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Manuka Honey: An Ancient Solution for 21st Century Skin

Posted on 26 March 2019

Honey is one of the oldest cosmetic and therapeutic ingredients in existence, with diverse ancient civilisations utilising it to make skin and hair beautifying lotions and treat blemishes, wounds and infections, as well as for uses that are no longer popular, such as the preservation of corpses. In modern times, honey has earned a place in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) as an emollient, humectant, moisturising and skin conditioning agent1.

Beneficial bioactive agents in honey include proteins, amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, minerals, and other components which have cosmetic and therapeutic effects for skin. The primary sugars in honey, fructose and glucose, form structures that trap water in the skins outermost ‘horny layer’4, increasing skin pliability. Honey contains components which interact with skin components that are responsible for the phases of healing and repair such as activation of the immune system, proliferation and migration of cells (angiogenesis), granulation/collagen deposition and sealing of the wound (epithelialisation). When used at the right level in skincare formulations, honey exerts effects that soften, moisturise and soothe skin while preserving youthfulness, retarding the formation of wrinkles, enhancing elasticity and reducing pigmentation1. As well as being beautifying, honey is well studied as an antimicrobial and topical antibiotic. Honey has a low pH which helps regulate acidity of the skin’s protective layer and it contains an enzyme that converts glucose to antibacterial hydrogen peroxide, providing benefits for infections, acne, and certain types of dermatitis. It also has anti-fungal activity, showing potential in treatment of mycoses, ringworm and athletes foot.

Certain honey varieties are particularly potent and specialised, for example, the medical grade Manuka honey that we use in our Bee Effects range. New Zealand Manuka honey is a ‘unifloral’ honey, derived only from the flowers of Leptospermum scoparium and it is a superhero of the honey universe. As indicated by its luminous dark colour, Manuka honey is high in phenolic compounds and is a powerful skin-protective anti-oxidant7. It is an inflammation modulator, upregulating or downregulating the immune response as required 8. Animal, in-vitro and human trials have shown promising results with enhanced healing of ulcers, lacerations, burns, rashes and atopic dermatitis1,3 as well as potential in enhancing skin renewal1, tissue regeneration6 and the deposition and strengthening of collagen8,1. As if this isn’t impressive enough, a recent study also showed that applying Manuka honey after a tooth extraction resulted in reduced need for painkillers2, and let’s not forget that a large part of Manuka honey’s fame comes from being able to inhibit antibiotic resistant bacterial strains such as Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) by breaking down the biofilm that the bacteria uses to ‘hide’ from the immune system5. In practical terms, all of this means premium benefits for your skins health, appearance and resistance to toxins and pathogens.

The added potency of Manuka honey seems due to a of group of compounds which include glyoxal, 3-deoxyglucosulose and methylglyoxal, honey components thought to be responsible for the non-peroxide antibacterial properties which are unique to Manuka honey. The antibacterial potency of medical grade Manuka honey is quantified by its methylglyoxal content in mg/kg, with a minimum of 100mg/kg being required to substantiate any real benefit. The maximum possible level of methylglyoxal is 1000mg/kg, and the honey in our Bee Effects skincare range clocks in at a massive 830mg/kg, meaning you get the full effect of a genuine, potent Manuka honey skincare system and not the disappointment of one that is sub-par. You really can’t do better than our contemporary twist on an ancient remedy when giving your skin what it needs to stay youthful and healthy in a modern world.

1. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2013 Dec;12(4):306-13
2. Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery March 2019, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 147–152
3. Immun Inflamm Dis. 2017 Jun; 5(2): 190–199
4. Int J Cosmet Sci. 1994 Oct;16(5):211-26
5. PeerJ. 2014 Mar 25;2:e326
6. Curr Drug Metab. 2017;18(10):881-892.
7. Int J Gen Med. 2014 Mar 5;7:149-58
8. Foods 2014, 3


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