If you browse around Pinterest and type the words “DIY skincare” or something similar you will very likely find a ton of recipes with honey. I can find many websites filled with claims on this wonder ingredient.
Honey in skincare, and even hair care, is getting more and more popular. But I was wondering what the evidence says. Because we can all fall for a good marketing scheme, including me. It is is an emollient in skincare. But other claims I see a lot are that it’s a powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, and has anti-inflammatory benefits.
Let me first say that there has actually not been a whole lot of research done into honey in skincare. The main topics of the research done are often in wound healing and in non-skincare related research.
And I could not even find any research specifically on it being used in haircare.
Interesting components in Honey
There are about 300 types of honey. The variety is mainly due to which flowers (well, nectar) the bees have been snacking one. But in general, the main composition is carbohydrates (about 95–97%).
There are many, many different components. I am not going to list them all, but just the ones I thought were interesting for skincare and/or haircare applications.
The two main bioactive molecules in honey are flavonoids and polyphenols. Which can protect your skin against UVB and inflammation.
Flavonoids are beneficial in wound healing, but more research needs to be done.
Also honey contains vitamin C, which I just wrote a whole blog post on, so if you want to know more check that out.
Antioxidants help protect your skin against free radicals and ROS (reactive oxygen species). I go deeper into this in my blogpost on vitamin C. The antioxidant ability depends on the type used but in general, the darker the honey the better the antioxidant properties. However, this antioxidant ability has been noted in diets, not topical treatments.
Antimicrobial means that the formation of microbes is limited. Again this depends on the type, with manuka honey being the best.
Manuka honey is made from the nectar from the Manuka flower, which only grows in certain parts of New Zealand. I think it’s too expensive to buy a jar of it… I believe it’s about 30/40 euros for a small jar where I live.
Research has also shown that Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus can be significantly prevented by (manuka) honey. Both bacteria are linked to acute dermatitis and eczema.
Healing wounds & burn wounds
I could find the most research on the topical application and its effects on wound healing. But to be clear, there are about 30 studies performed on this and many lack the proper research steps to make it reliable.
The evidence suggests that it can be used to treat acute wounds and for mild superficial burns. This is because it releases cytokines. These activate cell responses to protect against inflammation and triggers an immune response. This was however tested in a lab setting and not on humans or animals.
The evidence does show that honey will heal superficial burn wounds quicker than “conventional” dressings. To be fair, I always thought you should not put any bandages on a burn small wound, as it’s quicker to heal if left “open” to breathe.
There is also some evidence that honey can be more effective for healing operation wounds than normal antiseptic gauzes.
But there’s not a whole lot of properly executed research and it is important to note that most research has used the manuka type.
Eczema, dermatitis & dandruff
One research has shown that honey can inhibit the growth of S. aureus and C. albicans. The two bacteria I already mentioned that are linked to dermatitis and eczema. Also, there is some mentioning that it can help in the aid of dandruff. Bacteria can cause dandruff, which is why an antimicrobial might work. Dandruff, however, can have different causes.
There’s not a lot of research done into honey in skincare. I am kind of disappointed. When looking at the specific properties of honey, I am just wondering why it’s in hair care. I mean it is an emollient but many things are an emollient. Maybe it’s to protect against the sun?
The soothing effects (anti-inflammatory) and the presence of antioxidants and vitamin C is a good reason to use it in skincare. However, claims such as “anti-aging” and “skin-lightening” are far fetched. The anti-aging part is due to the anti-oxidants I guess. But there is no direct research done that honey will reduce the formation of wrinkles by stimulating collagen.
Btw, did you know that the application of honey might not be a very smart idea if you are allergic to pollen?
I hope you found this interesting! My next blog post will be up on Monday!