The concept of taking what you have in your pantry to deal with your skin concerns is nothing new. In fact, you might say it’s as old as the thought of taking care of our skin. People have been using rice bran oil both for cooking and for moisturising their skin. Honey too is very versatile, it’s more than just a sweetener. Some people link it with sore throats. While raw honey already has a host of benefits for your skin such as being hydrating, manuka honey is like normal honey put on steroids.
Yeah, I get it, it doesn’t really sound appealing to smear honey onto your skin – more like a sticky and messy affair to clear your skin. Continue reading and be prepared to change your mind because manuka honey has a well-deserved reputation as a triple-treat skin care ingredient.
What makes manuka honey so special
Not only is honey used for thousands of years in traditional medicine, it also has countless uses for culinary treats. In recent decades following globalisation, more varieties of honey are available worldwide. This includes manuka honey from New Zealand and Australia.
Manuka honey is made from bees that exclusively feed on the flower of a special tree, the manuka tree with the botanical name Leptospermum scoparium. This tree is native to New Zealand and some parts of coastal Australia. Normal honey is what we all know, the sweet, sticky yellowish brownish viscous liquid made by bees and other insects from the nectar collected from a wide variety of flowers.
From a nutritional perspective, all honey is similar. The different kinds have similar calories count, more or less identical grams of carbohydrates and sugar, and a similar mix of vitamins and enzymes. Both don’t contain protein or fat. That’s almost a given, seeing how honey is made:
The bees or insects pollinate a plant and collect nectar, a sweet liquid produced by flowers. The nectar is broken down by an enzyme unique to honeybees, invertase. Once the bees have collected enough nectar, they take its nectar back to the hive. There, the worker bees place it into wax honeycomb cells to dry out. They then gather around the honeycomb and flap their wings to promote air circulation in the hive. This reduces the water content. This concentrated nectar becomes the gloopy yellowish brownish fluid we know as honey. To preserve the honey, the bees seal the honeycomb with a wax cap. Sometime later, the honey gets collected by the beekeepers and then rinse and repeat.
To officially carry the label of “manuka” honey, it needs to contain at least 70% Manuka pollen.
The main reasons why manuka honey has such a hefty price tag are because it’s made from a single plant (so it’s less common) and because it contains unique natural compounds. Just to give you an idea of why some people can get a serious case of price shock: a 250g jar of manuka honey can cost as much as $30 while a jar of regular raw honey can be had at around $6.
Know that regular and manuka honey have different grading systems. Depending on factors such as flavour, clarity, absence of defects, and percent soluble solids, regular honey is graded with A, B, or C. Manuka honey gets a grading depending on its content of the 3 compounds leptosperin, dihydroxyacetone, and methylglyoxal. The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA label) will give a manuka honey a UMF rating in numbers. A rating of UMF of 10 or lower means that the manuka honey is just like regular honey.
There’s also another system called MGO. This only measures the methylglyoxal content in manuka honey. The MGO grades can go up to 800. Both UMF and MGO are like SPF, the higher the better.
All honey has masses of sugar and water and an enzyme that’s needed to make hydrogen peroxide. Yep, correct, that’s the stuff that our hairdressers use to lighten our hair. But in honey, it’s in minute quantities and it’s what gives it antibiotic properties (good for clearing spotty skin). Even better, because it stays active for several days so that existing bacteria are wiped off and new ones can’t take hold.
Now, manuka honey has hydrogen peroxide but also other substances such as methylglyoxal (its abbreviation is MGO) which is why there’s the MGO rating system. There’s also dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and leptosperin. All 3 appear to reduce bacteria (which is what a high rating of UMF means). It’s MGO that puts manuka on steroids. It’s both antimicrobial and antiviral.
What are the benefits?
We’re going back to manuka’s three-way effects. You’ve already seen that it’s anti-bacterial. It’s also anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. And what was not mentioned as yet is that it can balance the PH of your skin.
Clear spotty skin
Thanks to MGO, DHA, and leptosperin, manuka honey takes zapping bacteria to another level. Not only that, since it can balance the PH of your skin it makes an environment that aids in maintaining a healthy skin surface microbiome. This in turn helps to prevent breakouts.
Inflamed skin often is a side effect of spots. But if you’re skin tends to be on the sensitive side or in case your skin is irritated, you’ll also often see rashes or redness. Manuka honey can both heal and soothe skin.
Slow and reduce signs of premature ageing
All honey has antioxidant effects, it’s just that manuka honey has higher levels of antioxidants. These help your skin in 2 ways. They can help neutralise free radicals that form after exposure to stressors like pollution or sun exposure. And, they also help stimulate cell growth, skin regeneration, and scar lessening.
Deliver a boost of hydration to your skin
Thanks to its sugars, manuka honey captures and retains moisture. It’s a powerful ally against dry, cracked skin. Hence it creates a moist healing environment that prevents bacteria from taking hold (good for clearing a breakout). Moreover this moisturising effect helps give you a glowing complexion. Its key for soft and supple skin. Keeping your skin moist also helps with scarring.
How to use
Manuka honey is more viscous and looks darker than regular raw honey. Since it’s thicker it’s also more difficult to spread. Hence you want to keep your jar of manuka honey at room temperature to make it easy to apply on your skin.
You can use it as a spot treatment where needed. You can also wash your face with it. Simply wet your face with lukewarm water. This helps to make it non gloopy and non sticky. Apply a pea sized dollop of on hey onto your fingertips and use your fingers to massage it into your skin. You want to take your time, since the active ingredients are only active as long as they’re on your skin. If you don’t feel like massaging for a few minutes, just leave it on as a face pack for 15 – 20 minutes. In both cases, rinse of with lukewarm water.
Of course you can also eat it and use it just as regular raw honey.