There are countless do-it-yourself remedies out there, but honey for acne is the real deal. The world of medicine has taken advantage of honey for centuries, using it for everything from skin care to maintaining good digestive health. Even though it has become a popular at-home option, it is also used in hospitals today. Honey is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and it speeds wound healing, all of which are ideal properties for an acne treatment product. If you can get past the stickiness, it can play a key role in your skin care.
Honey alone isn’t enough to keep skin acne-free, so we recommend using it in conjunction with a consistent skin care routine, especially if you have oily skin. Inflammation and bacteria are two key players in acne, but so is oil production. Unfortunately, honey can’t decrease oil, so you’ll need other products for that.
It’s important to note that, unlike many other DIY remedies, scientists have conducted quite a few studies about the effects of using honey for acne, and the results are inconclusive. Some studies found that honey dramatically improved acne, while others found no difference. But none of the studies found that honey worsened acne, so if you’re willing to conduct your own experiment, the worst that will happen is nothing.
Honey for acne has gotten a lot of hype recently, but honey itself has been a staple of the medical community for centuries. In an Egyptian document containing the recipes for nearly 900 remedies, over 500 included honey as an ingredient. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates prescribed honey for everything from scarring to eye infections. In medieval Europe, honey was often used to treat open wounds that weren’t healing well.
Today, Western medicine relies heavily on chemicals made in a lab, specially designed to fix the problem at hand, but that doesn’t mean doctors have dismissed all of the old tricks. Honey-soaked dressings are often used when treating open wounds because studies prove that wounds heal faster with honey-soaked dressings than with regular dressings. This may be why Hippocrates prescribed honey for scars: honey promotes healthy skin cell turnover, which makes wounds heal faster and prevents scarring, but it can also help replace scar tissue with more healthy cells.
How Honey for Acne Works
Honey has a variety of healing properties, but when it comes to acne specifically, it treats two main issues: inflammation and bacteria. This is great news, because these are two of the three main causes of acne. Inflammation, bacteria, and oil production combine forces to produce acne, and treating two out of the three can lead to huge improvements.
When the skin is inflamed, which can occur due to stress, something irritating the skin, or a million other potential factors, it swells slightly and the pores constrict. This is the heart of all acne, because bacteria and oil would rarely become problems if the pores were always open and relaxed. However, because we are often stressed and many different irritants are constantly coming into contact with our skin, the skin is inflamed quite often, and acne ensues.
The bacteria primarily associated with acne, called p. acnes, always live on our skin, and sometimes they can help prevent acne by reducing oil production. P. acnes bacteria consume the oil our skin naturally produces as a food source. However, if inflammation occurs and p. acnes get trapped in a pore along with excess oil, their number can rise very quickly, creating a minor infection which becomes a pimple.
Using honey for acne can’t decrease oil production or exfoliate excess oil, but it can reduce inflammation and kill acne-causing bacteria. By decreasing inflammation, honey targets the root cause of acne, and by killing off p. acnes bacteria, honey helps prevent the more visible, painful forms of acne, such as pimples or cysts. Currently, it’s unclear what exactly gives honey its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, but scientists agree that these properties exist, even if they can’t completely explain why.
Manuka Honey for Acne
Honey is made when bees collect nectar from flowers and bring it back to the hive, where it breaks down into simple sugars, the moisture evaporates, and honey is left behind! This means that they type of honey created can depend on what kind of flower the bees collected nectar from. Different honeys can have slightly different flavors, colors, and scents, and some studies show that one particular type of honey may be best for acne.
It’s called Manuka honey because it’s made primarily from the nectar of Manuka bushes that live in some parts of New Zealand and Australia. Manuka bushes are also sometimes called tea tree plants. If you know much about essential oils, you may know why Manuka honey is typically considered more effective in treating acne. Tea tree oil is one of the most popular essential oils for acne, and it is commonly integrated into acne treatment products, like our Acne Treatment Serum, because it kills 99% of p. acnes bacteria.
Honey made from this plant retains some of these powerful antibacterial properties, making it even more effective than regular raw honey. But no matter what kind of honey you choose to use for acne, make sure it is raw honey. It’s relatively easy to check for this: simply look at the ingredients list, and if there are any other ingredients besides honey, then it isn’t raw. Some companies add water, fructose, or other ingredients to their honey, but these just dilute or cancel out the acne-fighting qualities of pure honey.
Exposed Skin Care and Honey for Acne
As we’ve said, honey can do wonders for acne, but it can’t do it all, which is why we recommend combining a weekly honey mask treatment with our daily 3-step routine available in our Basic Kit. Exposed is the perfect match for honey because several of our best products, like our Facial Cleanser and Clear Pore Serum, contain salicylic acid, an acne-fighting ingredient that gently exfoliates the skin and reduces oil buildup. Salicylic acid addresses the one cause of acne that honey neglects, so Exposed and honey complement each other perfectly.
DIY Recipe: Lemon Juice and Honey Mask for Acne
To use honey for acne, all you have to do is apply raw honey to your skin, but there are hundreds of honey mask recipes that combine all kinds of ingredients to treat all kinds of different acne. Adding lemon juice to a honey mask can make up for the fact that honey doesn’t exfoliate the skin. Lemon juice (all citrus really) can clear away the oil and dead skin cells clogging the pores, but citrus can be harsh. Too harsh for many skin types. Combined with honey, lemon juice can exfoliate the skin without irritating it, clearing away blackheads and pimples at the same time.
This mask is best for: Blackheads and/or oily skin
- ½ lemon, squeezed
- 2 tablespoons of raw honey
Combine the lemon juice and honey in a small bowl and mix, then apply to the skin. If the stickiness bothers you, dip a cotton ball in the mixture and apply. You can apply this all over, or use it as a spot treatment, but bear in mind that this mixture needs to be used immediately. If the lemon juice is stored, it loses many of its acne-fighting properties, which is why fresh lemon juice is always the best choice. Allow the mask to set for 30-45 minutes, then rinse with cool water and pat dry with a soft towel.
Because the honey is so sticky, it may be tempting to use hot water or to scrub the honey away, but both these things can undo all the hard work the lemon-honey mask just did. Hot water and scrubbing at the skin are sure to irritate it and lead to more inflammation.
DIY Recipe: Green Tea and Honey Mask for Acne
Like honey, green tea has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, as both a drink and an acne treatment mask. It typically has stronger effects when applied directly to the skin, which is why many products at Exposed contain green tea extract as one of their main ingredients, and why we suggest combining green tea and honey for acne. This is a great option for last-minute acne treatment. If you wake up the day of a special occasion with a red, painful breakout, this mask should reduce inflammation to make the acne less painful and less visible.
This mask is best for: Sensitive skin
- 1 green tea bag, or 1 tablespoon of loose green tea leaves
- 2 tablespoons of raw honey
Cut open the green tea bag, or measure out 1 tablespoon of green tea leaves, and add it to the honey. Combine and mix until the tea leaves are evenly distributed. Then apply to the skin and allow the mask to set. Because honey and green tea are both exceedingly gentle ingredients, it can set for as long as you like, but we recommend a minimum of 20 minutes. When you are ready to remove the mask, simply rinse with cool water and pat dry with a soft towel.
Unlike the lemon-honey mask, this mask can be stored and used again later, so you may want to combine your ingredients in a sealable container.
DIY Recipe: Cinnamon and Honey Mask for Acne
Like honey, cinnamon has antibacterial properties, so this mask is great for keeping p. acnes bacteria under control. If you regularly have pimples, or the occasional cyst, a cinnamon-honey mask can treat and prevent them without causing irritation to the skin. Cinnamon can also be an exfoliant, so it may help remove excess oil as well.
This mask is best for: Pimple-prone skin
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of honey
Simply combine these two ingredients until evenly distributed and apply to the skin. Let the mask set for 30 minutes to an hour, then remove by rinsing with cool water.
The exfoliating and mildly astringent nature of cinnamon may irritate sensitive skin, so you may want to test a small area on your arm or leg before applying to your face if you are worried about any sensitivity issues.
Adding Honey to Your Diet
The only way for honey to kill p. acnes bacteria is for it to be applied directly to the skin, but inflammation is different. Direct application can reduce inflammation in a specific area rather quickly, but this reduction is only a temporary fix. It doesn’t prevent the inflammation from happening in the first place. Some studies show that even though consuming honey has a less immediate effect on acne, it may be able to reduce acne in the long-term.
There are several easy ways to introduce a little honey into your diet. If you drink tea, add a little honey to every cup. If you like granola and yogurt, drizzle a little honey over the top for a dash of sweetness. Or if you really have a sweet tooth, you can always take a spoonful of honey each morning, approximately one tablespoon. If you’re diabetic, there’s no need to worry: honey is a diabetes-friendly sweetener, although you should check with your doctor if you’re unsure.
The only issue to look out for when incorporating more honey into your diet is gut problems. More and more research has come out recently about the delicate ecosystem of bacteria in our gut. Even though we typically think of bacteria as bad for us, we need many of the bacteria cultures in our colon to maintain normal functioning. Because honey is antibacterial, it may kill good bacteria along with the bad, so it could cause gastrointestinal issues. If you experience stomach pains, diarrhea, or constipation after adding honey to your diet, stop eating honey and see if they issue clears up. If so, honey may not be the best match for your gut, and it might be better to apply honey directly to your skin.