You’ll find a lot of claims all over the internet about honey as an acne treatment, but I want to use this page to smash through all the hype and give you some facts, real facts, so you can make your own mind up.
I’m going to start off by saying that treating acne with honey works for many people but not for everyone. There is no guarantee.
It’s also worth knowing that the scientific community has carried out a lot of research on the effects of honey on the skin and wounds, so there are a lot of facts out there and I have collected some of the main ones together for you on this page in a format that’s easy to read. I also have to tell you that even after all the research, to date we still don’t know all there is to know about the 600 components of honey and their effects. It’s a very complex substance.
We all know what acne looks like, right? All those zits or pimples. But what exactly is acne and what causes it?
Well, acne (which affects more than 85% of us) starts when the tubes that hair grows in (called follicles) get blocked or squash together (like flattening a drinking straw). On each of these follicles, especially on the face, head, chest and back there are glands pumping out an oil called sebum (sebum is the Latin word for fat, grease or lard). This sebum is designed to keep hair and skin waterproof and supple, which is why your hair gets oily if you don’t wash it for a few days. Normally, this sebum flows out of the hair follicles (tubes) to do its work on the hair and skin in the outside world. Sometimes, though, for reasons that we don’t fully understand, the hair follicles get blocked or flattened and the sebum gets stuck there under the skin. During puberty, the body goes into overdrive and truckloads of sebum is produced. This makes the hair follicles far more likely to get blocked up like this because there is a lot more sebum trying get out.
When the oily sebum can’t get out, it forms a lump. This lump can stay within the hair tube just under the surface in which case all you will see is a tiny white dot, which is the trapped sebum showing through the skin. This sebum can also come to the surface and break through the skin, and when it reacts with the air it turns black. This is what we know as a blackhead. So far, there is no swelling or irritation, just a black or white dot that sits there. In time, the blockage can clear on its own and the sebum can drain away, in which case you will barely know what happened.
Sometimes though, things get ugly. When the hair tube is blocked by a whitehead or blackhead of sebum, also trapped are some of the bacteria that normally live harmlessly on the skin. These bacteria can multiply rapidly in the confined space and cause an infection and swelling in the hair tube. This swelling can cause the side of the tube to break, infecting the surrounding area. This breakout attracts the attention of the body’s white blood cells, and they rush to the scene to deal with the incident. At this point, the hair tube and the surrounding vicinity becomes inflamed. This means an itchy, swollen red bump. After a few days, as the white blood cells start to win the battle to control the infection, these white cells move towards the surface of the skin, into the bump – and this is what we know as a zit or pimple.
Now let’s look at some of those myths and some plain facts:
Acne is caused by not washing enough.
Not true. Too much washing can even make it worse because the chemicals in some cleansing products can act as an irritant!
Acne is made worse by eating greasy food.
There is currently no scientific proof that what you eat has a direct effect on acne, but some people swear they have noticed that certain foods make it worse, and there is still a lot we don’t know about acne. So if you find that a particular food makes it worse, well it makes sense to avoid it. More important is to have a balanced diet, which of course has many health benefits.
You can catch acne by touching or kissing.
No you can’t. Go for it!
Sunbathing or sunbeds can help clear up acne.
Not true. If you get some nice red sunburn, you certainly won’t see the acne as clearly, but sunburn damages your skin and increases the risk of skin cancer, so this one is NOT RECOMMENDED!
You can cure acne by drinking a whole lot of water.
No you can’t. But in general we don’t drink enough water, so it may do you some good!
Stress causes acne.
The jury’s out on this one. Some people say their acne is worse around exam time, for example. Some health organisations say that stress has no effect on acne. What we do know is that excessive stress affects the body in many harmful ways, by weakening the immune system for example.
You cannot cure acne with any kind of treatment, you just have to live with it.
This is not true at all – many people have found that different remedies help make it better for them.
These days many more people are turning to more natural remedies for all kinds of complaints. Sometimes these remedies are used instead of traditional medicines, and sometimes alongside them. This page is all about honey and acne, and in the next section I’m going to take a look why honey may help with this skin condition.
Honey as a Skin Treatment
Just as there are many myths and a lot of hype about acne, the same can be said about honey. It is well known that honey has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it has been used as a treatment for wounds and other skin problems for thousands of years. The first mention of honey being used on the skin was found on a Sumerian clay tablet dating from 2500BC. It was widely used for a very long time to dress wounds and burns in hospitals and the home, but it became unfashionable when antibiotics were developed in the mid-1900s.
More recently, the use of honey for wounds and skin conditions is undergoing a big revival. This is not just because people are looking for more natural remedies, but also because honey has been shown to kill even the drug-resistant strains of bacteria which are causing so many problems today (as reported in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, Chicago, 2008).
In 1999 the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (the equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration) approved honey for medical use and you can now find honey creams on sale in pharmacies over there. In 2006, Christie Hospital in Manchester, UK, trialled the use of honey in dressings. That same year, Dr Peter Molan of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, a well-respected expert in this field, looked back over the results of 17 separate trials on 1,965 people where honey had been used on wounds and concluded that using honey in this way produced positive results.
My page on the health benefits of honey has plenty of fascinating information on honey and health from ancient times to the present day.
Honey for Acne
You will find a whole bunch of websites out there that proclaim honey as a miracle cure for all kinds of ailments, acne being one of them. Most of these websites are trying to sell you honey and don’t even bother to give you the hard facts. I’ve tried to give you the non-nonsense facts higher up this page, but to sum up, we know that skin bacteria play a key part in the development of acne. We also know that honey is anti-bacterial and has been used for thousands of years as an effective skin treatment. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that honey may be useful in treating acne. As with all acne treatments, honey will not work for everyone, but many people have found that it has worked for them. If you want to give it a try, please read on.
First, a warning. Some people are allergic to one or more of the components of honey. If you are allergic, using honey on your skin could cause an allergic reaction and make things worse. If you are concerned about this, you should arrange for one of the widely-available allergy tests beforehand.
OK, before you go rummaging in the back of the kitchen cupboard for that old jar of honey and smear the contents all over your face, you need to read this section. For it to do any good, you need to make sure the honey you use is good honey. Let me explain what I mean. Most popular brands of honey are treated in some way, by heating or adding water for example; these processed honeys are very unlikely to work because the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are destroyed in the processing. If you can get medical-grade honey, that’s ideal, but if you can’t get that, use natural, raw, unprocessed, unheated honey with no added ingredients – and ideally from organic hives that have not been treated with chemicals or antibiotics. Basically, you want it uncontaminated and as near as possible to the stuff that comes out of a natural bee hive. If you are lucky enough to live near a local producer and can buy it right off the farm, great! If not, there are plenty of places on the internet where you can buy top quality raw, unprocessed honey, and I’ve put together a guide to honey products for you that has a lot of useful information on all kinds of honey.
Right, so assuming you have your honey, how do you apply the honey to the acne? Well, it’s very simple. I find it easiest to gently rub the honey onto the affected skin with my hands. If the honey is too thick, let the heat of your hands gently melt it a little. It is very important not to heat the honey on the stove or in a microwave to make it thin, because this will destroy all of its healing properties. Once you have the honey on your skin, just leave it in place for about 15 minutes, so it has time to do its work, then rinse it off. Apply honey to your acne in this way each day if you can, and see if you notice any improvement after a week, say. A useful tip is to take a photo of the affected area at the start of the treatment, and another one a week later, so you can see for sure if there is a noticeable difference.
An alternative to using pure honey is to buy an acne product that contains honey. These can be bought over the internet and come in the form of skin creams and soaps. These have worked for some people, but one drawback is that you won’t know whether it’s the honey or some other ingredient that cured the acne. But maybe you won’t care as long as it works!
When you are trying a honey-based acne remedy, a good tip is NOT to change your diet or try more than one thing at a time. In this way you will get a good idea whether something works or not. If you change lots of factors at the same time, you won’t know which one of them caused any changes.
Well that’s it. I’ve tried to give you a balanced view of honey and acne and I hope you can now make your own mind up whether to give it a go.