Skin Like Honey

Honey Skin
Video: Emily Wraith

Trendy skincare ingredients come and go, but give me something that’s been passed on from grandmother to child over centuries and across the globe and I’m definitely less skeptical. Quite justly, much ado has been made over one of New Zealand’s greatest exports, Manuka honey, which has an amazing ability to maintain its antimicrobial properties and wound-healing bioactivity, even after its been exposed to heat or light during production. Hence, why you’ll find K-Factor ratings on labels of Manuka honey at health food stores that indicate its potency. But now it seems pretty much every kind of honey is having a moment, boasting benefits that range from treating adult acne to boosting radiance to reducing pore size to preventing signs of premature aging. (There’s even a Korean Beauty esthetic called ‘Honey Skin’ used to describe a plump, dewy glow that’s trending in social media, though seemingly unrelated.)

One glorious day last summer, I was invited to experience my first facial at Province Apothecary in Toronto. A lot of editors buzz (the puns, I’m so sorry) about this little brand, in part because it’s so easy to fall in love with the founder and head facialist, Julie Clark, but also because of how well her small-batch products work. After struggling with allergies and eczema since she was a child, Clark returned from New York to study the art of aromatherapy and esthetics, eventually designing her own line of organic skincare and opening an accompanying clinic in Toronto. One of the things that really stuck with me was the part during my custom facial when she used straight, raw honey sourced from a team member’s father, who’s a local beekeeper in Jordan, Ontario, on my face.

Clark first warms up the honey to make it malleable, then spreads the gooey goodness all over, lifting it off after several minutes in a way where the slight tackiness sort of tickles and massages as it’s removed. She explained how rich honey is in enzymes, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, how it’s also anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and the perfect DIY mask to tighten and hydrate (it’s also a natural humectant) the day before any special event. She also stressed how the honey needed to be unpasteurized in order to keep all the skin-soothing benefits intact. She recommended sourcing the grade-A shit from local farmer’s markets, and Province Apothecary provides recipes like this one as a spot treatment for acne and scars (for a good all over facial recipe, check out this one from Drunk Elephant, too.)

Turns out, British facialist Alexandra Soveral has been using real honey in her A-list facials for over 15 years as well, as pointed out by Vogue last summer. Her preference is pure acacia honey, which she blends with select plant extracts to detoxify and to coax glowiness using her signature mechanical sloughing method, without doing damage to the skin. But I doubt any of the results are as dramatic as this woman’s after she cured her seborrheic dermatitis using raw honey she purchased online last fall. Because honey has anti-fungal properties as well, it actually proved more effective for her than the steroid cream that she had been prescribed—and the before and afters are completely bonkers.

And while honey is no stranger to skincare by any means (I can remember Guerlain’s Abeille Royale since I was a baby beauty editor), I feel like it’s suddenly cropping up all over the place. Shortly after my visit to Province Apothecary, I attended a press junket at the beautiful Langdon Hall outside of the city for the launch of Valmont’s L’Elixir des Glaciers Essence of Bees collection. The brand uses three parts from the honey comb to maximize the efficacy of their new line. The range, which includes a beauty oil, an eye lifting serum and a massage mask, contains a complex comprised of the moisturizing honey itself, royal jelly (a milky bee secretion, dubbed “superfood”, fed to larvae to nurture Queen Bees) and lesser known propolis (the glue-like mixture of saliva and beeswax used to keep foreign bacteria at bay). Sourced from the purest flowers high on the mountains of Switzerland, the price tags are just as steep.

Around the same time, Farmacy was launching their honey-based skincare line, and this spring, Naturopathica (who was already selling fortified honey syrups you drink by the spoonful) is getting in on the Manuka game with a new cleansing balm (even Burt’s Bees tapped the stuff for their spanking new cosmetics range.) But the question is, just how potent are honey’s benefits once distilled into a skincare—or cosmetics—product?

Some honey enthusiasts say it’s like cooking. Raw consumption will reap maximal benefits; pasteurized (meaning, partially sterilized by way of heating) will produce reduced, yet still nutritious results. However, Dr. Lorna Fyfe, senior lecturer in microbiology and immunology at Queen Margaret University in the U.K who co-wrote this article on the therapeutic benefits of honey on skin, maintains that as long as the raw honey is very active (such as Manuka from New Zealand or Remavil from the Netherlands) from the start, then it will still be very active after it has been pasteurized. Either way, if you’re more do-it-for-me than DIY, check out these honey-based skin products below.