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Honey for Acne

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Honey is a simple, affordable and effective natural acne remedy.

Acne affects almost everyone at least once in a lifetime. For most people, it erupts on the face, back and/or upper chest during the teenage years. By 25, most people have recovered from their acne years but for some people, the skin disease can persist even into middle age.

The first signs of acne breakouts include pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and seborrhea (red, scaly skin). In severe cases, acne nodules, cysts and scars may results.

There are different causes of acne but the two most important ones are hormonal imbalance and bacterial colonization of the skin.

The onset of acne during puberty is due to the changes in hormone production in the body. Puberty causes an increase in the production of male sex hormones called androgens. Examples of androgens linked to acne are testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS).

These androgens increase the production of sebum by stimulating the follicular glands to grow bigger. By changing the nature of the sebaceous follicles, testosterone and its derivatives promote the clogging of skin pores when sebum forms a plugging mixture with dead skin cells and bacteria.

In addition, some bacteria can also change the nature of the skin and cause acne. The most prominent acne-causing bacteria are Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermis.

These bacteria make the skin oilier and increase the clogging of the skin pores. They can also cause inflammation of the skin.

To treat acne caused by bacterial infections, antibiotics can be used. However, because of a growing resistance to antibiotics, topical antibacterial agents such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are preferred but they may cause skin irritation.

Natural antibacterial remedies provide comparable antibacterial cover and are generally better tolerated than these conventional antibacterial agents. Of these natural remedies, honey is an excellent choice for treating acne caused by bacteria.

What is Honey?

Honey refers to the sweet food produced by bees from the genus Apis from the nectar of flowers. The major constituents of honey are the monosaccharides, fructose and glucose.

While honey is just as sweet as sugar, its distinctive flavor makes it preferable to other sweeteners.

Honey is a supersaturated solution of simple sugars. This means that it contains more sugar than water. Because of its low water content, most microorganisms cannot grow in honey. This is why it is sometimes used for fighting resistance bacteria.

The low water content and high sugar concentration that prevents bacterial contamination of honey also means that honey does not ferment easily.

Honey also contains other sugars such as maltose and sucrose but in small amounts. Organic acids and amino acids are also present in very small amounts in honey.

The major organic acids are gluconic acid and malic acid. These acids add flavor, taste and aroma to honey. Other organic acids present in honey include acetic acid, butyric acid, citric acid, lactic acid, succinic acid, palmitic acid and valeric acid.

The culinary and medicinal uses of honey dates back further than the Egyptian Civilization. Most ancient cultures used it for the same purposes for which we still use honey.

Mostly, honey is used to sweeten drinks and foods. It can be used to make sauce flavors or fermented into wine (mead). It is also used to treat wounds, burns, rashes and sore throat.

There are different classifications of honey. One classification groups honey by its floral source. This refers to the types of flower nectars from which honey is made.

Monofloral honey is made from the nectar of only one flower type. Polyflora honey is made from nectars of many different types of flower. This type of honey is also called wildflower honey. Blended honey is made from the mixture of honeys from different floral sources.

How Honey Treats Acne

The topical application of honey to treat wounds and skin diseases is well documented over centuries in different cultures. Even though its antibacterial and antiseptic actions are recognized, the exact mechanism by which honey provides these benefits are only recently understood.

Besides killing off acne-causing bacteria, honey can also soothe and smoothen acne lumps and scars on the skin. It contains antioxidants which help keep the skin healthy.

Honey can also be applied as a mask on the area of skin affected by acne. The waxy stickiness of honey can help remove the dirt and oil buildup clogging the pores when it is washed off.

As an antimicrobial agent, honey acts by different mechanisms. The following are established ways in which honey kills off microorganisms:

  • It starves microbes of moisture by drawing excess moisture to itself through osmosis. This is one of the benefits of having far less water content that the sugar content of honey needs
  • It removes free iron by chelating them, and in this way disrupt bacterial cellular processes that require iron
  • It releases hydrogen peroxide slowly. This peroxide behaves similarly to the popular anti-acne medication, benzoyl peroxide by breaking down bacterial cell walls
  • It reduces the pH of the skin surface on which it is applied. Honey has a pH between 3.2 and 4.5. This acidity is enough to kill off most microbes
  • It contains the potent antibacterial agent, methylglyoxal (MGO)

Pure honey contains far less water than is needed to fully dissolve its two monosaccharides (fructose and glucose).

Therefore, it is not an ideal environment for microbial growth. Instead of giving up water molecules, honey draws them from microbial cells into itself by a process called osmosis. By doing this it effectively dehydrates bacterial cells. This antimicrobial activity is lost in water-diluted honey.

However, when honey is diluted with water, it slowly releases hydrogen peroxide. This reaction is caused by the action of the enzyme, glucose oxidase, which is present in honey.

The release of peroxide is a rather delicate reaction which requires that certain conditions be met. First, it happens only in the presence of oxygen and only when the acidity of honey is neutralized by body fluids. Then the peroxide quickly breaks down to water and oxygen on exposure to light and heat.

When honey is applied to the skin to treat acne, this reaction can proceed because oxygen is drawn from the air and sweat and oil can neutralize the acidity of honey.

The antibacterial action of hydrogen peroxide can still be significant even though it will break down shortly after it is formed.

There is a small chance that the hydrogen peroxide produced may form harmful free oxygen radicals but that reaction is catalyzed by iron and honey deactivates iron by chelation. Also, there are other antioxidants contained in honey which can prevent the inflammatory damage of free radicals.

There is another mechanism of antibacterial action produced by honey. This second, non-peroxide antibacterial activity is caused by MGO and an even more potent but yet unidentified compound.

While most types of honey contain very small amounts of MGO, manuka honey is known to have very high levels of the antibacterial agent.

The Special Properties of Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is made from the nectar obtained from a tea tree native to New Zealand and Australia. It has some very unique properties which make it one of the most medicinal honeys available.

This monofloral honey contains a high level of MGO. MGO is responsible for most of the antibacterial activities of manuka honey with hydrogen peroxide and osmotic effect contributing too.

This antibacterial effect has been demonstrated in different studies. Manuka honey can be used to successfully treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Therefore, it should be considered as a replacement treatment when antibiotics fail to effectively manage acne.

Manuka honey speeds up healing by providing this antibacterial cover for wounds, burns, ulcers and skin lesions. It is useful in acne treatment for this reason.

Another unusual property of manuka honey is its thixotropic property. It is one of the few honeys to form into a gel when left alone but quickly liquefy when stirred. This effect makes it convenient to store and use manuka honey.

Honey Masks for Acne

The way to use honey to treat your acne is to apply it directly on the affected area of the skin. Honey masks can be made solely with honey or by combining with another botanical.

Manuka honey is usually preferred for this purpose. Below are a few combination honey masks to use in treating your acne.

Apple Honey Mask: This is made by first turning an apple into pulp with a mixer then adding 3 - 4 tablespoons of honey to it. Apply the resulting paste on the acne-covered skin and leave it on for 15 minutes before washing off with lukewarm water.

Milk Lemon Yogurt Honey Mask: Mix 2 tablespoons of fresh milk with 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 tablespoon of fresh yogurt and then lukewarm water. Apply the resulting lotion on the area of skin covered by acne and let it dry. Leave it on for 10 minutes before washing it off with warm water.

Cinnamon Honey Mask: Make a paste with 3 – 4 tablespoons of cinnamon powder and honey then apply it on the acne-covered skin. Leave it on overnight and wash off in the morning with warm water.

Aloe Vera Honey Mask: Mix equal parts of aloe vera juice and honey. Make sure to use aloe vera which is not contaminated with latex so as to avoid skin irritation. Apply a coat of the mixture on the skin and leave it on for 10 minutes before washing off.

Kelp Aloe Vera Honey Mask: Mix equal parts of aloe vera juice, kelp powder and honey into a uniform paste. Apply on the affected area and leave it on for 20 minutes before washing off.

Aspirin Honey Mask: Crush 1 – 2 tablets of aspirin and dissolve the powder in a little water. Add 1 tablespoon of honey and mix into a lotion. Apply it on the affected area and leave on for 10 minutes before washing off with lukewarm water.  Wash the skin again with cold water.

Next Article: Aloe for Acne Treatment


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