- Honey has long been used as a topical treatment but there is little evidence to demonstrate it can effectively treat acne
- Eating honey has no proven effect on reducing acne symptoms
- Over the counter and prescription strength medications are established treatments
- Topical application of organic raw honey is better for skin than processed honey
Acne is a common skin condition that develops when dead skin cells, oil, dirt and bacteria clog pores and cause whiteheads, blackheads and pimples (noninflammatory acne) or pustules, papules and cysts (inflammatory acne). Honey for acne is purported to be effective for healing acne lesions and preventing future breakouts.
Honey has long been valued for its healing properties, notably for its wound healing, antibacterial and antifungal effects. However, there is little scientific evidence to indicate that honey would be a successful treatment for acne.
Can Honey Treat Acne?
Despite its long history of usage, there is currently limited and conflicting research supporting honey as a topical treatment for acne.
One study highlighted the efficacy of honey against Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria associated with acne.
However, other researchers have determined that while different types of honey such as Manuka, raw or medical-grade honey do have varying, but strong antibacterial effects, they are not effective in treating P acnes.
How It Works
Science has established that honey has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. In a review of controlled trials and review studies, honey was found to be almost equal in efficacy compared to established conventional treatments for both superficial and acute wounds.
It would be expected that these same principles could be applied to acne. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and help heal acne lesions; anti-inflammatory effects reduce swelling and soothe redness.
Honey also has glucuronic acid which is converted in several steps to hydrogen peroxide – a mainstay of acne treatment due to its ability to kill bacteria and clear pores. Unfortunately these levels are far too low to bring about any skin improvements.
Other research shows that trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal found in honey can destroy the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria associated with wound infections.
This is the main reason why honey is not effective in treating acne: while it is an antibacterial, it can not kill the p acnes bacteria associated with acne. Still, it can offer multiple benefits as a complementary treatment.
Will eating honey help acne?
It is well known that a balanced diet and healthy skin go hand-in-hand. Studies have shown that natural honey is a valuable nutrient with minerals, vitamins, amino acids, inhibines, proteins, and antioxidants.
While more research is needed, there is some evidence that one can reduce or prevent acne breakouts by consuming less dairy, more omega-3 fatty acids and following a diet with a low-glycemic load.
However, 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?
An examination of honey produced around the globe indicates they all have strong therapeutic effects. However, processed honey has only moderate traces of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties because the manufacturing process destroys them; raw or Manuka honey retains their valuable properties.
Raw honey has not been filtered or heated so the vitamins and active enzymes found within have not been impacted. This honey can help soothe the redness and swelling often seen with acne breakouts. 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 established itself as a top achiever due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and may be suitable to treat the symptoms of acne.
In a recent study in New Zealand, Manuka honey exhibited strong antibacterial activity against P. acnes. While this study paper still needs to be examined by a review panel, it offers evidence that this honey can contribute to killing the bacteria associated with acne.
Honey for acne scars and scabs
While a reduction in bacteria results in less severe acne and therefore helps prevent scarring, currently there is no evidence to suggest that honey can help with reducing the appearance of scars. However, its anti-inflammatory properties are naturally soothing for irritated or healing skin.
Containing fatty and amino acids, peptides, B vitamins and antioxidants, it has the potential to 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.
However, other ingredients are far more effective in treating scars such as retinol products that are proven to increase skin cell turnover.
How to Use Honey for Acne
Honey is an alternative for those who prefer a natural route or have acne with sensitive skin. It is associated with fewer side effects than over-the-counter treatments and dermatologist-prescribed medications. Consider these simple options to add honey to your skin care routine.
Honey face mask for acne
Apply a honey mask to hydrate skin, soothe inflammation and speed up healing. It’s safe to use daily or twice daily, as needed. Skin will feel soft, nourished and moisturized.
- Smooth 1 tbsp raw honey over damp skin; avoid the eye area
- Allow to rest for 20 minutes then rinse
- Follow with your usual skin care routine
Honey can be sticky and messy, but mixing it with water will reduce its tackiness, allowing you to use it overnight for blemishes. As an overnight treatment, it is said to reduce dark spots and wrinkles. The overnight mask features a range of beneficial antioxidants, but honey is the star ingredient.
- Combine 1 tbsp milk, 1 tbsp honey and 1 pinch turmeric powder
- Apply mixture to your face in a gentle circular motion; leave overnight
- Rinse with warm water in the morning and follow with your usual skin care routine moisturize as usual
Mainstay acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are designed to effectively treat and prevent inflammatory and noninflammatory acne. Some natural remedies are also said to reduce blemishes and breakouts.
- Salicylic acid helps the skin slough off dead skin cells and reduces redness and swelling associated with acne
- Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective OTC acne treatments for killing P. acnes bacteria, unclogging pores and decreasing inflammatory symptoms associated with breakouts; It has a far greater concentration of acne bacteria-fighting hydrogen peroxide than honey
- Aloe vera is a natural emollient that is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory; it helps with skin healing and moisturizes; it’s particularly useful when combined with OTC treatments such as tretinoin
- Rosemary extract when applied to blemishes may reduce inflammation caused by bacterial acne and delivers other antioxidant and antibacterial benefits
- Coconut oil is another natural remedy with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties to target bacteria, decrease redness and swelling, and speed up wound healing
Topical application of 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. There is limited scientific evidence to support honey as a treatment for acne.
Using topical honey treatments in conjunction with OTC treatments can keep skin hydrated and reduce inflammation. Science has shown that while honey is an antibacterial and can kill the S. aureus bacteria involved in wound infections, it can not kill the p acnes associated with bacterial acne.
With that said, it can still offer multiple benefits as an add-on to an established acne treatment. For best results, choose raw or Manuka as they have not been processed.
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