Healing Honey for Skin Care

Published: 13th December 2006
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Honey has been used throughout the ages as a medicinal treatment for wounds and other topical skin conditions. We don't know just when early man discovered the healing properties of honey, but evidence has been found to indicate that honey was used as an antibacterial agent by ancient Egyptians thousands of years before bacteria were discovered to be the cause of infections.

One of our first written accounts of using honey as a healing agent comes from Aristotle, who wrote that light honey was a good salve for sore eyes and wounds. A Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist named Pedanius Dioscorides, who practiced in Rome around the time of Nero, traveled extensively throughout the Greek and Roman empires in search of medicinal substances. He is famous for writing a five volume book, De Materia Medica, which is a forerunner to all modern pharmacopeias and continues to this day to be one of the most influential books on herbal remedies in history. In his writings, Dioscorides described honey as being "good for all rotten and hollow ulcers".

Honey was still being used to treat wounds up through World War II, but with the arrival of penicillin and other Twentieth Century antibiotic drugs, the natural antibacterial properties of honey have largely been overlooked. Until recently.

Today we are entering another age of enlightenment. We are enjoying a rebirth of natural remedies and ingredients in response to the risks presented by questionable chemical ingredients in products that include the food we eat, the containers we use to package our food, and most recently the cosmetics and skin care we regularly slather on our bodies.

Coupled with evidence that our super drugs and soaps are actually increasing the risks to ourselves and our children by stimulating the natural development of super-bugs - bacteria that are becoming resistant to even the strongest of our antibacterials - the shift to effective natural remedies is becoming a stampede.

Honey has been found to inhibit some 60 species of bacteria. It also exhibits an antifungal response on some yeasts and species of Aspergillus and Penicillium, two of the most common. Dr. Andrew Weil says in his November, 2006 newsletter Self Healing "Honey's antibacterial properties, due in part to its hydrogen peroxide content, help to quickly clear an infection and prevent new ones from developing. Honey stimulates the growth of skin tissue, reduces inflammation, and minimizes scarring, and it has the added benefit of creating a smoother surface between the wound and dressing. Since the wound is less likely to stick to the bandage, removing it is easier and less painful, and damage to the newly grown skin tissue is avoided."

"One recent review of 22 clinical trials concluded that honey typically shortened healing time on many types of wounds and provided people with better pain relief than antifungal creams or antibiotics (International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds, March 2006). In Bonn, Germany, researchers found that a product called Medihoney (which is waiting for FDA approval in the United States) can heal some wounds faster than most antibiotics (Supportive Care in Cancer, January 2006). Medihoney is made of different types of honey native to New Zealand and Australia, including manuka honey, which has a particularly strong antibacterial effect. Honey can also be a useful treatment for people who have built up a tolerance to certain antibiotics. (I know of no evidence that honey helps to heal wound when consumed as a sweetener.)"

The study Dr. Weil refers to included 22 trials involving 2,062 patients treated with honey, as well as an additional 16 trials that were performed on experimental animals. Honey was found to be beneficial as a wound dressing in the following ways:

• Honey's antibacterial quality not only rapidly clears existing infection, it protects wounds from additional infection

• Honey debrides wounds and removes malodor

• Honey's anti-inflammatory activity reduces edema and minimizes scarring

• Honey stimulates growth of granulation and epithelial tissues to speed healing

The review article for the study was written by Dr. Peter Molan, director of the Honey Research Unit at New Zealand's University of Waikato. Dr. Molan says "All honey is antibacterial, because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide, but we still haven't managed to identify the active components. All we know is (the honey) works on an extremely broad spectrum."

Dr. Molan's research has shown that honey made from the flowers of the Manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium), a bushy tree native to New Zealand, has antibacterial properties that are much higher than any other honeys'. In fact, Dr. Molan estimates that active manuka honey could exhibit healing properties up to 100 times more than other honeys.

Dr. Molan says "In all honeys, there is, to different levels, hydrogen peroxide produced from an enzyme that bees add to the nectar. In manuka honey, there's something else besides the hydrogen peroxide. And there's nothing like that ever been found anywhere else in the world. We know it has a very broad spectrum of action. It works on bacteria, fungi, protozoa. We haven't found anything it doesn't work on among infectious organisms."

After nineteen years of research, the "something else" Dr. Molan refers to remains unknown. He has been unable to identify it, even while observing its presence by comparing the healing properties of other honeys with manuka honey. But he has given the unknown ingredient a name: unique manuka factor, or UMF.

Dr. Molan says UMF manuka honey can even handle antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. "Staphylococcus aureas is the most common wound-infecting species of bacteria, and that's the most sensitive to honey that we've found. And that includes the antibiotic resistant strains - the MRSA - which is just as sensitive to honey as any other staphylococcus aureas."

According to the University of Waikato, there are four main components that explain the natural antibacterial activity of honey.

1. Osmotic effect: The high sugar content of honey means that there are very few water molecules available making it difficult for micro-organisms to establish. In fully ripened honey, no yeast species are able to grow and the growth of many species of bacteria is completely inhibited.

2. Acidity: The pH of honey is characteristically quite low (3.2-4.5), which is low enough to inhibit many animal pathogens and therefore be a significant antibacterial factor.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide: When bees are turning nectar to honey they secrete a glucose oxidase enzyme. One of the by products of the resultant reaction is hydrogen peroxide. When honey is diluted enzyme activity increases giving a 'slow release' antiseptic at a level which is antibacterial but not tissue damaging.

4. Phytochemical Factors: The above factors cannot account for all of the antibacterial activity observed. There have been several chemicals with antibacterial activity isolated in honey (see Waikato Honey Research Unit's website for additional information) by various researchers. This may explain the high level of activity seen in Manuka honey.

The University's Honey Research Unit adds "Honey has an antibacterial activity, due primarily to hydrogen peroxide formed in a "slow-release" manner by the enzyme glucose oxidase present in honey, which can vary widely in potency. Some honeys are no more antibacterial than sugar, while others can be diluted more than 100-fold and still halt the growth of bacteria. The difference in potency of antibacterial activity found among the different honeys is more than 100-fold." Active Manuka honey has the highest antibacterial activity ever seen in a honey.

Apicare / Honey & Herbs Ltd of Auckland, New Zealand, recognized the healing benefits of applying manuka honey to the epidermis and created an entire line of products that incorporate the antibacterial properties to their best advantage. Apicare's lines of lotions, balms, creams, moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners all use Active manuka honey as a base. Not surprisingly, the results are as astonishing as the research would seem to predict.

2006 marks the first year that Apicare's Manuka honey personal care products are being offered in the United States. Apicare.net is the exclusive distributor for their entire line of products in the US - which comprises eleven separate and distinct multi-product lines - all based on Active manuka honey. Consumers can find Apicare products in stores throughout the country and Apicare owner Pam Reade says, "If your store doesn't carry our products, just ask. They will soon."

Customers who are Internet savvy can purchase directly from the one website in the US that sells at the retail level directly to individuals - Vashon Organics. Senior Partner at Vashon Organics, Desiree Nelson, says "The Apicare line is simply incredible. We have never seen a product like this before - a personal care line that can repair your skin while it soothes and smoothes."

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