Manuka honey is the homecoming queen of the beauty world this year. And like the homecoming queen at your high school, it’s really good at a lot of things.
But beyond soothing allergies, fighting bacteria, and even helping you sleep better, one of the biggest promises Manuka honey offers is its supposed ability to fight acne. Even celebs like Kourtney Kardashian claim it’s helped zap stubborn zits.
Could slathering this specialty honey from New Zealand bees really clear up your complexion? Here’s what dermatologists have to say:
Why Manuka honey works for acne
Basically, what makes it great for your skin in general makes it really work for acne, says Karen Hammerman, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group.
“Its anti-inflammatory effects can decrease acne inflammation, and as an antibacterial, it leaves few bacteria to infect pores and cause acne,” Hammerman says. This should help existing breakouts look less red and swollen, and prevent future painful pimples.
It can also help slough away dead skin cells, she says—keeping them from clogging your pores and causing blackheads and whiteheads. The soothing and hydrating properties of the sweet stuff can heal existing pimples, and it can help speed up recovery from old acne scars, says New York City dermatologist Arash Akhavan, M.D., founder of the Dermatology and Laser Group.
How to use it
As a spot treatment, just dab a small amount onto an existing pimple and let it sit. “Leave it be and let the honey work its antibacterial magic,” says Hammerman. The earlier you catch a pimple forming, the better and faster results you’ll see.
Since the honey is so hydrating, using it as a cleanser is a nourishing option for skin dried out by acne treatment products. Dilute a generous dollop of Manuka honey with a few drops of warm water. “Gently massage the mixture using your fingertips on the face in circular motions. Rinse off and pat dry,” says Akhavan.
You can also make a mask by mixing ground oats, Manuka honey, and lemon juice into a paste. Apply and leave on for up to 15 minutes, instructs Hammerman. Or if using just the Manuka honey alone as a mask, leave it on for longer—about 30 minutes, she says. Then wash with warm water and pat dry.
Are there any downsides?
Keep in mind that even if you’re not ingesting it, honey comes with a risk for some. “Allergic reactions are possible, especially if you’re allergic to bees or pollen,” says Sejal Shah, M.D., founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology. So if you’ve got a bee allergy, stay FAR away from this stuff.
If your pollen allergies are minor, play it safe and do a spot test. Dab a small amount on your chin or neck, let it sit for several minutes, remove, and see if there’s any reaction. If you’re not itchy, red, or swelling, you’re in the clear to use it on larger parts of your skin.
What to look for
Manuka honey is a very specific type of honey that comes from New Zealand (specifically, from bees that pollinate the Manuka plant), but lots of brands are jumping on the bandwagon with imitation stuff that don’t offer the same benefits.
“Labels such as ‘raw,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘pure’ are not enough to guarantee the product carries all the medicine properties,” says Hammerman. It must be produced and packaged in New Zealand.
There are a few grading systems that appear on Manuka honey that should help you see how legit a product is (and how potent its antibacterial powers are). The UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) is a grading system set up by the UMF Association in New Zealand. A product with this label should have a UMF of at least 15 in order to be effective, says Hammerman. For products rated on the MGO system (which you’ll see on products like Manuka Health), Hammerman says the number should be at least 250.
“Some varieties are stronger than others in terms of antibacterial potency, and the label should explain that,” adds Hammerman.