Ashwaghanda. Astragalus. Camu Camu. Moringa. Mucuna. Tonic herbs. Vitamin IV drips……and Honey? Is it possible that in our earnest pursuit of optimal health and wellness that one of the simplest, most potent and also least understood superfoods is already in our kitchen pantry, hiding in plain sight?
Yes, honey is that staple that has been used for thousands of years and whose nutritional benefits have been recognized since Cleopatra, the Greeks and by both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. We use it for it’s all around good guy reputation as a healthy alternative to white sugar. It is so ubiquitous that it seems that we have taken if for granted and kind of forgotten about it.
Until now. The use of honey as both a supplement and in natural, luxe skin care is experiencing a kind renaissance in the beauty industry. But beauty seeker beware: not all honey is created equal. There is a significant difference in quality between the stuff you find in the supermarket in the squeezable bear bottle and the premium, dark colored Manuka variety from New Zealand that we find in health food stores.
So this leads us to ask: what’s all the buzz about?
If you are the kind of person that still looks at calorie counts then you might want to stop reading right now and give honey a pass. If you are also one of those people categorically against any kind of sugar -in all of its forms- we feel you. But if you are more concerned with the nutritional profile of a food and achieving superhero status then read on. Honey may not exactly be low calorie but who cares– it’s all about the nutrition, micronutrient profile and what a particular superfood has to offer in terms of the beauty arcana. Your basic supermarket (but still raw) honey variety will contain at least 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein. That’s already pretty decent for a something mainly used as a simple sweetener. Vitamin content generally consists of B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and certain key amino acids. Minerals present include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. But here we must emphasize that not all honey is created equal. Just as there are different grades of olive oil, so there are vastly different grades of honey. Said nutritional goodies will apply to at least araw version of honey; not the processed, bastardized versions of ‘table honey’ that is basically devoid of any health benefits and will only serve to elevate your blood sugar levels. When it comes to honey, it seems you do get what you pay for and reading labels and sourcing it is critical to ensuring you are getting the real thing. In essence, local, raw, unpasteurized, honey stored in a glass container is what we should be on the lookout for.
From the coastal regions of New Zealand comes a specific brand of honey so prized that it has led to a recent rash of hive/honey heists that authorities can’t seem to keep up with. New Zealand’s bees are being stolen and traded by organized crime syndicates seeking to profit from skyrocketing honey prices. “It doesn’t matter if it’s beekeeping or meth, this is just the new gold rush,” Laurence Burkin, apiarist manager at The True Honey Co in Dannevirke, north of Wellington, and himself a victim of hive thefts, told Reuters.
But exactly what is Manuka honey and why all the fuss? Firstly, Manuka honey is only produced in New Zealand from bees that feast on the native Manuka bush. With Manuka honey the magic is in the fact that while regular honey offers good nutritional benefits, those in Manuka seem to be amplified. For example, the known mineral content of honey is measured in its conductivity. Manuka honey has a much higher than normal conductivity, meaning that its mineral content is about 4 times that of regular flower honey. We say known because the complexity of this honey is still being studied and whose complete micronutrients profile and strength is not completely understood- not by far.
What we do know is that like all honey, Manuka honey is an antibacterial powerhouse, with medicinal grade internal and external applications that are being sought after more than ever before.
The blossoms of the Manuka flower happen to contain an antibacterial compound called methylglyoxal (MG), which remains highly bioactive once worker bees have transformed the nectar into honey. While other honeys can lose some of their antimicrobial capacity when exposed to light or heat, Manuka, thanks to MG, continues to work its antibiotic, anti-inflammatory magic even when sterilized for medical use. In other words… it is remarkably stable stuff whose nutritional benefits don’t seem to easily degrade. Any casual Whole Foods shopper will have no doubt noticed the UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor found on the labels. This is code for the quantity of the MG content, typically ranging between 5+ and 25+. Anything above 10+ is considered therapeutic, with prices rising accordingly.
The antibacterial quality is what helps to bestow Manuka with a superfood status. Not only does it provide nutrition but it helps to also prevent disease, just what we like in a superfood. Recent research has shown that in this age of superbugs and bacterial dominance Manuka honey could be the answer. Recent university and medical research has shown that when taken orally, this type of honey can perform duties such as heal mouth ulcers associated with chemo and lessen oxidative DNA damage in rats. In 2013, scientists at United Arab Emirates University found that, in combination with other therapies, intravenous administration of Manuka honey helped inhibit cancer tumor growth in mice. But the most promising research has shown that Manuka can kill more than 80 strains of bacteria, including the most drug- such as MRSA, a deadly type of staph infection, and Streptococcus pyogenes- highly resistant superbugs currently on the rise in hospitals.
When we understand what medicinal or “medi-honey” such as Manuka does for us internally it really comes as no surprise that it’s external applications are no less impressive. In hospitals we find Manuka honey in the form ‘occlusive honey bandages’—long used by doctors in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK for chronic wounds, infections and burns in trauma centers. As a wound treatment, Manuka not only draws out lymph fluids and helps to eliminate infection, it also acidifies skin’s PH to accelerate healing and sparks cellular rejuvenation by stimulating the production of growth factors and increased fibroblast activity. What does this mean for the rest of us beauty seekers looking to improve our skin and get that glow? Magic.
What Manuka honey will do to treat severe burns will also do wonders for people with all sorts of stubborn skin issues: acne, rosacea, pimples, and generally lackluster skin. How? Manuka helps to shut down the inflammatory cascade that degrades skin over time. It also stops enzymes called cathepsins from destroying collagen; and it has peptides that help cells release a molecule called NADPH, which boosts energy in the cells, a type of energy that, like everything else, slows down with age. The goal of wound healing is to help stimulate damaged cells to repair themselves and behave like healthy cells. In treating aging skin, the same goals hold true—to stimulate collagen production and help aging cells function like they did when they were young. Manuka honey’s unique combination of skin-soothing, hydrating, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties are exactly what make it a winner in terms of a skincare ingredient, whether solo or in combination with other botanicals. Looking for a way to solve your skin issues or simply in search of a way that to remove dead skin cells in a nonabrasive way and without disturbing the complexion’s delicate acid mantle? Honey, honey and more honey.
For those of you interested in taking the honey trend seriously we present OY-L, a ‘Zero chemical skin care’ that has everything we love in an all-natural, botanically active, small batch brand. Founded by Andrea Pierce-Naymon in Ohio, the cult line is great for what it doesn’t have (preservatives, parabens, and synthetic fragrance). But these days with just about everyone claiming to be ‘clean’ and ‘all-natural’, OY-L stands out because of what it does contain: real, natural, food grade, skin-food ingredients that both nourish the skin and smell ah-mazing. As the name indicates, OY-L products feature great oils but it also generously includes essential oils as well as the coveted Manuka honey. Each bottle or jar is even lovingly stamped with a batch number to indicate it’s homemade like quality and commitment to freshness.
OY-L Face Wash: oil and Manuka based with a ‘proprietary blend’ of essential oils. We aren’t exactly sure what this blend is but once you smell it you understand why the formula is kept secret. Its aroma is divine and highly addictive: I find myself sniffing it at random because…. well, just because. With the consistency of a buttery emulsion, the honey/oil concoction is highly effective at melting away makeup and debris. You only need a small amount of this potion for it to do its job and we love, love, love it. $18-$36 www.oy-l.com
OY-L Exfoliating Manuka mask: this sexy little number is my new mask favorite. As with the face wash, the first ingredient is honey and with that instantly earns my full respect. What makes this mask special (apart from the Manuka) is the addition of lavender buds which together with the honey are the active ‘exfoliation’ elements of this mask. Super gentle and enzymatically effective, which when left on long enough (20 minutes is recommended… but we left it on for an hour) the skin soaks up all that superfood goodness. The lavender and frankincense smell is to die for and when you open it up it looks like you might be able to eat it…but probably best you don’t. $60 www.oy-l.com