Honey has long been used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes and is often referenced in ancient cultures as a binder for herbal extracts and remedies. Dermatological applications are also well established, with the use of honey to treat wounds and burns dating back thousands of years. ¹ It is rumored that Cleopatra used to bathe herself in milk and honey centuries ago to keep her skin soft and beautiful. Modern science has clarified for us what Cleopatra seemed to know-honey is a natural, sustainable ingredient believed to both hydrate and heal.
Beekeeping, or honey gathering, is considered one of the oldest professions in civilization. The human relationship with honey and the honeybee is rich in symbolism and mythology.² In modern-day society, honey has been considered for conditions as varied as skin infections to anti-aging. Both honey-based cosmetic products and honey-based topical medicinal products are becoming increasingly popular.
Here are just a few of the touted benefits of honey:
- Honey is a natural moisturizer with the ability to absorb and retain moisture keeping skin hydrated and protected from wrinkles and dryness.
- Honey has natural antioxidant properties which help protect skin from the sun and ultraviolet damage.
- Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties allowing it to speed the healing of wounds, cuts and abrasions.
- This antibacterial property also helps keep skin clear by unclogging pores and killing acne causing bacteria.
How does honey help heal wounds and fight bacteria?
Honey is most commonly used in dermatology for its antimicrobial properties, which are thought to be due to the enzymatic release of hydrogen peroxide from the honey. Numerous studies have looked at the ability of honey to aid in the skin’s healing process as well as to inhibit and eradicate bacteria. But not all honey is the same. The antibacterial quality of honey depends on the type of honey as well as when and how it’s harvested. Some kinds of honey are more potent than others. Manuka honey, which comes from the honeybees feeding on the manuka tree, is often the honey of choice for medical application. Manuka honey contains MG, methylglyoxal. MG is thought to give manuka honey some of its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect. But, there may also be other compounds involved in the medicinal effect of honey. As a result of these properties, one of the most widely investigated applications of honey is in wound healing.
What is Propolis?
Honey is not the only product that bees make. Bees also produce a compound called propolis from the sap on needle-leaved trees or evergreens. When they combine the sap with their own discharges and beeswax, they create a sticky, greenish-brown product that is used as a coating to build their hives. This is propolis. Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations used propolis for its medicinal properties. Greeks used it to treat abscesses. Assyrians put it on wounds and tumors to fight infection and help the healing process. Egyptians used it embalm mummies.
One of the reasons behind propolis’ popularity is that it’s thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Propolis has been suggested to
- speed wound healing
- fight infections
- boost the immune system
- treat skin injuries
The composition of propolis can vary depending on the location of the bees and what trees and flowers they have access to. For example, propolis from Europe won’t have the same chemical makeup as propolis from Brazil. This can make it difficult for researchers to come to general conclusions about its health benefits.
Bee Colonies Are Declining
Bees are thought to be responsible for up to one third of the food on our tables through their ability to pollinate and support crops. Sadly, bee colonies are declining. In recent years the massive loss of bee colonies throughout both the United States and Europe, known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), has been documented. In the National Geographic 2013 Annual Report, it is estimated that from 2006-2013, 45% of the beehives in the United States have been eradicated. The reason behind the decline is not known, but parasite activity, poor nutrition and agricultural chemicals are assumed causes. ³
As natural bee colonies decline, there is a dedicated population of modern day beekeepers who are fighting to keep populations healthy and thriving. Denver’s own historic Brown Palace created The Bee Royalty Initiative. The Bee Royalty Initiative was developed to honor the regal nature of bees and their tireless work in providing one of humanity’s most prized sweeteners and healing elixirs. The project nurtures a small colony of rooftop bees that produce delicious honey to be served at Afternoon Tea. “Every bee is a gift to our planet, so our Palace bees are treasured guests. Every bee will be treated like a Queen on our blissful BP rooftop and the bees will receive the Royal Treatment from our dedicated Palace beekeeper, Matt Kentner.”
What the Research Says
Despite its many uses, scientific research on honey is still limited. As modern medicine continues to study this ancient compound, more of its reported healing properties and uses may be proven effective. Given the promising results of current studies, there is likely untapped potential for the dermatologic application of honey, and more investigation is clearly warranted.