I will admit it. I often fall prey to whatever natural health or beauty trend is making the rounds on the Internet. I’ve used apple cider vinegar and lemon juice as a toner. I’ve slathered coconut oil in my hair and on my skin and added it to my morning coffee. I’ve choked back fish oil supplements religiously as a means of treating my adult acne. But the latest natural beauty craze I'm sort of obsessed with? Washing my face with honey.
I tend to jump into these natural health crazes head first, with an odd level of enthusiasm: spending more time than I’m willing to admit researching the positive effects of using homemade deodorant, for example; rushing out to buy weird ingredients at Whole Foods or The Vitamin Shoppe; declaring, “This will change my life!” to my friends/boyfriend/mom/whomever will listen. My excitement usually lasts a few weeks, or however long it takes to realize my new routine has done nothing to improve my health, before it burns out and I quietly return to my old products.
But this time, I may have discovered a natural hack I can stick with for the long haul.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to cleanse your face by rubbing something sticky on it, centuries of use as a medicinal and cosmetic panacea has confirmed honey’s magical, skin-healing properties; ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it in ointments to cure skin and eye diseases and to soothe wounds and burns. Honey is antibacterial and antimicrobial, meaning that, as a face wash, it will kill off the bad stuff that causes breakouts and blemishes. It’s also a natural humectant (a substance that retains water), so it will maintain the skin’s natural moisture levels, keeping it soft, smooth, and wrinkle-free.
Plus, it’s always a good idea to know exactly what we’re putting in and on our bodies. Commercial face washes contain a cocktail of synthetic chemicals that may negatively affect our well-being, including parabens, which studies have loosely linked to cancer. My own experience with various store-bought washes causing tightness, dryness, or irritation suggests that these chemicals are too harsh for daily use or truly healthy skin.
And so, last week, I decided to take the plunge and cleanse my face twice daily — morning and night — with raw, organic honey. I have very fair, combination skin, which in the last two years has fallen victim to frequent hormonal breakouts (ah, the joys of adulthood). I’ve mostly coaxed my acne into submission through consistent use of a prescription retinoid, but I hoped the honey would keep my skin clear and heal some of the hyperpigmentation and scarring left behind by my blemishes. Below, I share my experience with you.
On the first morning, I eagerly opened my jar of honey and scooped out a giant glob with a spoon, only to realize I have no idea how to get this stuff on my face. Raw honey is solid at room temperature, and it doesn’t like to be spread unless it’s warm. I spend the next three minutes roughly dabbing it all over my face and neck, then I let it sit for about five minutes before jumping in the shower (I was a bit overzealous in my application — strands of hair are plastered to my face, and a drop of honey runs into my eye while I wait). The honey dissolves immediately in the water, and as I step out of the shower, my face feels smooth and baby-soft and not “tight,” as my skin always does when I wash it with commercial face wash. Yay!
By nighttime of the first day, I’ve learned from my mistakes. I tie my hair back tightly to keep it off my face, I splash my skin with water before covering it with honey, allowing it to spread more easily, and I use just a tablespoon to cover my entire face and neck. I think I’ve perfected the technique until 10 minutes later when I’m lying in bed and realize there’s something sticky under my chin. Overall, I’m loving how soft my skin feels.
Even before washing my face, my skin still feels healthy and moisturized from the night before. But when I rinse it off in the shower today, I notice that my face doesn’t feel “clean” the way it always did when I used commercial face wash, almost like a thin residue is sitting on my face; then I think maybe that “clean” feeling was actually the feeling of my skin being stripped of its moisture and natural oils. When I put my makeup on for the day, I notice two pimples on my left cheek and a pimple on my right cheek. Ugh.
Before washing my face that evening, I notice three — three! — new pimples, on my forehead, right temple, and chin. I’m worried the honey is making me break out, but I’ve committed to using it for the full week, so I proceed to slather it all over. Tonight, I leave it on for 15 minutes while I wash the dishes and check my email, and I notice it feels really soothing on my breakouts. I can’t decide if this stuff is causing my blemishes or healing them, and I’m still unsure how I feel about this residue left over when I rinse off the honey.
To my extreme annoyance, I wake up to find three new pimples on my left cheek. I can still see the other blemishes, although they are slowly healing and fading. While I’m disappointed that the honey has (I assume) caused this breakout, I notice a new perk to my new face wash routine when I put on my makeup this morning: my face is no longer dry and flaky, an irritating side effect of the retinoid and salicylic-based face wash I had been using previously. My foundation slides on more easily and looks generally better.
By night, my breakout has neither disappeared nor gotten worse. I’m feeling really divided over the pros (softness, moisture) and cons (“residue” feeling, blemishes) of my little experiment.
Wow! By day five, I’m rethinking my former misgivings over this new honey routine. All the blemishes that had popped up since the beginning of the week have either diminished or disappeared, and I’ve noticed no new ones. Overall, my face feels smooth, soft, and healthy, with no tightness, dryness, or oiliness. I’ve also gotten used to the “residue” feeling, which I now believe is just the feeling of my naturally moisturized skin.
As I’m leaving my boyfriend’s tonight, he says, “Your skin looks really good today!” Empowered by his compliment, I hum a little as I massage my skin with honey before bed.
By this point, I’m a master at spreading honey on my face without contaminating my hair or leaving traces of stickiness on my hairline or under my chin (the trickiest places to rinse off). I’m also convinced that honey could become a staple of my regular beauty regimen. Although I do have one new blemish on my right cheek and one on my forehead, all the others have healed, and my skin looks so smooth and healthy. I’m ready to throw my Neutrogena face wash in the trash!
Overall, I count my honey experiment as a success. I definitely disliked the process of spreading sticky goop all over my skin and finding leftovers in my hair or wherever I forgot to rinse, and it smelled kind of awful (my boyfriend once walked in while I was washing my face and said, “That smells… not good.”), but I will gladly endure the stickiness and the smell for skin this soft and healthy. Also, I like knowing I’m not contaminating my body every day with potentially harmful chemicals.
As for my acne, I’ll need longer than a week to truly know how honey affects the health of my skin. My breakout this week may have resulted from hormonal fluctuations, or it may have been an initial breakout as my skin adjusted to a new routine. For now, I’ll stick with the honey and hope to see continued improvement.
This article was updated on June 6, 2019.