautifully feminine but refined, not cloying, and it’s just noticeable enough to enjoy without being overpowering. My point is that I find the experience of the product absolutely stellar. I used up the whole bottle happily, even though the actual effects of the product aren’t much to write home about.
As I mentioned near the beginning of this section, both products in this review have nice hydrating effects. The Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule left my skin plump and refreshed, with the fresh glow I associate with a good propolis product. Despite the fragrance, it didn’t bother my skin when I was suffering from that horrible Clinique cleansing balm-induced flare-up. That’s about all the Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule did, though. I can get that from a lot of other products. Like, for example, the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum, subtitled “Propolis + Niacinamide.”
Beauty of Joseon’s branding is beautiful, no doubt. Elegant, evocative of court ladies in historical K-dramas, and way more classy (in my opinion) than History of Whoo’s over-the-top Ancient Korean Court Lady Beauty Secrets branding, it hints at the inspiration for the brand’s formulations: traditional Korean folk medicine, aka hanbang.
Though the herbal theme is front and center in Beauty of Joseon’s packaging, however, it’s the propolis that heads up the ingredients list for the Glow Serum. And I actually feel it with this product.
In terms of ingredient storytelling, the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum falls far behind the Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule. It doesn’t smell like anything, let alone honey; I know the lack of scent is actually a better choice, making it friendlier for sensitive skin, but as a honey lover, I found it disappointing. There’s nothing in particular in the packaging to reinforce the propolis messaging–it looks just like every other serum in the brand’s roster, except for the color of the box and label and the words printed on the bottom. But when my skin was suffering from its run-in with the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm, this serum came in clutch.
When I’m suffering from a flare-up, I rely heavily on hydrating layers to help minimize the itching and flaking; in that sense, the Banila Co ampoule did help. But the Beauty of Joseon serum did more than just hydrate. When I applied it in place of the Miss Flower & Mr Honey ampoule, it formed a light but more noticeably present film over the damaged, irritated surface of my skin. It’s almost snail-like.
The film performed two functions: it seemed to provide some extra protection against more irritation, and it filled in the little cracks and smoothed out the bumps, temporarily improving my skin texture so I could more easily cover up the redness with a little foundation. Meanwhile, when I switched to the Beauty of Joseon serum, the flare-up started healing more quickly. I started to see improvement by evening when I used it in the morning, and again in the morning after I’d used it in the evening. It’s a less fun product than the Banila Co ampoule but did far more for my skin when my skin needed it.
When my skin is in its normal condition, meanwhile, the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum delivers a little more plumping and hydration than the Banila Co ampoule, and about the same level of added glow.
On area where I felt dissatisfied with the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum was the size of the product. It’s 30ml. That’s a pretty standard size for a serum or ampoule product, but I ran through it fast. The smooth gel consistency just begs to be slathered on generously, and I take my skincare all the way from hairline down to nips. It felt like I ran out far too soon. The Banila Co ampoule, at 50ml, lasted a more reasonable-feeling length of time.
This is a pretty easy problem to solve for those who prefer the Beauty of Joseon serum, though: get more. At $17 for 30ml, it’s $0.56/ml. That’s much more economical than $1.04/ml, which is how much the $52 bottle of Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule works out to, and a genuinely great price for such a well rounded product.
If you’re looking primarily for a honey-themed product that will spark a lot of honey-themed joy and deliver some hydration and glow too, the Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule is it. But if you need more serious benefits, like accelerated healing and protection from irritation, I find the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum much more worth the money (and you’ll get much more for your money too). I give the Banila Co ampoule about a 3.5 out of 5 stars; I give the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Where can I buy Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule and Beauty of Joseon Propolis + Niacinamide Glow Serum?
- I got the Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Ampoule at Banila Co US.
- You can get the Beauty of Joseon Propolis + Niacinamide Glow Serum at Glowie Co, where my affiliate code FIDDYSNAILS gives 10% off your total order.
All is not lost for the Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey revival. I’m disappointed that the ampoule wasn’t what I dreamed it would be, but I still love the cream with my entire body and soul. I’m also currently using the toner and the lotion, and both of those are also working out much better for me than the ampoule. More reviews to come!