Once reserved for elite, royalty and the very rich, the topical use of precious honey is one of nature’s most delightful ways to cleanse, condition, heal and beautify our skin. Today, we can indulge in honey the way Queen Cleopatra did thousands of years ago.
For daily use in our skin care routine, any high quality raw honey is a good choice.
Honey infused with medicinal herbs adds another level of medicinal healing power for cleansing, masking and spot treating.
To address inflammatory skin conditions certain single source varieties of honey can be considered.
As a seeker, researcher and formulator of Nourishing Skin Care I’ve personally been incorporating honey into my routine for years I am always recommending it to my clients and crafting custom, fresh masks made with honey I have infused with wild plants for those with inflammatory skin issues.
This past winter I was playing around with some mask formula. In a few of them I included some clay reputed to have hydrating properties.
My skin does not like clay one bit, never has. I was reminded of 2 things; 1. only those with very oily skin can tolerate clay in a natural mask formula and 2. how using honey to calm my skin brought instant relief and quick healing!
EPIC FAIL! I went and irritated my poor face. The clay versions cause my skin to react - I developed painful, dry patches and broke out. My skin is reactive! Clay has never been a good choice for me, but it’s part of my job to know how something might react on someone with less than perfect, happy skin.
So I reached for the honey, blended up a hydrating, botanical honey mask infused with healing herbs and switched to washing with just honey for a few days hoping to quickly soothe and calm my irritated face!
Relief was almost immediate. I was pleasantly reminded of honey’s unique ability to soothe, heal and moisturize. My skin calmed down and stopped hurting, the redness resolved, the outbreaks healed and the dry tight feeling disappeared.
I knew it was time to get working on some honey products to add to my line of creations, some DIY things you can try at home, and to tackle consolidating the relevant info into a readable blog post. A 25 page research paper with dozens of citations might cover it all, maybe. This will be the first in a series breaking it down for you.
Please reach out to me with questions or additional information and stay tuned for the next installment of “Beauty and the Bee: honey for your skin”.
How to cleanse and mask with honey
Try washing your face with a good quality raw honey and give yourself a therapeutic honey mask. Cleanse and mask with honey 2 -3 times per week over 4-6 week. This is the time it takes for skin cells to do a complete turnover and the time it takes to see the real results of a change to a routine.
You’ll be surprised and delighted by honey’s special ability to soothe the discomfort of inflammation, irritation and redness, to soften and hydrate dry, itchy skin, increase circulation, improve skin elasticity, strength & cellular integrity, and support healthy, strong , resilient skin.
Honey benefits all skin types at all ages - and honey REALLY shines for those with problem skin (like me!) and supporting healthy skin as the years fly by and the birthdays add up. Straight from the honey pot or infused with medicinal herbs you can safely cleanse and mask with it.
Although honey has calming effects on the skin, the pollen and proteins naturally present in all types of honey can be allergens for some. The risk is low (it’s more of an issue when you eat honey), but honey isn’t completely in the clear for extremely sensitive skin. Patch testing should always be employed by those with very sensitive, reactive skin when trying new things, honey included, to ensure there is no adverse reactions.
So skip on over to the instructions page and get started right away! Or ….
HONEY FOR YOUR SKIN:
MYTHS + FACTS + SCIENCE + LORE
As can be expected, I discovered conflicting or incomplete information about honey in skin care - Many of honey’s properties are exaggerated while other documented benefits are dismissed out of hand!
Take acne for instance. Some very influential skin care website, beauty bloggers and product makers report there is no evidence that honey has even limited benefits for those suffering from acne, claiming that there is no evidence that honey inhibits the growth of acne causing bacteria.
There have been hundreds of scientific studies focused on the composition of different varieties of honey and how honey treats skin disorders. The various uses are well documented and have been studied and explored for thousands of years. While some aspects of how honey performs it’s many roles are very complex and still under investigation.
it baffles me that the authors of these articles are not doing their due diligence in investigating those claim. Acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and other conditions have all been studied in relation to honey. There is ample evidence that honey can and does support healing and provide relief from these painful inflammatory conditions.
Honey is a mild solvent with cleansing properties.
Honey provides many benefits when used as a mask - either by itself, or mixed with medicinal herbs, milk (yogurt or kefir), botanical ingredients, etc.
Inflamed acne outbreaks benefit from spot treating with medicinal Manuka, Kanuka or Buckwheat honey.
Add honey to bath water to hydrate, acidify and soften the skin - Cleopatra was famous for her renown beauty … and her daily milk and honey baths!
A small amount of honey can be added to a rinse for hair conditioning to achieve the same benefits.
Spot treat wounds to enhance healing and reduce the chance of scarring.
VERY BRIEF INTRO: TRADITIONAL USES FOR HONEY IN SKIN CARE
Honey is one of the oldest traditional medicines. It was held in the highest esteem by healers for thousands of year for it’s ability to treat ailments of all sorts with almost magical properties for treating skin disorders. The first written reference to honey was found on a Sumerian tablet from 2100-2000 BC. It describes honey's use as a drug and a skin ointment. In the writing of Aristotle we find references to honey being “good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds”.
Honey is so effective at protecting, healing and treating life threatening wounds and burns that today in hospitals around the world specially prepared pure Medical Grade Honey is used with outcomes that often exceed conventional treatments without side affects or drug interactions .
There is even an branch of alternative medicine called Apitherapy which uses honey based skin treatments to treat all types of inflammatory skin diseases, bacterial infections, to treat and heal wounds and for other uses.
NOT ALL HONEY IS CREATED EQUAL: SOURCE IS KEY
Most varieties of honey have significant antimicrobial activity but, some does not. Some can target acne causing pathogenic bacteria, while others do not.
The antimicrobial and wound healing ability of honey is very VERY much flower, region, and season specific. Other factors are variation in pH, sugar content, the concentration of hydrogen peroxide, antioxidants, phenolics, methylglyoxal, defensin-1, how the honey was handled during production and then stored.
On average, honey contains more than 75 different compounds., including enzymes, organic acids, esters, trace minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, hormones, antimicrobial compounds, phosphorus, iron, niacin, vitamins C, A, D, E, K, beta carotene, the complete complex of B vitamins, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, iodine, sodium, copper, manganese, high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, and formic acid… and the list goes on.
Many of the substances in honey are so complex (4-7 percent of the honey) that they’ve yet to be identified.
Today the research continues to reveal more of honey’s amazing healing properties.
For those seeking relief and healing from inflammatory skin conditions specific “single source honey” should be considered for treatment.
Honey collected for these hives is created by bees where there only one plant they can access. Kanuka, Manuka and Buckwheat honey posses specific, unique properties which make them very special. and set them apart from other varietals, offering a much higher level of medicinal power.
HONEY HYDRATES DEEP LAYERS OF THE SKIN
Special properties of honey contribute to it’s ability to hydrate deeper than most topical applications of lotions, oils and cream.
How does honey achieve this unique feat?
Honey hydrates our skin in part by the osmotic power of complex sugars, drawing water out of damaged tissues, reducing swelling and stimulating lymphatic flow which encourages the healing of wounds. The osmotic power of the sugars also draws water out of bacterial cells. Dehydrating them and inhibiting their ability to multiply.
Honey is one of nature’s most delicious humectants. A humectant is a substance which attracts water, drawing moisture from the environment and holding it next to the skin. Similar to how Hyaluronic acid functions in skin care. Pure, raw honey from any source, when applied to warm damp skin and allowed to soak in for 20-30 minutes acts to draw moisture to the surface from deeper layers of the dermis.
Honey’s emollient properties soften the skin and increase circulation supporting skin elasticity, strength & cellular integrity, helping skin stay strong and resilient as we age.
HONEY IS A POWERFUL ANTIOXIDANT
Any high-quality honey will contain many important antioxidants including organic acids and phenolic compounds like flavonoids. Phenolic compounds protect against reactive oxygen species (ROS) and oxidative cell damage.
Darker-colored varieties of honey have higher phenolic contents than lighter-colored, with Buckwheat being one of the highest tested. These compounds scavenge free radicals, reducing oxidative stress on bodily tissues and thereby inflammation, Honey is able to soothe irritable skin and can help keep skin calm especially when used in mask formulations where the honey is allowed time to penetrate into the deeper layers.
HONEY REDUCES INFLAMMATION
The well-documented anti-inflammatory activity in honey has been mostly attributed to the action of these phenolic compounds, but another major anti-inflammatory component of honey have been identified showing that the anti-inflammatory properties of honey are much more complex than once thought.
Researchers have identified a bee-derived compound in honey which is a component of Royal Jelly, apalbumin-1. This protein inhibits phagocytosis by macrophages. Phagocytosis is the first step in the sequence of an inflammatory response occuring when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, etc. The phagocytes "eat" germs, dead and damaged cells, cellular debris, foreign substances, microbes, cancer cells and other dangerous substances. Of all the honey tested, Manuka honey is a stronger inhibitor of phagocytosis than other types of honey. Allowing the honey to soak into warm damp skin is, again, the most beneficial way to gain this benefit.
HONEY IS VERY ACIDIC, OUR SKIN LIKES THAT!
Honey is naturally quite acidic. The acidic nature of honey also protects it from spoilage from microbes (fungal, bacteria, mold etc). Properly handled and stored honey will remain stable for a long, LONG time. Honey over 3000 years old was found in Egyptian tombs. It’s considered to be the oldest honey ever found. The archaeologist were amazed it was still perfectly edible.
In order for our skin to function properly it needs to be in a slightly acidic state. Skin pH varies on our skin, falling between 3 and 4.5. quick way to re-acidify the skin after washing or coming in contact with alkaline water with a pH greater than 7 (the water in our homes is 7 or higher) is to wash briskly with honey dissolved in warm water. Rinse and pat dry. Any pure, raw honey for quality source will provide this benefit.
HONEY HAS ANTI-FUNGAL PROPERTIES
The antifungal effect of some honeys, especially from darker honeycombs, which contain propolis, may be due to the presence of a number aromatic acids, including benzyl cinnamate, methyl cinnamate, caffeic acid, cinnamyl cinnamate, cinnamoylglcine, and terpenoids (commonly found in propolis). In addition, there may be special proteins in honey that have antifungal activity.
Honey’s ability to ward of fungal infections makes it an effective topical treatment for ringworms, athlete’s foot, jock itch, nail fungus, and yeast infections. Studies have shown it to be as effective as over the counter remedies in treating these conditions.
ALL HONEY IS ANTI-MICROBIAL: but the profiles differ, so which one is best for you
Now I’ll delve into the antibacterial properties of honey and which honey is the best at helping treat and prevent acne and other inflammatory skin issues and for helping heal wounds and prevent scarring. It has been used for this purpose for thousands of years.
Honey from different sources has been studied extensively and all those tested possess broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents and shown to inhibit the growth of a wide range of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. Honey mainly consists of sugars and water. Apart from sugars, honey also contains several vitamins, especially B complex and vitamin C, together with a lot of minerals. Some of the vitamins found in honey include ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid, niacin and riboflavin; and minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
The antibacterial properties of honey from hives in difference locations varies significantly - all honey is not created equal..
In this study, comparison of the antibacterial activity of undiluted honey honey from different geographic regions against bacteria usually isolated from skin wounds, S. epidermidis, revealed that 60% of the samples all significantly inhibited this bacteria’s growth.”
Propionibacterium acnes (p.acnes) and Staphylococcus epidermidis are the primary beasties involved in the pathology of acne.
The antibacterial activity of honey is highly complex - there are numerous compounds involved and large variation in the concentrations of these compounds among honey from different sources. The high sugar concentration, hydrogen peroxide, and the low pH are well-known antibacterial factors in honey. Recently, scientists have identified several additional compounds, including the antimicrobial peptide bee defensin-1, as important antibacterial components found in raw honey.
The majority of antibacterial properties in most undiluted honey is due to the it’s hydrogen peroxide content. Bees have an particular enzyme in their stomachs which mixes with the nectar they collect. When they regurgitate this mixture into the combs to make honey, it breaks down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. It is thought that it’s the hydrogen peroxide which is a major factor inhibiting the growth of disease causing microbes. Single source Buckwheat honey has one of the highest concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.
Manuka Honey, another kind of single source honey, called non-peroxide honey, is unique in how it fights bacteria. This honey is produced by bees collecting pollen exclusively from the Manuka shrub in New Zealand.
Manuka honey displays significant antibacterial effects even when the hydrogen peroxide activity is blocked. Researchers hypothesize that this property of Manuka honey is related to it’s low pH and high sugar content. Acidic ph and sugar alone can impair the growth of microbes. This is one of the special honeys we can use to target acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Relatively little is known about the contribution of honey’s hydrogen peroxide to bacterial cell death. The most important result obtained in this work is the demonstration that honey H2O2 participated in bacterial DNA degradation. Several lines of evidence support this finding.
Special medical grade honey (sterilized and prepared as a dressing) mentioned earlier is used in hospitals around the world. This honey has kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria (MSRA) responsible for several potentially deadly infections.
HONEY IS OCCLUSIVE: sealing and protecting wounds
Honey has been used for centuries as a wound treatment due to the unique properties listed above, coupled with it’s superior sealing properties.
Cuts, abrasions, burns, rashes, and scalded skin can be covered in pure, undiluted raw honey to prevent bacteria from entering the wound while promoting healing. Because it’s so thick, rejects any kind of growth and contains hydrogen peroxide, it creates the perfect barrier against infection while reducing inflammations. The antibacterial properties also speed up the growth of new tissue during the healing process, assisting in wound closure and a helping reduce the formation of scar tissue.
In addition, honey is hygroscopic, meaning it draws moisture out of the environment (the wound) dehydrating bacteria. The high sugar content and low level pH help reduce and prevent the microbes from proliferating. . This is why honey can be used to enhance the healing of acne outbreaks while soothing and calming the skin.
Please reach out to me with questions or additional information and stay tuned for my next installment of “Beauty and the Bee: honey for your skin”.
I’ll go into detail on the relevant research on this topic and how to use honey to soothe and relieve the pain and inflammation of acne.
Journal of Antibacterial Chemotherapy http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/1/228.full
Pharmacognosy Research, April-June 2017, pages 121–127
Central Asian Journal of Global Health, August 2016, ePublication
Frontiers in Microbiology, April 2016, ePublication
BMJ Open, Volume 6, Issue 2, February 2016, ePublication
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, December 2013, pages 306–313
Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Science, June 2013, pages 731–742
BioMed Research International, May 2013, ePublication
Exploring the antibacterial properties of honey and its potential. Frontiers in Microbiology, November 2012. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2012.00398/full
Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, June 2009, pages 165–173 . Influence of Honey on the Suppression of Human Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Peroxidationhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2644272/
Re-Examining the Role of Hydrogen Peroxide in Bacteriostatic and Bactericidal Activities of Honey https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3201021/