A Crash Course In Using Honey For Skin Care

Kristin Collins Jackson

The consensus is in: Honey is everything for your face. After a long period of praise in natural beauty circles, honey for skin care is starting to hit the mainstream, with plenty of people swearing by the stuff to replace their usual face wash.

Some people have hesitations about putting "bee vomit" on their face, but you can file that nomenclature slightly misleading: While this thoughtful article from the Huffington Post explains correctly that the flower nectar is stored in a bee's "honey stomach," that "stomach" is not the same place that bees consume and digest food. This is why most apiculturists, like the one in this article posted by the Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, refer to the place where honey is stored as a honey sac instead.

The process of how honey is made is quite unique and complex, which means the process of choosing a honey for your skin care regimen can be equally complex. Not every bottle of honey is created equal: A study done in 2011 revealed 30 commercial producers of honey contained no traces of pollen, plus lacked beneficial vitamins, and other natural constituents.

To help set the record straight on which honey is best for our skin, I spoke with Josh Markvan of LA Wild Bees. Markvan is a beekeeper in California whose mother passed on the apiary buzz to him and he's got heaps of info for us to effectively apply on our face. Here's his breakdown of the honey trend, plus tips for getting the most out of it.

What, Exactly, Is Honey?

Honey formation begins with bees collecting flower nectar that has broken down into simple sugars, then storing it in honeycombs. According to Markvan, the liquid has a high moisture content, so the bees vigorously fan the honeycomb with their wings in order to dry the honey. This curing process makes sure the honey will never ferment or spoil and causes the evaporation that creates the thick liquid of honey. The honey bees naturally make honey for their colony and because it's food for strength, it's loaded with nutrients that us humans can benefit from as well. B vitamins, calcium, zinc, potassium, and iron are just a handful of ingredients found in honey that we commonly look towards to alleviate mild skin conditions.

Why Are So Many People Putting Honey On Their Face?

Kristin Collins Jackson

Honey is the sole provider of food and nutrients to bees during bad and/or cold weather; therefore it's rich in some pretty amazing nutrients so bees can stay strong for all the hard work they do the rest of the year. In addition to all the vitamins mentioned above, Markvan says honey is loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants are great for acne, wrinkles, and dry skin. Raw, organic forms of honey have hydrogen peroxide which contributes to the antibiotic properties.

Is Raw Always Better?

Yes, raw is unequivocally always better when it comes to putting honey on your face. According to Markvan, other types of honey are heated and filtered during processing in order to make it flow faster during processing and increase the shelf life which unfortunately diminishes its flavor and enzymatic properties.

How Can You Make Sure Your Honey Is Legit?

Kristin Collins Jackson

Markvan explains that raw honey will have a slightly milky appearance and contain tiny flecks of solid material which are residual pollen and propolis. Keep an eye out on the labeling of your honey, so you can be sure purchase organic and raw exclusively for skin care. Also, liquid honey is always processed. While you can size up your honey in a container first, the best way to guarantee purity is to purchase honey from local beekeepers which is incredibly easy to do online. Not only does it enhance your honey-cleansing experience, but you can support local bee farmers and reduce the chances of using honey produced by exploited bees.

Why Isn't Honey Considered Vegan Skin Care?

Most beekeepers agree that bees will make more honey than their colony needs. According to the National Honey Board, one beehive will produce about 80 pounds of surplus honey each year on average. However, because honey is an animal by-product it is not considered vegan because the honey is made by bees for bees. Knowing where your honey comes from is important to ensure that best practices are taking place when obtaining honey and the bees are not being exploited.

Does Honey Actually Clean the Skin?

Kristin Collins Jackson

According to Markvan, honey is acidic, similar to our acid fruits like citrus, and the cleansing properties are due to both the acidity and the antioxidants naturally present in honey. One reason honey benefits both dry and oily skin is because it's a gentle cleanser. In fact, it's so mild that it definitely won't remove your makeup, so you'll want to take any off before you wash.

Why Is Honey Different Colors?

Honey can range from a light champagne color or a dark, IPA color for several reasons. According to Markvan, an early harvest will produce a lighter color honey and a late harvest will do the opposite. While some of the color differences depend on the floral profile and geography of the honey, Markvan can make your decision between light and dark honey pretty easy: the antioxidants tend to be higher in the darker, later seasons of honey. That's exactly what we want to be putting on our face.

Is Manuka Honey Really The Best Honey For Skin?

Many consider manuka honey to be a superior type of honey for skin care. However, it also comes with a higher price in the US, because the honey is produced by bees that pollinate the manuka bush which is native only to New Zealand and Australia. Most honey, even raw honey, is relatively inexpensive because the flowering nectar is domestic.

What Other Types of Honey Are Beneficial For Skin?

Depending on the flowering source, some honey will be more beneficial for certain holistic purposes or skin ailments than others. Markvan explains that avocado honey is made from bees that are predominantly foraging the avocado, which you might be familiar with as another desirable natural skin care ingredient. Most of the honey that we see in stores is considered wild flower honey, which is from bees that are foraging from an array of different flowers. Some types of honey are infusions, so it's worth doing some research to avoid misleading labels with a hefty price-tag. For example, according to Markvan, the pollen that affects respiratory tracts are not the same that bees forage for; Markvan explains that eucalyptus pollen for instance, is not wind born, it's pollinated by insects. The pollen bees use are too heavy and moist to be carried easily in the wind. That doesn't mean a raw, pure form of eucalyptus honey won't clean your face, it just may not be worth its price tag if you are solely using it as a skin care ingredient.

Now that your quest for knowledge has been satisfied with the science of honey, you can sweeten up your skin care safely and effectively.