Honey is a product of nature that has been used to aid wound healing for ages. Manuka honey has been used for wound healing due to its anti-bacterial properties (1). Manuka honey can be used to treat many skin diseases, including eczema. As we know, eczema is a skin disease in which skin becomes inflamed and itchy (2). Eczema may be caused by several factors including food allergies, genetics, and environmental exposure such as allergens, pet dander, chemicals, and dust mite. (link to eczema trigger article). In this article, we will discuss treating eczema with honey and whether it can help your child.
What is Manuka honey?
For centuries, honey has been used universally for its healing properties in treating skin burns, wounds and ulcers. (1) There are different types of honey such as clover honey or buckwheat honey. In this article, we are focusing on manuka honey for its wound healing and medicinal properties. Manuka honey is derived from a tree called Manuka tree and its scientific name is Leptospermum scoparium. It is produced from South East Australia and New Zealand. There are ongoing studies investigating various properties of manuka honey such as its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, anti-oxidant and anti-fungal properties (3). Many people are interested in treating eczema with honey due to its properties.
What are the benefits of honey?
There are many benefits to using honey given its wide application to help with the following conditions:
Wound care: Honey has been found to aid in wound healing as discussed above due to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities
Diabetes: Honey has been shown in research to decrease blood sugar because it has a lower glycemic index compared to sucrose or glucose.
Cancer: There is research showing that honey can help various types of cancer including melanoma, bladder and kidney cancer, etc.
Asthma: Honey can decrease asthma symptoms and prevent asthma from being exacerbated
Cardiovascular disease: Honey contains antioxidants such as flavonoids, polyphenolics, Vitamin C, and monophenolics, which reduce the risk of heart disease
Neurological conditions: Honey may help reduce memory disorders. It also has anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and antinociceptive properties, which can help anxiety, depression, seizures, pain respectively.
Gastrointestinal diseases: Honey may help periodontal disorders, dyspepsia, oral rehydration therapy. In children with gastroenteritis, it shortened the duration of diarrhea while hospitalized. (5).
Can honey help eczema?
Many medications we use were once derived from plants, but to mass produce medicine, they are manufactured synthetically. There are concerns regarding these types of pharmaceuticals, so many mothers ask about alternative options for treating eczema. Mothers are hesitant to use synthetically derived medicine and look for alternatives or holistic options. Manuka honey, which has been used for centuries has been found to clinically help eczema by decreasing inflammation and itchiness. (6)
There is more evidence showing that manuka honey can be helpful for atopic dermatitis (AKA eczema). A case study showed a woman who developed a severe exacerbation of her eczema after getting henna tattoo. Her symptoms dramatically improved after using topical manuka honey. In this case, the patient purchased and treated herself with manuka honey on her own volition. Her skin dramatically improved after starting treatment with a topical manuka honey (7)
How does Manuka honey help eczema?
There are many molecular structures in manuka honey that makes it effective in wound healing. Methylglyoxal and glyoxal are the key components of manuka honey that aid in wound healing through their antimicrobial and antioxidant activity (7). Another aspect of manuka honey is that it might help decrease Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a common bacteria that is found in increased numbers on children with eczema. On a side note, I discuss in another article how using bleach bath can help reduce S. aureus and thus help improve your child’s eczema (link to bleach bath). (8)
What are the side effects and risks of using manuka honey?
Some people may have an allergic reaction to honey, especially if they have allergies to bees. Although studies show that honey can decrease blood sugar, for some it may have the opposite effect and increase it. Finally, it may interact with blood thinners and seizure medications if taken by mouth.
With said, always consult with your doctor before starting a new product. Also, these potential side effects are not likely to be an issue for children using manuka honey topically, except for bee allergies IF your child has an issue with this. Also, if your child has diabetes, discuss with your doctor before starting any new product with honey.
Also, please DO NOT give children less than 1 year of age honey by mouth. There is the danger of accidentally introducing a bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. For children older than 1 year of age, their digestive system has matured to the point they can remove the toxin easily and thus it will not affect them.
I hope this article answers your question about treating eczema with honey. Based on the evidence, it seems that manuka honey has great potential to help children with eczema. There is plenty of evidence that honey can aid in wound healing. There is still ongoing research on whether it can help other medical problems such as asthma, cancer, neurologic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, etc. In regards to eczema, there seems to be evidence that honey can help, but more research is needed. With that said, if you do decide to start using a product with manuka honey, consult with your doctor first to make sure it won’t interact with medications your child may be taking and to make sure your child doesn’t have allergies to any product made by bees. Click the link for the best moisturizers for eczema.