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Mānuka Honey Is the Ultimate Reparative Skin Care Ingredient Experts Want You to Use

You just have to know what to look for.

<p>Marrakeshh/Getty Images</p>

Marrakeshh/Getty Images

Most natural beauty enthusiasts are familiar with using honey as a topical ingredient for a myriad of treatments, and for good reason. Studies show that honey helps reduce inflammation, heal wounds, treat acne, and acts as an emollient to seal in moisture. With that said, some forms of honey are superior to others, and the unequivocal best is Mãnuka honey.

Mãnuka honey has become somewhat of a phenomenon in the past few years, with farmers markets selling it left and right and a plethora of skincare brands claiming to contain it in its formulas. True Mãnuka comes slightly short of acting as a true “miracle ingredient”—both when used topically or when ingested—which is why so many brands claim to have it, but the truth is trickier than that. Often, brands will dilute the Mãnuka so much that its potency is weakened, will claim to have Mãnuka on the label only to have “honey extract” listed in the ingredient list, and some Mãnuka doesn’t come from New Zealand, where it originates. (We’ll get to why that matters in a moment.)

Rrue Mãnuka is such a potent ingredient, and one that every skin type can benefit from, so we had to sink our teeth into it to learn everything about it. From how it differentiates from regular honey and what the clinically-measured benefits are to the active ingredients it works best with and how to find authentic Mãnuka, keep scrolling.

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What Is Mānuka Honey?

In the most straight-forward of terms, Mānuka honey is a rare type of honey produced by bees from the nectar of the Mānuka tree that’s native to New Zealand.

“The New Zealand Mānuka tree is so revered is because New Zealand is a geothermal country,” says Pia Rampling, Global Marketing Manager at Mānuka Health. “Our soils are really mineral-rich and quite high in pH, and while a lot of plants find that really difficult to grow in, the Mānuka tree thrives and actually becomes more potent as a result of that unique environment, soil, and terroir.”

Furthermore, Kristen Sgarlato, Head of Product Development & Innovation at Naturopathica, explains that Mānuka honey is produced when beekeepers place their beehives in a Mānuka bush and let their bees forage on the nectar of the Mānuka flowers. “The honey produced there has distinct properties due to the environment and climate,” she confirms.

While it is now produced globally, the authentic and best Mānuka honey comes from the land of the Kiwis. In a similar way that authentic champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, the same goes for Mānuka honey.

Mānuka Honey Benefits for Skin

“Mānuka honey has been scientifically recognized as a natural antimicrobial ingredient and effective source of accelerated wound healing,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Because it contains proteins and vitamins, combined with an emollient and humectant property, it has been used topically in skincare to calm inflammatory skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and has traditionally been used to repair skin wounds and fissures.”

Furthermore, Deanne Mraz, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut, says it’s also nourishing and moisturizing, with humectant properties that draw moisture into the skin. “Mānuka is rich in antioxidants that defend the skin against free radical damage and repair oxidative stress, providing anti-aging benefits,” she adds. For that reason, it’s popularly used in lip treatments, masks, lotions, cleansers, after-sun products—it’s even used in haircare.

While using straight-up Mānuka honey directly on the skin works wonders, it’s also great when formulated with complementary skincare ingredients, such as vitamin C.

Difference Between Regular Honey vs. Mãnuka Honey

Regular honey has a myriad of benefits, but Mãnuka takes them to the next level. On a visual level, Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and founder of BeautyStat, says that an easy way to tell the difference between Mãnuka and other types of honey is that Mãnuka has a darker color.

Studies show that Mānuka honey differs from regular honey due to the presence of a compound called methylglyoxal (MGO), which makes it more potent in its antimicrobial abilities and antioxidant activity.

“This honey is thought to be more beneficial due to its low pH and higher osmolarity, making it more efficient at preventing the growth of pathogens,” says Dr. Nazarian. Furthermore, she says that Mãnuka honey is more effective and less likely to lose efficacy over time “because [Mãnuka] honey is also more light- and heat-stable.”

Furthermore, Rampling says that Mānuka honey also contains enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, “which are preserved through Mãnuka Health’s maturation process vs. normal honey which could be heated to high temperatures, removing any benefits contained within it.” Robinson explains that this is important because, if formulated incorrectly, Mãnuka honey can lose its anti-bacterial efficacy.

Rampling explains that Mãnuka Health uses whole honey vs honey extract, which is another very important factor. “To obtain honey extract, honey needs to be processed through freeze-drying to remove all moisture- therefore also removing beneficial enzymes, amino acids and small amounts of bio-actives among other things. By keeping the honey in its natural state, we ensure the potency and benefit of the mānuka honey is realized in the formulations.”

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Who Will Best Benefit from Using Topical Mānuka Honey?

Although Dr. Nazarian says many different skin types can benefit from the various uses of topical Mānuka honey, she finds it to be especially good for those with sensitive or inflamed skin, and skin that has an impaired barrier, such as dry or irritated skin. “Improving the skin’s barrier of hydration and stimulating repair pathways are vital for healthy skin,” she explains.

Furthermore, Dr. Mraz and Robinson say Mānuka honey is beneficial for acne-prone skin. “It’s great as long as it's not sitting alongside triggering ingredients like pore-clogging oils,” says Dr. Mraz, who also points out that it’s ideal for sensitive skin as it’s actually gentler than other types of honey.

What to Look For in Skincare Products with Mānuka Honey

As mentioned above, there’s a lot of Mānuka-washing in skincare that consumers should be wary of. “When honey is sent off shore in bulk, it becomes susceptible to adulteration,” explains Rhys Casley, General Manager of Apiculture at Mānuka Health. He recommends consumers look out for the, ‘Product of New Zealand,’ stamp represented by the silver fern trademark symbol, along with the UMF (Unique Mānuka Factor) label. Brands such as Naturopathica, for example, are UMF-certified 16+ and use Mānuka honey produced by beekeepers in New Zealand who are registered with the Official UMF Honey Association, an organization that oversees quality control of its members and inspects every aspect of the operation from honey collection, storage, bottling and labeling. Mānuka Health takes it a step farther by including scannable barcodes on its honey jars so people can trace the honey back to its origins.

In terms of which other skincare ingredients Mānuka honey pairs well with, Robinson says it works well with other hydrating ingredients like oils, butters, and glycerin—plus peptides. Furthermore, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid are two popular ingredients that pair well with the New Zealand honey, and other bee-derived ingredients that work harmoniously together to renew the skin are propolis and royal jelly. The big ingredient types to avoid mixing Mānuka honey with are retinol or high levels of hydroxy acids, according to Robinson, as the Mānuka’s emollient properties could exacerbate those already exfoliating ingredients and cause irritation.

How to Use Mãnuka Honey Skincare

Dr. Nazarian recommends integrating Mānuka honey into your everyday routine. “This is a safe and gentle ingredient that works well with most skin types and can be incorporated into a daily skincare regimen,” she explains.

Dr. Mraz recommends using heavier balms and creams for use on the body where they can soothe, nourish, and create an occlusive seal on the skin. “These are also great for spot treating areas of excess dryness like eczema patches or elbows,” she says. For the face, the dermatologist recommends using lighter formulations that aren’t mixed with comedogenic ingredients.

Mānuka Health’s skincare is geared toward younger skin, or skin that’s beginning to show slight signs of aging. “It inspires five signs of skin transformation including hydration, collagen, elasticity, texture, and it's got the bee venom as well, which is a natural Botox,” says Rampling. Its “Immortality Collection” offers a face cream, serum, lip treatment, and eye serum; whereas its ‘Pro Vitality’ line offers a vitamin C-infused face cream, serum, and hand cream that tackles dark spots. Naturopathica, on the other hand, offers a cleansing balm, oil, body lotion, exfoliator, and mist. For additional options, Manuka Doctor offers a hand and foot cream, facial oil, and overnight mask.

When shopping for your skincare, it’s just about finding the right product for your skin needs and making sure it has the correct certifications to ensure optimal Mānuka.

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