When it comes to skincare and beauty products, it’s hard to pinpoint an ingredient more popular than honey. Personal care companies like Burt’s Bees and Manuka Doctor have used honey and beeswax as the foundation for entire product lines. Consumer magazines like Allure, InStyle, and Women’s Health tout the many benefits of honey on skin, hair, and nails, and each offers its own guides to the best products on the market, as well as DIY tutorials to create your own honey-based skincare regimen.
But like any trend, it’s normal to be skeptical and question honey’s effectiveness. Can something that you eat actually replace your favorite facewash? Fortunately, there’s plenty of good news here. Honey has many uses and benefits, and its effects on skin are some of its most powerful.
In this article, we’ll explore the history of honey as a skincare treatment, the science behind honey’s powerful benefits, and cover a few of the uses and applications of honey for skincare.
Honey Skincare Throughout History
For thousands of years, honey has served as a go-to skincare aid, in the same way we now rely on serums, washes, foams, and various other over-the-counter treatments. Ayurveda, a holistic health approach that originated in India, used honey to treat skin disorders, burns, and wounds, according to a comprehensive 2013 study conducted by Tahereh Eteraf-Oskouei and Moslem Najafi.
Ancient Egyptians and Greeks also used honey to treat wounds and reduce the appearance of scarring. In these cultures, honey was a primary healing agent, favored for its antibacterial properties and its prevention of infection. Historically, honey was also used to treat eczema.
Today, you can find honey in acne spot treatments, face washes, moisturizers, body oil, face masks, and hand creams. There’s even a global trend, which started in Korea, called 'honey skin', which refers to the glass-like appearance of skin after honey-based products have been applied.
Though today’s application of honey may seem superficial when compared to its vital uses in ancient times, there’s more to its current popularity than just looks.
The Science Behind Honey Skincare
Raw honey is a rich source of nutrients and vitamins, which has made it a useful treatment for seasonal allergies and a preferred immune system booster in recent years. It’s home to 18 amino acids, vitamins B and C, several minerals like iron, calcium, and potassium, and even antioxidants. But perhaps raw honey’s most beneficial chemical is glucose oxidase. Glucose oxidase breaks down into two enzymes, one of which is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is almost singlehandedly responsible for honey’s antimicrobial activity.
In Eteraf-Oskouei and Najafi’s study, they reported that honey inhibited the spread of 60 different types of bacteria, including those species that cause Strep throat and Staph infections. Though many factors cause skin conditions like acne, there’s often a bacteria at the root—Propionibacterium acnes. Thus, honey, with all its antimicrobial action, is a perfect acne treatment option.
Additionally, the study revealed that honey leads to “rapid clearance of infections, rapid debridement of wounds, rapid suppression of inflammation, and minimization of scarring”. Thus, the benefits of honey on skin can be realized when treating skin conditions as severe as cuts and scrapes and as minimal as acne, blackheads, and blemishes.
Also, hydration is key in protecting and cultivating healthy skin. With respect to hydration, honey is hygroscopic. This means it contains no water but it pulls moisture from the surrounding environment when it’s exposed. On your skin, it will continuously pull in moisture, keeping your skin hydrated, which leads to the glow that characterizes 'honey skin'.
Therefore, in addition to killing bacteria, minimizing inflammation, and reducing scarring, raw honey’s rich source of vitamins and minerals replenish the skin, where other products might coat it with various harmful chemicals.
Most Popular Uses
Medicine has advanced to unprecedented levels, and honey has been replaced by healing gels and creams in treatment of wounds and scars. However, it seems we’re just beginning to uncover its potential with skincare.
Honey for Acne
As previously discussed, honey has been proven to kill Propionibacterium acnes, but it’s also anti-inflammatory. Both properties can help reduce acne and eventually stop it. YoDerm, an online dermatology and prescription app, suggests cleansing your face first and then applying raw honey directly to your skin as a mask for treating acne. Leave it on a few minutes and then wash it off as you would any other mask. This repeated treatment works for serious acne and even for a single pimple.
A 2012 honey skincare study, conducted by E.R.H.S.S. Ediriweera and N.Y.S. Premarathna, revealed honey, when combined with other ingredients, was an effective option for washes, scrubs, moisturizers, and improving skin softness and smoothness.
The study suggested mixing honey with lemon juice for a wash, combining honey with almond seed powder to be used as a scrub, and mixing it with whole milk to produce a moisturizer. To boost softness, honey should be mixed with ground oatmeal. For smoothness, it should be whisked with egg whites, glycerin, and flour to create a firming mask.
You can see these same combinations reproduced for mass consumption in products like those offered by Manuka Doctor, COSRX, and Farmacy.
Honey is also increasingly becoming a go-to treatment for sufferers of painful skin conditions like dermatitis, rosacea, and psoriasis. CNN anchor Zain Verjee detailed the ways she deals with psoriasis in a 2014 profile for her home network. Among the foods featured in the article, honey was a must-have on her grocery list. Two years prior, CNN also cited Mayo Clinic doctor Philip Hagen, M.D. and his suggestion of honey’s daily use for serious conditions.
Honey even works for minor problems like dry skin patches, and cracked or dry lips. For the former symptom, try a mixture with olive oil and lemon juice, and apply the concoction like a mask to the affected area. For the latter, honey can be used in its raw form, no additives needed.
Raw honey offers a multitude of skincare solutions that produce real, measurable results. Whether you’re a dedicated DIY enthusiast or you prefer to leave the mixing to the experts, there are plenty of ways to incorporate raw honey into your skincare routine.
Unlike chemical-heavy products on the shelves at your local drugstore, honey hydrates, nourishes, and smooths your skin naturally. And it serves both cosmetic and medicinal needs. Previously, you’d need to buy several different products to attack these issues. But with honey, you’ve got a one-stop shop to fix your problems and maintain healthy, clear skin year-round.