Does Honey Help Cystic Acne?

If you are one of the millions of people struggling with cystic acne, you are probably always looking for new ways to get rid of it.

But what do we do when all else fails and when all the products you’ve tried are just not working? 

Well, we turn to nature’s remedies for help.

And one thing that keeps popping up when you search for natural remedies for acne is honey.

Honey has been used as a natural remedy for centuries and is known to have many benefits for the skin.

It is a humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture, making it a perfect remedy for treating dry skin.

In addition, honey has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which make honey an ideal candidate for treating cystic acne.

But does honey actually help get rid of cystic acne? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Does Honey Heal Acne?

There is some scientific evidence that suggests honey can help heal acne.

One study found that honey performed just as effectively in healing acne lesions as benzoyl peroxide, which is a common treatment for deeper cystic acne.

The same study also concluded that while benzoyl peroxide reduced the number of the acne-causing bacteria known as C. acnes, the population density partially recovered by day three and fully by day seven.

This might even mean that honey could be superior to benzoyl peroxide in some circumstances due to its antibacterial but also anti-inflammatory properties, which is something benzoyl peroxide doesn’t have.

Another study also suggests that honey could be effective against acne because its antimicrobial properties can reduce microbial pathogenicity as well as reverse antimicrobial resistance, which is also something that benzoyl peroxide failed to do. This study suggests that honey could potentially be more effective at treating acne than antibiotics.

And lastly, a third study found that honey effectively reduced the number of acne lesions in participants exposed to the ingredient.

So, it seems that honey has the potential to heal or at least help reduce pimples, bacterial acne, and even deeper cystic acne in some circumstances.

What Makes Honey Effective Against Cystic Acne?

The primary reason honey is said to be good for cystic acne is due to its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Honey is abundant in a component called glucuronic acid. This acid is naturally converted to glucose oxidase before an enzyme known as catalase that’s present on the skin converts the glucose oxidase to hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide, belonging to the peroxide family, can act similarly to how benzoyl peroxide works on the skin.

And since this is a product of enzymes that live on the skin, hydrogen peroxide created this way is different than the one we buy from the store, and it won’t cause irritation the way the synthetic alternative does but will work in favor and benefit for the skin.

Additionally, as we already mentioned above, honey can be an excellent treatment for acne due to its natural calming and anti-inflammatory properties.

Honey is abundant in fatty acids, amino acids, peptides, antioxidants, and B vitamins, which are all components present in the skin and stuff we need to maintain clear, balanced, and healthy skin.

Additionally, these calming components can help speed up the fading of post-acne scarring, particularly the red marks that usually appear on fair skin and are a result of broken blood vessels due to inflammation from cystic acne.

The use of these non-irritating and soothing components can definitely offer a safer alternative to the antibiotics and antimicrobials currently available on the market.

This can be great news for anyone dealing with extremely sensitive skin as antibacterial ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, although effective, definitely come with their fair share of side effects, including dryness, irritation, sensitivity, and discomfort.

That said, although honey will help relieve inflammation, redness, and swelling due to acne, it hasn’t yet been proven that it can actually destroy the bacteria responsible for causing acne in the first place.

What Type of Honey is Best for Cystic Acne?

Not all honey is the same, and you want to be careful when choosing the one you plan on applying to your skin. 

For example, processed honey is easier to find; however, this type of honey has likely lost its antibacterial properties through the processing phase, which involves intense heating and adding sugars.

Therefore, the best type of honey for cystic acne is raw or pure honey, as these come straight from the hive and are available in filtered and unfiltered forms, but they generally don’t contain added ingredients.

They also have the most potent antibacterial properties, thanks to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide.

Additionally, Manuka honey may be another type of honey to consider as there has been some research that suggests it can help cystic acne due to the similar antibacterial properties present in raw or pure honey.

However, it’s worth mentioning that the research around this particular type of honey is relatively scarce, and another potential drawback of using it as a part of your skincare routine could be its high price.

Lastly, research has shown that the antimicrobial potency of honey varies significantly. Its effectiveness depends on where the honey is sourced, the health and harvesting of the plant, the season, and how it’s stored.

Like most natural ingredients, honey is delicate and requires packaging that eliminates exposure to light and air.

How to Use Honey For Cystic Acne?

There are several effective ways to use honey and help relieve discomfort from cystic acne and inflammation. Here are the easiest ways to incorporate honey into your skincare routine:

Cleansing With Honey

Honey is one of the best cleansing ingredients for skin that’s struggling with cystic acne and inflammation.

Not only will inflammation, swelling, and redness start to go down shortly after introducing honey into your skincare routine, but your skin will also start feeling plumper, softer, and more hydrated.

So, before starting your honey cleanse, you need to make sure that you don’t have any makeup left on your skin. You can use natural oils such as sweet almond, jojoba, or squalane to gently remove all makeup without irritating your skin.

Once it’s time for the second cleanse, you can scoop up around one or 1/2 teaspoon of honey out of the jar and gently massage it for about sixty seconds on damp skin.

After you’re done, you just have to wash the honey off with warm water, the same way you would remove a regular cleanser. Don’t forget to wash off your hands, neck, and any run-off that went down your arms.

Don’t worry; you won’t be sticky. After cleansing with honey, your skin will feel hydrated and comfortable, which is a stark contrast to the usually dry, dehydrated, and stretched feeling caused by foaming cleansers.

Using Honey as a Mask

Honey can also be used as a mask to soften, hydrate, and soothe inflammation on the skin. It can be used alone or mixed with other ingredients such as eggs, cinnamon, turmeric, yogurt, etc.

And since honey is very forgiving, it can be left on the skin for as long as you want to, so you won’t have to remove it after ten minutes like you would a regular mask.

Raw honey used as a mask on its own is definitely the best option for cystic acne, as mixing it with other ingredients like cinnamon could potentially cause more inflammation on the skin due to cinnamon’s ability to stimulate blood flow and trigger redness.

Using Honey as a Spot Treatment

Honey can also be a good spot treatment for inflamed, cystic acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties. You can apply a dab of honey on your spots overnight to help soothe inflammation, redness, and swelling.

Can Honey Make Acne Worse?

Although honey is a natural acne treatment that can help soothe inflammation on the skin and reduce acne lesions, it might not be the best option for everyone.

One thing to keep in mind is that honey can sometimes make acne worse.

This is usually because honey is a powerful humectant and can draw moisture from the deeper layers of the skin and towards the surface.

And while this sounds like something that would help hydrate the skin, it’s not always the case.

The moisture pulled from the deeper layers of the skin can easily evaporate if it’s not followed up with a good moisturizer that would create an occlusive layer and prevent it from doing that.

Additionally, some professionals in the industry have argued that since honey is made up of around 69% sugar, these molecules can actually dehydrate the skin by drying out the moisture in the pore lining.

And while this theory hasn’t been proven, it’s still very important to be careful while using just about anything on your skin, and this includes honey.

Therefore, make sure not to use excessive amounts of honey, always follow up with a good moisturizer that will help retain moisture into the skin, and observe the signs that your skin is sending you.

If you are using honey as a treatment for cystic acne, and you notice that your skin is becoming red, inflamed, and irritated, this is a good indication that honey isn’t the right treatment for you; therefore, you should discontinue it instead of forcing yourself to adjust to something that’s clearly not working.

Side Effects of Using Honey on the Skin

Although honey is known for its soothing effects on the skin, the pollens and bee protein that are naturally present in all types of honey could be potential allergens for some people.

And although the risk of having an allergic reaction when applying honey on the skin is low (it’s more of an issue when you eat it), honey isn’t entirely in the clear for all skins, and these issues may very well appear for someone.

This is why it’s always a good idea to do a patch test before applying anything to larger areas of the skin for the first time.

Instead of smearing honey all over your face, it’s best to dab a little bit of this sticky goodness behind your ear and observes whether a reaction occurs.

A reaction in a smaller area is easier to tolerate as opposed to dealing with a potentially dangerous allergic reaction in larger areas of the face or body.

Originally Published: March 01, 2022

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Analyzed by Simone Sydel

Hi, I’m Simone Sydel, a licensed esthetician and acne expert dedicated to helping others solve their skin issues including acne, eczema, and UV damage. I specialize in testing and reviewing the latest acne treatments and beauty products, offering honest, practical advice for skincare. I’ve helped hundreds of clients clear their skin and my skincare product reviews have been read by several hundred thousand people. Thanks for visiting!

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