Manuka Honey for Acne – A Novel Treatment for Pimples and Acne Scars


Manuka honey is a strongly-flavored honey that has been shown to exert anti-bacterial effects against a wide range of microbes in numerous studies. Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes for short, is one of the bacteria that appear to have trouble surviving when exposed to manuka honey. This is great news for the millions of teenagers and adults who suffer from acne vulgaris, a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules, pimples, seborrhea (scaly red skin), and sometimes scarring.

In this article, we take an in-depth look at how manuka honey can help treat acne by killing P. acnes bacteria and by healing acne scars.


Role of Bacteria in the Development of Acne Vulgaris

P. acnes bacteria live deep within follicles and pores where they feed on sebum (an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands) and cellular debris. Hyperactive sebaceous glands releasing excessive amounts of sebum, or a blockage of the follicles, can cause P. acnes bacteria to multiply at a rapid rate if not controlled by antibacterial agents such as manuka honey, tea tree oil, or benzyol peroxide. Rapid growth of P. acnes in the follicles and pores, in turn, can cause inflammation due to the metabolic by-products and bacterial debris produced by P. acnes. This inflammation can lead to the pimples associated with acne.

Furthermore, skin damage caused by P. acnes and the associated inflammation can make your skin more susceptible to colonization by other bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis). However, it is not clear whether these bacteria can actually make acne worse or whether their presence is just a harmless side effect.


Manuka Honey as a Remedy for Acne

Manuka Honey as a Remedy for Pimples

Manuka honey is a mono-floral honey made by bees that collect the nectar of the tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium, also known as the manuka tree, manuka myrtle, or New Zealand teatree. This distinctively-flavored honey has been shown to exert exceptionally strong anti-bacterial effects against a wide range of microbes, including acne-causing P. acnes. It has also been shown to inhibit to growth of S. aureus.

So how does manuka honey fight acne-causing bacteria and other microbes?

Low pH, the presence of hydrogen peroxide, and hygroscopic properties are thought to give most honey varieties their anti-bacterial properties; however, manuka honey also contains other compounds that are believed to contribute to its exceptionally strong antibiotic qualities. Methylglyoxal (MGO or MG) is an anti-bacterial compound that is abundant in manuka honey. The methylglyoxal in manuka honey is derived from dihydroxyacetone, a compound that is found in high concentrations in the flowers of the New Zealand tea tree.

It has also been proven that the higher the concentration of MGO, the stronger the anti-bacterial effect. If you want to buy manuka honey with exceptionally strong anti-bacterial properties, look for "UMF Manuka Honey" or "Active Manuka Honey" which have high UMF ratings. UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor, is a measure of how much MGO a specific honey sample contains. Check out Amazon's selection of active manuka honeys here (or here if you live in the UK).


Can Honey Help Heal Acne Scars?

Manuka honey, like other types of honey, are known to promote wound healing. Honey-treated wounds have been shown to heal faster than those treated with conventional methods, but honey also appears to reduce scarring and depigmentation on wound sites. While further, more specific research is needed to assess the ability of honey to heal acne scars, the results of studies focused on the ability of honey to prevent scarring in general are certainly something acne sufferers should take note of.


Note: Manuka Honey and Tea Tree Oil Are Not Related

Tea tree oil is one of the most-researched natural remedies for acne, and numerous studies suggest that this essential oil is effective at killing P. acnes. However, despite its name, tea tree oil does not come from the same plant as tea tree honey (manuka honey). Tea tree oil is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree, also known as Narrow-leaved Tea-tree, which is native to Australia. Manuka honey, by contrast, is made by bees from the nectar of the Leptospermum scoparium tree, also known as the tea tree, manuka tree, manuka myrtle, or New Zealand teatree.


References:
1. Qiong Wu (2011). Thesis: Antimicrobial effect of Manuka honey and Kanuka honey alone and in combination with the bioactives against the growth of Propionibacterium acnes ATCC 6919, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand.
2. D.J. Willix, P.C. Molan, and C.G. Harfoot (1992). A comparison of the sensitivity of wound-infecting species of bacteria to the antibacterial activity of manuka honey and other honey. Journal of Applied Bacteriology, 73(5), 388-394.
3. Christopher J. Adams, Merilyn Manley-Harrisa, and Peter C. Molan (2009). The origin of methylglyoxal in New Zealand manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey. Carbohydrate Research, 344(8), 1050-1053.
4. Elvira Mavric, Silvia Wittmann, Gerold Barth, and Thomas Henle (2008). Identification and quantification of methylglyoxal as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honeys from New Zealand. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 52(4), 483-489.
5. Subrahmanyam M. (1996). Honey Dressing for Burns - An Appraisal. Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters, vol. IX, n. 1, March 1996.



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