More than just a sweet tasting food, for over 2000 years honey has been famous for its beneficial properties when applied to the skin.
The ancient Egyptians and Greeks both used it to treat wounds and burns, a practice that is currently being examined with a lot of scientific interest, and its use in Persian traditional medicine to soothe inflammation and treat eczema is well documented.
The use of honey for beauty purposes has a similar lengthy history. The famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra bathed in honey and milk to ensure her skin stayed clear and smooth.
And another Egyptian queen Nefertiti, whose name literally means ‘the beauty has come’, used it as a regular part of her beauty routine.
But what exactly are the benefits of honey for skin?
In this article we’ll take a look at its medical and beauty uses when applied topically, and how you can incorporate it into your skin care regime today!
- 1 What Is Honey?
- 2 Is Honey Good For The Skin?
- 3 The Benefits Of Raw Honey For Skin
- 4 How To Use Honey For Skin
- 5 Side Effects And Precautions
- 6 Final Thoughts
What Is Honey?
Honey is the thick, sweet, and golden colored liquid produced by bees from the nectar they obtain from flowering plants.
Nectar is a sugary tasting liquid that the bees extract from flowers using their long and tube-like tongue. They store it in a special stomach known as a ‘crop’, where it is converted by enzymes into a form that is good for storing for long periods of time.
When they return to the beehive they pass this nectar to other bees from mouth to mouth. The partly digested nectar is then added to a honeycomb, and finally the honeycomb is sealed up with a waxy substance.
We can then extract the honey from the honeycomb by breaking it open, or by the use of a special honey extractor.
In total, to make 1 pound of honey requires the effort of 60,000 bees collecting nectar from over 2 million flowers.
Honey is most commonly known for its culinary uses where it’s widely used as a natural sweetener for food, and is frequently found in desserts and cakes.
Use Of Honey In Traditional Medicine
Honey has long been used as a part of traditional medicine. Some of the health problems that it’s claimed to be useful for treating include:
- Gastrointestinal tract diseases
- Eye disorders
- Skin infections
But, at this point in time scientific evidence only supports a small number of the claimed uses. In some cases this is due to a lack of clinical trials having been performed, and in other cases scientific studies have produced inconclusive or negative results.
Is Honey Good For The Skin?
Honey has long been regarded as beneficial when used on the skin by practitioners of traditional medicine around the world.
In Ayurvedic medicine honey it’s used in the treatment of wounds, dermatitis, burns, and skin diseases.
In Malaysian traditional medicine it’s used to treat diabetic wounds, carbuncles, and burns.
And in Pakistan it’s used to treat eczema, pustules, ringworm, and a variety of skin disorders (1).
There is some scientific evidence to support the use of honey for a number of these skin problems and as a beauty treatment.
This has lead to the availability of a number of commercial cosmetic honey creams for the face which claim to provide moisturizing, emollient, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties. It can also be found in honey soaps and lotions.
If you are considering using the best honey for skin it’s important to make sure that you use a raw organic honey.
Pasteurized and processed honey often lack beneficial enzymes and vitamins, with many common commercial brands being so filtered that they don’t even contain any trace of pollen (2).
These ‘dead’ honeys are unlikely to retain the important antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties that make honey useful and healthy in the first place.
Medical grade honey is best for wounds and burns, and is starting to find wider use in the medical community.
The Benefits Of Raw Honey For Skin
Applying raw honey to your skin is generally considered to have a number of benefits:
- Skin Aging
- Soothes Irritated And Inflamed Skin
- Wounds And Burns
- Fungal Skin Infections
- Herpes And Cold Sores
- Skin Cancer
Let’s take a look at these as we understand them:
Honey is a humectant, which means that it can attract and retain moisture thereby helping to prevent its loss from the skin.
When applied to the face for 15-20 minutes and then washed off again, the trace residue keeps your skin feeling soft and hydrated.
Honey is a gentle exfoliant of the skin.
It contains gluconic acid, and the use of face masks, face washes, and facial scrubs can help to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, giving your face a fresh, smooth, and glowing appearance.
The ability of honey to exfoliate the skin is also useful for reducing the signs of aging. With regular use, it can diminish fine lines and reduce the appearance of rough skin.
Honey also contains a number of antioxidants including flavanoids, polyphenols, vitamin B, and vitamin C (3) that can help to protect the skin from the free radical damage caused by exposure to pollutants in the environment and ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
This can help to prevent the formation of wrinkles, lines, and sagging skin over time.
Soothes Irritated And Inflamed Skin
When applied to to the skin honey has soothing properties that can calm inflammation.
It has well known anti-inflammatory effects that have been the subject of a lot of the scientific research that has been conducted. (4)
Honey is a popular home remedy for acne. It’s often combined with other natural ingredients such as cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, and avocado to make acne face masks.
There are a lot of anecdotal reports from people who have successfully used honey in the treatment of acne, but actual scientific studies that examine its effectiveness when used on acne patients are currently lacking.
However, we do know that honey has antibacterial activity, and studies have shown that it can kill a wide range of bacteria (5).
This is currently thought to be a result of the hydrogen peroxide that is present in the honey and a protein called bee-defensin-1 which is added to the nectar when it’s in the bee’s stomach.
Studies involving manuka and kanuka honey have shown that they are both capable of killing the acne causing bacteria P. acnes in the laboratory (6).
Due to its high level of antibacterial activity, using manuka honey for acne treatment has become popular in the natural skin care community.
Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties which could be useful in the treatment of an inflammatory condition like acne.
Wounds And Burns
One of the best known, and best researched benefits of honey is its use in treating wounds and burns.
Its antibacterial properties help to prevent infection and have been demonstrated against a number of bacteria found on the skin.
It’s also thought that its antioxidant properties can aid the healing of burn wounds by its ability to scavenge free radicals. Evidence suggests that burns are sites with a decreased antioxidant scavenging activity leading to oxidative stress (7).
Its anti-inflammatory properties are also thought to enhance skin repair by reducing the production of molecules that may play a part in inflammation in the wound (1).
A 2015 Cochrane based review of the scientific research conducted into honey’s wound treating capabilities concluded that there is quality evidence that honey helps to heal partial thickness burns quicker than other conventional treatment methods, and some evidence that it also heals infected post-operative wounds better than antiseptics or gauze (8).
Large clinical trials are required to fully examine its effectiveness for this purpose.
Dermatitis is a common skin condition that many people experience at some point in their life.
The itchy, dry, and cracked skin is both irritating and unpleasant looking, so finding an effective way to relieve the condition is a pressing concern for sufferers.
Scientific studies suggest that honey may be useful for the treatment of dermatitis.
In one study, 30 patients with seborrheic dermatitis applied raw honey diluted with warm water (90% honey) by rubbing it into the affected areas of skin every second day over a period of 4 weeks.
The honey was left on the skin for 3 hours before being washed off again. This showed significant positive results, and a continuation of the study over the next six months showed that regular application could prevent a relapse of the condition (9).
Psoriasis is considered to be a disorder of the skin involving the immune response, and honey has shown some positive results as a treatment in scientific studies due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
One study involving the use of medical grade kanuka honey demonstrated that the honey treatment was as effective at alleviating the condition as an aqueous cream generally recommended as a treatment (10).
In another smaller study, 8 patients who were treated with a honey mixture 3 times per day for 3 weeks showed a significant improvement (11).
Rosacea is an unsightly skin condition which causes a persistent red rash. Because it’s mainly found on the cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead of the face, it can cause a great deal of social discomfort for sufferers.
Evidence suggests that honey might be a natural treatment for rosacea.
In one study using a mix of 90% kanuka honey and 10% glycerin, 69 patients were treated for 8 weeks. The results indicated that the honey mix was an effective treatment (12).
It’s not fully understood how honey relieves rosacea, but it’s thought to be due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action.
Fungal Skin Infections
As well as being an antibacterial, honey also has shown promise for treating fungal infections like athletes foot and ringworm when applied topically (2).
In one study that examined its effect on three fungal skin infections, it was found that a 90% raw honey and water mixture cured the symptoms of infection in 62% of patients with tinea corporis, 79% of patients with pityriasis versicolor, and 71% of patients with tinea cruris (13).
Herpes And Cold Sores
Herpes is a viral disease that can affect the genitals and the face, often causing unsightly and painful blisters.
Current effective treatment methods involve the use of antivirals like acyclovir.
But there’s also scientific evidence to suggest that honey may be a useful alternative treatment.
In one small study on 15 patients honey proved more effective at treating genital and labial herpes than acyclovir (14).
This research suggests that honey might also be of use for treating cold sores on the face.
In this day and age, skin cancer is among the most common of cancers diagnosed in the population, and its incidence is increasing faster than any other.
In vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated the ability of honey to prevent the growth of melanoma cells (1).
This is thought to be because of the flavanoid and phenolic compounds that are present in honey.
At the moment this is promising, but a lot more research and clinical trials are required before we have a full understanding of the effectiveness of honey for skin cancer in human patients.
How To Use Honey For Skin
Honey that is applied to the face for skin care purposes, which is what most of us are interested in honey for, can be used on its own or in combination with other beneficial natural ingredients.
It can be used by most people who have, normal, combination, dry skin, or oily skin.
Here are a few recipes that you can try:
Honey And Brown Sugar Exfoliating Scrub
Try a brown sugar and honey face scrub for gentle skin exfoliation.
Directions For Use:
1. Get some brown sugar, a jar of raw, organic honey, and a bottle of avocado oil.
2. Measure roughly a 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, 1/4 cup of the raw honey, and a cup of the avocado oil.
3. Put them into a bowl and mix together thoroughly with a fork.
4. Gently rub the mixture into your skin with your fingers for 2-3 minutes.
5. At this point you can leave the mixture on your skin for another 10-15 minutes if you want or clean it off straight away with water.
6. Keep the excess brown sugar scrub in a sealed jar in the fridge.
7. Use twice per week.
Honey Moisturizing Face Mask
Directions For Use:
1. Purchase a jar of raw organic honey.
2. Use your fingers to spread the honey over your face.
3. Leave the face mask on your skin for 15-20 minutes.
4. Wash the mixture off again and pat your face dry with a clean towel.
5. You can use this daily.
Honey And Cinnamon Face Mask For Acne
Directions For Use:
1. Get a jar of ground cinnamon and a jar of raw honey.
2. Place 3 tablespoons of honey into a small bowl.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and stir together.
4. Spread the honey and cinnamon face mask over your skin using your fingertips or a brush.
5. Leave the mixture on your skin for about 10 minutes and then rinse off again with cool water.
6. You can use this face mask every day.
Side Effects And Precautions
Most people have no problems when using honey on their skin, but there are some things to consider:
- People with pollen allergies should be careful about using honey as it may trigger their allergy.
- Before using honey on your face, place a small amount on the back of your wrist and leave it for around 20 minutes to check your skin's reaction to it.
- Women who are breastfeeding are not advised to use honey, as a precaution, and it shouldn't be used on infants under 12 months old (15).
Honey has a lengthy history of use on the skin for both medical and beauty purposes.
Its moisturizing and exfoliating properties make it a favorite in face masks for maintaining beautiful, smooth, and glowing skin. Its antibacterial properties can help people who are struggling with acne to gain a clear complexion.
The combination of these properties has made it increasingly popular for skin care, and it can be found in a wide range of beauty products.
It also has potential use for treating a variety of skin complaints, including rosacea, psoriasis, and dermatitis, although further research is required to fully gauge its effectiveness.
When using honey on the skin, remember that you should use an organic, raw honey to get the full benefits of this natural remedy.
Have you tried using raw honey for skin? Please share your experience in the comments below.