“She was one of those languid women, made of dark honey, smooth and sweet, and terribly sticky, who take control of a room with a syrupy gesture, a toss of the hair, a single slow whiplash of the eyes — and all the while remain as still as the centre of a hurricane, apparently unaware of the force of gravity by which they irresistibly attract themselves the yearnings and the souls of both men and women.”
– Patrick Suskind, Perfume
What a visual, right? The concept of honey is infused into our lives – honey-colored, sticky, sweet, thick, slow-dripping, the good stuff in life (with slight danger from the bees), a pure natural indulgence. Yum.
But more than its delicious sweetness, honey has been used for millennia for health and beauty.
Cleopatra reputedly bathed in milk, honey and sweet almond oil to keep her skin soft. Madame du Barry (the mistress of King Louis XV) was famous for her honey face masks (a habit that I too share + love!) Cave paintings depicting honey date back to over 15,000 years. It’s not surprising that our ancestors were crazy for the luxuriously sweet substance, especially when their traditional diets were almost sugar-free except for seasonal fruit!
And although we have lots of sweetening options these days – and lots of beauty products – honey deserves to stay on your must-have natural health + beauty ingredient list. Let’s see why…
What is honey?
Honey is made by honeybees, through a process where they convert nectar from flowers into the sweet stuff. They store the honey in cells of honeycomb, which is – you guessed it – made from beeswax. Honey has a different flavor based on the nectars collected by the bees – so your local honey will taste very different from honey collected in a different environment. Honeys range from a light golden color to dark amber, and the flavor can range from light and sweet to dark, syrupy to floral or herbaceous, depending on the bees’ environment! (source)
How is honey produced?
The quick answer is that beekeepers take the honey comb, extract the honey, and put it in jars. But in reality, you need to be a lot more careful about how you source your honey for health and beauty purposes.
Real honey (like our great-grandmothers would have eaten) is raw and minimally processed: simply collected from the hives, extracted from beeswax and put in a jar. However, this doesn’t lend itself to large-scale production – and so like much of our food-chain, companies have started processing honey before it gets on our shelves. This might include diluting the honey with sugar water or glucose syrup (!) or even pasteurizing the honey by heating it to kill any bacteria or enzymes – essentially denaturing the honey in my opinion. Maybe OK for a face mask, but not good enough to eat!
When buying honey, you want to look for raw honey. If you can buy it directly from a beekeeper, even better.
Why is honey good for your health?
Honey is a timeless natural health + beauty ingredient because it’s so versatile:
- Honey is antibacterial – honey contains natural antibacterial properties which mean it never goes off (although it might crystallize) and will kill and/or inhibit the growth of bacteria it comes in contact with. That’s why honey is used to treat skin infections, even in modern medicine.
- Honey is a humectant – that means honey attracts moisture to the skin.
- Honey helps the skin to regenerate – Honey is still used to heal the skin because it can seal off a wound from further infection – you’ll often find manuka honey used on skin ulcers and bed sores, even in allopathic hospitals.
- Honey is a cough suppressant – honey is brilliant for a sore or scratchy throat because it suppresses coughs, but also soothes irritated skin AND fights any bacteria present in your throat. Triple threat!
Not only does honey taste delicious, but you can find it almost anywhere in the world, and it also has a great consistency to apply directly to the skin or to incorporate into other products.
Favorite honey health and beauty recipes
What’s your favorite way to use honey as a natural health or beauty ingredient? Share your stories and tips in the comments!