- Honey has long been used to treat skin disorders like acne.
- There is little scientific evidence to demonstrate honey can reduce acne symptoms or the bacteria that causes most acne.
- Other OTC and prescribed treatments are more effective at reducing inflammation, promote wound healing and soothing painful blemishes.
- Eating honey has no proven effect on diminishing acne.
- Topically applying organic raw honey is better for skin than processed honey.
Honey has been used for millennia as a topical treatment for a wide range of skin disorders, including acne. A common skin disease, acne occurs when dead skin cells, dirt and acne-causing bacteria clog pores, resulting in non-inflammatory whiteheads and blackheads or inflammatory pustules, papules and cysts.
As a topical treatment, honey can help cleanse pores and speed up healing existing pustules, whiteheads, blackheads and lesions. Its moisturizing, antibacterial and antifungal properties allegedly inhibits the bacteria that cause acne and enhances the appearance of breakouts. However, this effect is mostly anecdotal and not backed by scientific evidence.
Can Honey Treat Acne?
Honey won’t cure acne but it can help when combined with other treatments. Despite its long history of usage, there is, as yet, limited research supporting honey as a topical treatment for acne, but further studies are recommended to investigate how it can help reduce the redness and swelling associated with acne and assist with faster wound healing.
Research does show that honey’s trace amounts hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal can destroy harmful bacteria associated with wound infections like Staphylococcus, but as yet there is limited evidence that it targets Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that is a significant cause of acne.
How It Works
Science is still investigating how honey promotes healing. Suggestions include the sugars in honey reduce water content in pores, making it more difficult for P. acnes to thrive deep beneath the skin’s surface. However, P. acnes primarily thrives in the excess sebum within the pore, making honey far less effective than a retinoid exfoliant.
Another possible explanation is that honey stimulates an inflammatory response in the body’s leukocytes, stimulating cell growth. It also has an effective debriding action, removing slough filled with bacteria at the base of the wound to stimulate an immune response and hasten healing.
Will eating honey help acne?
The question of whether there is a correlation between diet and acne is hotly debated in the dermatological community. Acne has many causes, and everyone’s skin is different. However, over the last two decades, several studies have suggested a potential link between diet and acne shouldn’t be ignored.
While more research is needed, there is some evidence you can reduce or prevent acne breakouts by consuming less dairy, more omega-3 fatty acids and following a diet with a low-glycemic load.
While raw honey has a low glycemic index, there is no evidence to suggest eating it will improve acne symptoms.
What Types of Honey Are Best?
Research has yet to determine that any one kind of honey is superior for skin diseases like acne. However, processed honey only has moderate traces of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties because the manufacturing process destroys them.
If you are going to use honey as skincare, it stands to reason raw organic honey that hasn’t been chemically treated or heated would be more effective than your average supermarket variety.
And while even raw honey can’t cure breakouts, it may diminish visible symptoms such as redness and swelling. Like other natural remedies, its effectiveness depends on where it’s sourced, how it’s stored, and whether it’s been exposed to air or excessive light.
Manuka honey has enhanced anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that could be helpful in treating the symptoms of acne.
A type of honey made from the flower of the Leptospermum scoparium, or the manuka bush native to New Zealand, much of the hype surrounding manuka honey is the result of just one New Zealand Masters thesis that claimed its efficacy for treating acne.
Honey for acne scars and scabs
Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence to substantiate the claim that honey helps fade acne scars or treat scabs. However, its anti-inflammatory properties are naturally soothing for irritated or healing skin.
Containing fatty and amino acids, peptides, B vitamins and antioxidants, it may visibly reduce the redness and pain associated with inflammatory acne. As an emollient, it soothes and keeps lesion surfaces moist, reducing the possibility of further bacteria entering the pore while promoting healing.
Honey won’t hurt your scars and scabs, and it may help them a little. However, other ingredients can do so with greater efficacy and less mess, such as retinol products that are proven to increase skin cell turnover.
How to Use Honey for Acne
If you have sensitive skin, applying honey to your acne offers fewer side effects than OTC treatments and dermatologist prescribed medications. Try these simple ways to add honey to your skincare routine.
Honey face mask for acne
Use this simple honey mask to hydrate stressed skin, draw moisture from clogged pores and assist healing. It’s safe to use daily or twice daily, as needed.
- Take one tablespoon of raw honey
- Spread thinly over damp skin, avoiding the eye area.
- Leave for 20 minutes then rinse.
- Skin will feel soft, nourished, moisturized.
Honey can be sticky and messy, but mixing it with water will reduce its tackiness, allowing you to use it as an overnight treatment for blemishes. As an overnight treatment, it reportedly reduces acne scars while also diminishing dark spots and wrinkles. The overnight mask features a range of beneficial antioxidants, but honey is the star ingredient.
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp honey
- A good pinch of turmeric powder.
Combine all ingredients and apply to the face with a circular motion. Leave overnight. Rinse with warm water in the morning and moisturize as usual.
Honey can’t do for acne what the gold standard ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid do. Some natural remedies are also popular with acne sufferers for reducing blemishes and breakouts. However, further research is needed to establish efficacy.
- Salicylic acid helps the skin shed dead cells more efficiently. It’s found in conventional over-the-counter cleansers, lotions and treatment pads in .5 to 2% strengths.
- Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective OTC acne treatments for killing P. acnes, unclogging your pores and decreasing inflammatory symptoms associated with breakouts. It has up to 900 times higher concentration of acne bacteria-fighting hydrogen peroxide than honey and is available in a range of creams, gels, cleansers and lotions in strengths from 2.5% to 10%.
- Aloe vera is a natural emollient that is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It helps with skin healing and seals moisture within the epidermis to keep skin hydrated. It’s particularly useful when combined with OTC treatments such as tretinoin.
- A 2013 research report suggested rosemary extract applied to blemishes might reduce inflammation caused by P. acnes as well as delivering other antioxidant and antibacterial benefits.
- Another natural remedy containing anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, topical use of coconut oil may destroy P. acnes, decrease redness and swelling, and speed up wound healing.
There is limited scientific evidence to support honey’s healing properties for acne. Topically applying honey can soothe irritated skin and promote wound healing, but its effects are minor compared with proven OTC treatments such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.
Using topical honey treatments in conjunction with OTC treatments can keep skin hydrated and reduce inflammation. Still, current research shows its antibacterial properties are more beneficial for wound infections involving Staphylococcus bacteria than P. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.
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