Can You Really Use Honey to Help Heal Acne?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What’s the short answer?

The short answer: It can.

Honey isn’t the magical end-all, be-all of curing acne and preventing future acne from ever popping up again.

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But it is known to have natural antibacterial and calming qualities.

These qualities may help soothe inflamed acne blemishes.

What type of honey are we talking about?

Any kind of raw honey contains antibacterial properties, thanks to its enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide.

Just make sure that your honey of choice is labeled as “raw.”

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Raw honey may also be labeled as:

  • natural
  • unheated
  • unprocessed

Honey that isn’t raw loses its antibacterial properties during the processing phase.

Maybe you’ve heard that Manuka honey is the best for acne healing.

While not widely studied, there’s some research that suggests this type of honey has even greater antibacterial effects.

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It’s thought that Manuka honey is still able to produce these properties even when hydrogen peroxide activity is blocked.

How does it work?

Honey’s main antibacterial effects may have to do with its high content of glucuronic acid, which gets converted to glucose oxidase.

On the skin, this oxidase is immediately converted to hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide functions similarly to other acne treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide.

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Honey’s calming properties may stem from the combination of:

  • peptides
  • antioxidants
  • vitamin B
  • fatty acids
  • amino acids

When applied to the face, these components can have a soothing effect and help reduce redness.

Is there any research to support this?

There’s some research, but there isn’t enough to support honey as an overall solution for acne.

Most of the available research on honey supports its wound-healing effects.

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Professionals have used honey to soothe a variety of wounds, including:

  • boils
  • burns
  • pilonidal sinus
  • venous and diabetic foot ulcers

The available research on honey’s role in beauty products suggests a wide range of uses in:

  • lip balm
  • hydrating lotion
  • hair conditioner
  • fine line treatments

One study found that honey can have effective antibacterial properties against staphylococci, a type of bacteria. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t the same bacteria that causes acne.

What type of acne blemishes can you use it on?

Honey is best for red, inflamed blemishes.

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Rather than cleaning out the pore to remove dirt and impurities, the honey draws out excess water.

This means it isn’t the best option for treating blackheads or open acne.

Honey is also ideal for soothing red blemishes or deep-rooted acne spots that don’t have a “head” or opening on the surface of your skin.

How do you use it?

You can apply the honey as a spot treatment to individual blemishes with a clean Q-tip.

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If you’re aiming to soothe a large area of skin, you can certainly apply the honey as an all-over face mask.

Just remember to perform a patch test on a small area of skin, such as the inside of your elbow, to make sure you don’t experience an allergic reaction or other irritation.

Allow your spot treatment or all-over mask to sit for about 10 minutes, then rinse it off with lukewarm water.

If you prefer a less sticky treatment, you can mix your honey with other ingredients like:

  • yogurt
  • ground oats
  • brown sugar
  • mashed bananas
  • cinnamon
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Allow the mixture to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse it off with lukewarm water.

There’s no need to wash your face again — warm water should do the trick.

Follow your honey treatment with the final steps in your skin care routine:

  • toner
  • moisturizer
  • sunscreen (SPF 30+)
If you want an over-the-counter (OTC) product

Not sure you want to go the DIY route? There are plenty of honey-based skin care treatments on the market.

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The Farmacy Honey Potion Renewing Antioxidant Mask (shop here) is a popular mask with a proprietary honey blend said to hydrate and deliver antioxidants to the skin.

If you have inflamed blemishes, Dr. Roebuck’s Tama Healing Mask (shop here) uses Australian Manuka honey to help soothe irritation and turmeric to help skin glow.

For those who aren’t sure they want to commit to a face mask, the SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Glow Getter Pressed Serum Moisturizer (shop here) combines honey with yogurt for a less intense treatment that melts into the skin.

Are there any side effects or risks to consider?

Although honey has calming and soothing effects, this doesn’t mean it’s suitable for every person and every skin type.

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Some skin types, such as sensitive skin, might get irritated by honey, propolis, or other bee products.

And if you’re allergic to honey, even the most trace amount in a DIY or OTC treatment can cause an adverse reaction, including a rash or hives.

Honey’s considered a by-product of bees, so it isn’t a viable remedy for people who are vegan or otherwise committed to minimizing the use of animal products.

How long until you see results?

As far as soothing and calming results, your skin should appear less red and inflamed the same day or the next day.

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Because the healing and antibacterial properties of honey aren’t quite as researched, it’s unclear how long it may take for blemishes to fully heal.

At what point should you consider a different approach?

If you don’t see results with continued use, it might be time to consider traditional acne medications or treatments.

This includes:

  • OTC topicals with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
  • prescription-strength topical retinoids, such as tretinoin (Retin-A)
  • oral medication, including birth control pills and spironolactone

On the other hand, immediately discontinue use if you experience any of the following after application:

    rash
  • bumps
  • hives
  • worsened acne
  • increased inflammation

What other options are there?

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If you’re looking for similar antibacterial effects, you can try using products with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

Tea tree oil is a popular natural alternative that may be suitable for oily or acne-prone skin types.

More severe acne blemishes might require prescription-strength medication such as Accutane.

Other in-office treatments, such as chemical peels, laser therapy, and light therapy, are also effective options for acne.

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One-time cortisone shots can be injected at a dermatologist’s office to quickly reduce severe blemishes.

To soothe irritation and calm redness, look into products with ingredients like:

  • aloe vera
  • calendula
  • chamomile
  • colloidal oats

The bottom line

Honey is by no means a magical cure-all for acne. However, it can have antibacterial and soothing effects that may curb irritation or redness caused by blemishes.

If you’re looking for an at-home remedy, honey might be a great place to start. But know that there are plenty of other options out there.

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If you’re unsure about honey or have other questions, you may find it helpful to speak with a dermatologist to determine which treatment is best suited for your needs.

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