Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Type of Honey to Use, How It Works

  • Eczema is a chronic condition that causes itching, redness, swelling and thickening of skin
  • Eczema is not curable, but symptoms can be controlled with treatments
  • Honey has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties to target uncomfortable symptoms
  • The most effective honeys will be labeled pure, raw, unfiltered, natural or organic as their healing properties have not been lost due to processing

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes dry, itchy skin, rashes and scaly patches. Skin barrier dysfunction is the first step in its development which progresses and then requires topical and systemic therapies. There are many natural treatment options available for eczema; honey, particularly manuka honey, is one such option due to its many healing properties. 

Natural honey has played an important role in traditional medicine as it is understood to inhibit a wide range of bacteria, in addition to some fungi and viruses. It is a well-known antioxidant that contains a number of valuable compounds such as peptides, organic acids and enzymes.

Will Honey Clear Your Eczema? 

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that is not curable. Symptoms fluctuate based on external triggers and while it can go into remission for an indefinite period of time, the inflammation remains active beneath the skin. 

Flare-ups will occur due to an overactive immune system that attempts to fight off perceived threats. This is related to a weak skin barrier function that allows unwanted environmental elements to penetrate the skin and cause an immune response. 

The barrier is then further compromised and skin becomes red, inflamed and itchy as the body attempts to fight off the unwanted substances. While flare-ups cannot be prevented, they can be minimized and controlled with a range of systemic treatments, topical applications and natural remedies. 

Topical application of honey is one solution to ease uncomfortable flare-ups and provide relief.

Of note is that moisturizers can effectively prevent the progression of atopic dermatitis by strengthening the skin barrier. Honey is a humectant and can attract and maintain moisture. 

How does it work?

Honey has potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which all work together to minimize swelling, redness and itchiness.

Most honeys contain hydrogen peroxide which is known to kill bacteria. Science has established a correlation between the amount of hydrogen peroxide in honey and its efficacy in killing bacteria.

Numerous in vitro studies and clinical research have also revealed that honeys from around the world have strong antimicrobial activity against microbes and promote wound healing; other studies indicate that honey may be able to modify and regulate the skin’s immune system. It can also induce leukocytes to release cytokines, which are vital for tissue repair. 

Honey’s properties can therefore promote healing, calm inflammation and restore the skin barrier to achieve healthier skin. Honey also acts as a natural moisturizer to relieve the dryness that accompanies this skin condition and due to its viscosity, provides a protective barrier to stave off infection.

Best Type of Honey for Eczema 

Many commercial honey brands have unfortunately been ultrafiltered, overprocessed and pasteurized to decrease the presence of propolis and pollen, substances that can provide pain relief, reduce inflammation and kill many species of bacteria.  

Therefore, the best type of honey for eczema is one that is labeled 100% pure, and raw, unfiltered, natural or organic to receive its healing qualities. Raw honey is the least processed and as such, likely has the most antioxidants.

The honey should be slightly milky in appearance and have a small amount of solid matter, which is indicative of pollen and propolis.

Still, there can be a great range in variation from one honey to the next, with as much as a 100-fold variance in antibacterial activities, depending on a number of variables, including geographical location, season, harvesting and storage.

Manuka honey

Manuka honey is produced in Australia and New Zealand, and is prized for its healing qualities. 

It can help treat eczema as it is effective against bacteria and other disease-causing microbes that worsen eczema. As a natural emollient it can restore moisture, and repair and protect the skin barrier.

Unlike some other honeys, studies have shown that Manuka can provide strong antibacterial effects, even when the hydrogen peroxide activity is blocked. It’s believed that it can do so due to its low pH level and high sugar content, both of which work to prevent bacteria and fungi.

This honey has been demonstrated to significantly decrease the growth and reduce the spread of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that is associated with eczema. This is particularly important in light of antibiotic-resistant infections.

One small study of this honey and atopic dermatitis patients significantly improved lesions compared to the control group. Investigators concluded that further research was required, but Manuka honey showed promise as a treatment through different mechanisms of action.

Tualang honey

Tualang honey is produced in Malaysia and is often compared to Manuka honey as it too offers multiple skin-healing benefits: It is an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and has  wound-healing qualities.

In a comparative study of Tualang versus Manuka honey, Tualang was found to have similar wound-healing capabilities and antibacterial effects, making this honey an effective treatment for eczema. 

Buckwheat honey

This dark honey is rich in antioxidants, due to the large amount of phenolic compounds present which are excellent sources of natural antioxidants. This honey also provides antibacterial benefits, can speed up wound healing and has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Buckwheat honey is equally effective as Manuka honey in its antibacterial activity against S. aureus but shows greater antioxidant activity than Manuka honey.

Locust honey

Acacia honey is light in color, high in sugar, and produced in North America and Europe; it is usually called American acacia or locust honey in the United States. 

This honey is rich in antioxidants and has high levels of hydrogen peroxide to provide antibacterial benefits; it has been proven to be effective against S. aureus bacteria due to the hydrogen peroxide but also the high sugar content which effectively hinders the growth of bacteria.

Bee skin care products

Bee products, such as royal jelly, beeswax and propolis also contain these same qualities to treat inflamed skin.

Propolis, or bee glue, is also valued for its antiallergy effects which can effectively reduce uncomfortable redness, itching and swelling. As well, several studies have demonstrated that propolis reduces free radical activity in the wound-healing process and increases collagen within tissues.

Royal jelly provides antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic benefits; beeswax can alleviate dry, itchy skin and protect it from harmful environmental damage and propolis contributes to wound healing and adds moisture to skin.

 In one study of a novel formula, beeswax showed a potential for skin barrier recovery.

How to Use Honey for Eczema

Before applying honey to a large area of skin, perform a spot test to determine if you have any allergies. 

  1. Gently warm 2 tbsp of honey (ideally, Manuka) in a small saucepan 
  2. Apply a thin layer to affected skin; allow to rest for 20 minutes
  3. Rinse off with warm water and pat dry

Repeat once daily, apart from your regular skin care routine.

Possible Side Effects of Using Honey on Your Skin 

Honey is well tolerated by most people, but there are some potential side effects:

  • Honey and its byproducts can cause rare but severe allergic reactions
  • Sensitive skin may become irritated 
  • Honey residue on skin can attract dust and debris which can exacerbate eczema

Other Natural Remedies for Eczema

If honey isn’t right for you, there are several other alternative treatments that are effective in treating eczema:

  • East Indian sandalwood essential oil has a compound called alpha-santalol which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties 
  • L-histidine is an amino acid: in one clinical study, once-daily oral l-histidine supplementation was demonstrated to significantly reduce atopic dermatitis severity by 34% 
  • Vitamin E: In one clinical study, 400 IU per day of vitamin E provided significant improvement in itching, redness, swelling and skin thickening; this is considered a short-term resume treatment as long-term effects were not sustained    

Takeaway 

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that develops due to a combination of a compromised skin barrier and an overactive immune system. If treated promptly with a moisturizer the skin barrier can recover and strengthen; if not, this condition worsens and must be controlled with systemic and topical therapy.

Honey has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities to relieve eczema symptoms such as itching, swelling, redness, rashes and scaly patches. As a humectant, it can  draw in and maintain moisture levels to alleviate dry skin and restore a compromised skin barrier. 

There are several types of honey to choose from. To gain the most benefits, choose one that is labeled raw, natural, unprocessed, unfiltered, natural or organic. When examining the jar, look for remnants of pollen and propolis, as this will indicate that its valuable healing properties are intact.

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