MEET THE EXPERT
Keep reading to learn more about this powerful ingredient.
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Antibacterial/antiviral/anti-fungal, as well as an anti-inflammatory and humectant
MAIN BENEFITS: Aids in wound healing due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; draws in moisture to the skin, and can soothe irritated skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.1
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Anyone looking for hydrating and soothing benefits; manuka honey may also be beneficial for those with eczema and acne, notes Chang.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: It can be used once or twice daily.
WORKS WELL WITH: Manuka honey works synergistically with other antibiotic ingredients, as well other wound-healing ingredients. It also works well when combined with other hydrating ingredients—such as shea butter and glycerin—to moisturize the skin, says Chang.
DON’T USE WITH: There are no specific ingredients known to have a negative interaction with manuka honey at the moment, though Linkner cautions that, to be safe, it's best to not pair it with potent active ingredients (think retinoids or acids).
What Is Manuka Honey?
Breaking news, not all types of honey are created equal (it's why if you go to the grocery store, you'll find a variety of different colored jars of honey on the shelf, all with a slightly different flavor). "Manuka honey is produced by honey bees that feed on the manuka tree in New Zealand," explains Chang. (They're also found in Australia). This is important because it's what gives manuka honey its most defining characteristic, namely strong antibacterial properties. Most honey derives its antibacterial nature from hydrogen peroxide, but the manuka variety is unique in that it contains both hydrogen peroxide and another component called methylglyoxal: "The nectar of manuka flowers contains a large quantity of a substance called dihydroxyacetone, which is then converted into methylglyoxal, says Nussbaum.
"The higher the concentration of methylglyoxal, the more antibacterial the manuka honey is."
She also says that there's even a rating scale known as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF), which measures the potency of the methylglyoxal and how antibacterial the honey is. Fraudulent manuka honey can be found on the market (Trader Joes was slapped with a class-action lawsuit for labeling their honey as 100 percent pure despite it only testing between 57.3 and 62.6 percent manuka honey), so it's important to check for the UMF labeling, which denotes that the company must have a license and follow the set rules and regulations to guarantee authenticity to the customer.
Given its antimicrobial content, it should come as no surprise that manuka honey is noteworthy for treating wounds, burns, and lesions, both in ancient times and today. "There are even manuka honey dressings pre-made for wounds," says Nussbaum. "It should be used as a medical treatment." But the benefits don't stop there: It's also a great anti-inflammatory ingredient, and anecdotally reported to be beneficial for other issues such as acne and eczema, adds Chang. It also acts as a humectant, and as such is great for moisturization purposes as well.
Benefits of Manuka Honey for Skin
This particular type of honey delivers a variety of benefits for skin, addressing everything from medical to cosmetic issues.
- Has strong antibacterial properties: Because manuka honey contains both hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal, it's potent against a variety of bacteria.1 In fact, it's even been shown to have antibacterial effects on e.coli and as well as MRSA, notes Nussbaum, though she adds that more research must be done to conclusively confirm which bacteria it can effectively combat.
- Promotes wound healing: "Manuka honey recruits the correct type of cells, known as fibroblasts, needed to help wounds heal," explains Linkner. Aside from that, it also creates a moist environment and a protective barrier to speed up healing.
- Fades scars: As it contains trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide, honey is thought to have mild lightening properties, so it could help lighten hyperpigmentation and acne scars.2
- Soothes eczema: Raw honey has been shown to help aid several conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis.3
- Could help decrease pain: Its healing properties mean manuka honey is often used to treat wounds, burns, and ulcers. There were even a few studies that showed manuka honey decreased pain.4
- Is an effective anti-inflammatory: "The anti-inflammatory properties of manuka honey have not been matched in honey derived from other species of bees," says Linkner. This is beneficial not only for the aforementioned medical issues but also for other conditions such as acne and eczema.5
- Offers antioxidant protection: Manuka honey may down-regulate skin-damaging reactive oxygen species (caused by exposure to free radicals), making it beneficial for anti-aging purposes.6
- Draws moisture to the skin: "Manuka honey is a natural humectant due to its sugar component, meaning it helps draw in and retain moisture in the skin," says Chang. This makes it a useful ingredient in moisturizers and emollients.
Side Effects of Manuka Honey
If you're allergic to bees, you shouldn't be using manuka honey, since there may be a risk of allergic reaction. "There's also the risk of a blood sugar increase and therefore diabetic patients should proceed with caution or by physician instruction only," adds Nussbaum, who also says that, as with all honey, infants under the age of one shouldn't be exposed to it, due to the risk of infant botulism. Other than that, the only real drawback, particularly when it comes to the pre-made wound dressings, is some slight stickiness, though this isn't an issue when it comes to most cosmetic products.
How to Use It
Medical purposes aside, utilize manuka honey for its hydrating, soothing, and anti-inflammatory properties. Look for it in a cleanser, balm, or mask, all of which can be used daily suggests Chang.