Too good just for toast, slather honey on your skin.
Honey has long been used as an ingredient in skincare, recognised for its ability to hold moisture to the skin, but research is now focusing on other more penetrative benefits.
In recent years the distinct anti-bacterial properties of New Zealand's own manuka honey have attracted interest for wound dressing and now Comvita, a company at the forefront of promoting its medical application, is exploring its anti-inflammatory actions. Calming skin to deter the ageing effects of free radical activity is a core skincare goal.
Comvita, which exports honey-based skincare among its other natural products, is collaborating with the University of Auckland to learn more about how manuka honey works, with the aim of progressing from laboratory to skin tests.
Comvita scientist Dr Ralf Schlothauer explains that the primary research focus on manuka to date has been anti-microbial, but he is exploring anti-inflammatory and immuno-stimulation aspects.
Of particular interest is the effect on the MMP enzyme, a skin scavenger, which becomes more active when exposed to UVA and UVB. If this super oxide burst can be prevented - which is where the right type of honey looks to have a promising role - then internal inflammation and damage is lessened.
For the moment though, honey can at the very least be relied on as a good moisturising ingredient. It's one you will find in many skincare ranges and as these are often simple, natural-based ones, prices for honey-based products are usually reasonable. Should scientists be able to spell out enhanced anti-ageing benefits for honey, expect its use - and prices - to increase.
Today we look at a few of the ways the bounty of bees is being used in skincare. Not just honey, but the bee byproducts beeswax and royal jelly are also employed. As well as Comvita, companies such as Apicare have a long history using honey in skincare. Living Nature has just launched a standalone honey-based range called Natural Being aimed at young consumers and then there's the likes of the Great Barrier Bee Company.
If you're interested in learning more about the uses of honey a visit to the Honey Centre near Warkworth may prove interesting or check out Beesonline at Waiuku, or the Apicare Honey Store cosmetic outlet in Onehunga.
1. Living Nature Manuka Honey Rescue Gel $19.50
Blemish-prone skin will lap up this intense mix of manuka honey and manuka oil. It soothes and heals and the 10ml tube is easy to carry about to tackle trouble spots. Living Nature also dips into Northland hives for active honey to include in its day creams, including one for men, plus its night creams and a night gel, which is a texture best suited to combination, oily or acne-prone skin.
2. Apicare Manuka Natural Rich Day Creme $29.90 and Apicare Travel Repair Me Intensive Treatment Hand Cream $11.90
The day moisturiser for dry and mature skin comes from Honey & Herbs, an Auckland family company with a 20-year history of making skincare enriched with honey. The cream has a nice feel and contains hyaluronic acid, which like honey helps lock moisture into skin. The Manuka Natural range is Apicare's biggest and uses active manuka honey. There's also first aid and sensitive skin lines and a new selection of four 70g travel-sized products economically priced at $11.90, including the Repair Me hand cream (pictured), a facial moisturiser, a body butter and Cleanse Me, a space-friendly 4-in-1 face, hair, hand and body wash.
3. Comvita Active Lifting Serum $79
This serum is the top-of-the-range item in Comvita's relaunched face and body skincare selection made with manuka honey. The serum goes beyond the basics, adding red algae, keratin and mamuku (black tree fern) extract to its ingredients.
4. Burt's Bees Thoroughly Therapeutic Honey & Grapeseed Oil Hand Creme, 74g, $29
Honey and beeswax combine with jojoba and grapeseed oil in this effective hand cream which absorbs fast. Burt's also dips into the hive for its gel-style Radiance Facial Cleanser, which includes royal jelly, a protein-rich bee secretion which feeds queen bees and a mini-industry of claims of nutritional and topical benefits.
5. Natural Being Manuka Toning Gel $19
Natural Being is a credible and affordable new range aimed at younger skins. This non-drying toner is kinder to skin than astringent formulas, whether you're simply looking to refresh after cleansing skin or help refine pores and remove traces of oil. By adding honey to moisturise and anti-microbial manuka oil to ward off blemishes this gel adds extra oomph to an often downplayed skincare step.
6. MediHoney Gentle Body Wash 200ml $27.50
Hydrating soap-free formulation for sensitive skin, including eczema sufferers, from a range which includes a body lotion, barrier cream and wound gel. Like the rest, this creamy cleanser with jojoba is free of mineral oils, parabens, sodium laurel sulphate and synthetic fragrance or colouring, removing ingredients sometimes fingered for causing irritations. Comvita is the company behind the trademarked MediHoney name for its anti-bacterial manuka honey products, including some now being used in hospitals.
7. Living Nature For Men Manuka Honey Soothing Moisturiser $39.50
For men who want to soothe their face and neck with all natural products, Living Nature delivers one of its key ingredients, manuka honey, in this moisturising cream suited to men's thicker skins. There's a shaving cream for sensitive types to use beforehand. Harakeke is included in both, the flax gel added for extra hydration.
8. Oxygen Honey Mask $39.50
More light gel than sticky substance, this natural mask helps bind moisture to the skin, using manuka honey combined with aloe juice, apple and cucumber extracts. Suitable for all skin types, soak it up for 10 minutes before removing with a damp cloth for a soothed surface.
9. Evolu Refreshing Body Wash 500ml $25
Sensibly sized for the shower or basin, this gel wash contains conditioning manuka honey and aloe and has a refreshing unisex smell thanks to citrus, rosewood and juniper. Evolu's good Healing Lip Treatment with SPF15 also employs a generous dose of manuka honey.
10. The Body Shop Honey Bronze Shimmering Dry Oil $45 and The Body Shop Honey Bronze Bronzing Powder $32.50
Honey and beeswax add to the moisturising appeal of this shimmering, light-feel body oil and we like the cute honeycomb pattern on the range's bronzer, which is a matte-finish powder in four shades. The Honey Bronze products are part of a recently launched range celebrating the bounty of bees and highlighting global concerns about bee depopulation. The Body Shop is funding research in Britain into bee-friendly planting, encouraging the establishment of hives, and sourcing its ingredients from traditional bee keepers in Africa.
Manuka honey, used for both eating and in skincare, is often accompanied by a rating or described as active.
The unique manuka factor tag, or UMF rating, is a registered trademark of the Active Manuka Honey Association and may only be displayed by licensed users on New Zealand honey. It measures anti-bacterial properties and was developed at the University of Waikato to recognise those batches of honey with naturally present high (i.e. especially active) levels of 5 or above.
Manuka honey without a UMF rating may be active or not, but the internationally recognised rating acts as a consumer guarantee.
Comvita uses UMF ratings on its food products, but Dr Schlothauer says for skincare the measure is less meaningful. The company has followed the common cosmetics ploy of registering its own trademark, Huni XA, for the type of active manuka honey it uses.
* Manuka honey comes from the nectar of the Manuka tree (leptospermum scoparium).
* It is sometimes listed as Mel on ingredient lists.
* When used on wounds it needs to be in medical-grade sterilised form.
* Manuka oil is more effectively anti-bacterial than that from the related tea tree.
Stockists: The Body Shop from Body Shop stores. Other items from selected pharmacies and health stores, except Oxygen Skincare online only. Burt's Bees also at Smith & Caughey's, free ph 0508 734 466 for further stockist details. Comvita and MediHoney online or for stockists ph 0800 504-959. Apicare and the Apicare Honey Store, 333 Onehunga Mall, or ph (09) 634 4375. Natural Being. Living Nature. Evolu.