By treating the eczema-affected area it’s thought to help keep the zone moist which helps to reduce flare-ups and aids the skin’s recovery. The high viscosity of honey is also thought to form a barrier for the skin which is helpful in preventing infection in the first place. Honey is well-known as a treatment for sore throats, wounds and infections, due to compounds it contains that kill bacteria. Manuka honey, in particular, is used in licensed wound dressings in the UK, though the value of it in the treatment of childhood eczema is yet to be proved.
That said, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence coming to the fore. Here we look more closely at Manuka honey and ask whether it’s worth trying it to see if it helps in relieving your child’s eczema. You may also like to read our review of natural eczema remedies which looks at Manuka honey alongside coconut oil, sunflower oil, vitamin B12, salt and oatmeal, among others. Do a bit of research and you’ll find lots of uses for Manuka honey (besides eating, that is!). From wound care to cancer treatment, the potential benefits of Manuka honey are now being taken seriously by the scientific community and there’s lots of research going on. While the value of Manuka honey in the treatment of childhood eczema is yet to be proved, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it can help. We look at the available scientific research into the effectiveness of Manuka honey in treating eczema and the practicalities of using such a sticky substance on children. Honey has long been known to have health benefits, with the ancient Greeks and Romans exploiting the healing properties of honey thousands of years ago.
It’s known to have an antibacterial quality which helps in wound management, so was a popular treatment method during the First World War. More recently, however, the use of honey in medicine has waned as a result of the introduction of penicillin and modern antibiotics, though it is well established in the wound dressing industry and is considered to be helpful in preventing acid reflux, gastroenteritis in infants, treating allergies and infections and relieving colds. Its wider medical use is relatively unexplored – while honey’s antibacterial qualities are well-known, scientists say that the way it works in fighting infection is not entirely understood. This means the development of honey-based medicine has lagged behind alternative treatments which are understood to a greater degree. What is known is that the mechanisms of antimicrobial activity of honey are different from antibiotics, which destroy the bacteria’s cell wall or inhibit intracellular metabolic pathways. The antibacterial activity of honey seems to be due to a number of factors including its acidity and sugar content, which are low enough and high enough respectively to inhibit the growth of most micro-organisms; its hydrogen peroxide component, produced by the glucose oxidase, which again inhibits micro-organism growth; and plant-derived components which can be unique to different honeys (read more here). It is thought that Manuka honey has antibacterial properties over and above other types of honey, and could, therefore, be useful in the treatment of a wide range of illnesses and ailments including, potentially, eczema. Manuka honey is produced by bees which gather pollen off the Manuka bush which is native to New Zealand. It can be bought from most supermarkets, health food shops and, of course, Amazon; and while certainly delicious, it is rather expensive. You may also come across Kanuka honey, made by bees gathering pollen from Kanuka bushes, which a close relation to the Makuka bush. According to the NHS, Manuka honey is thought to be particularly potent because it has ‘high levels of a compound called dihydroxyacetone, which is present in the nectar of Manuka flowers. This chemical produces methylglyoxal, a compound thought to have antibacterial and cell-killing properties.’ While research in this area is still in its infancy, the early results are encouraging. Research has shown Manuka honey to have a ‘broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity’ and that it is able to act upon more than 80 species of pathogen (a pathogen is a bacterium, virus or other micro-organisms which can cause disease). The NHS says it has been demonstrated that honey can inhibit pathogens normally capable of causing wound infection, including strains that are resistant to conventional antibiotics. In addition, there are early trials suggesting that Manuka honey may be helpful in reducing skin inflammation, which in turn can promote healing. The NHS notes there are a growing number of clinical reports that have shown that wound infections can be cleared by applying Manuka honey directly on the skin, although it points out that medical-grade, purified honey was used in clinical trials on wounds. There are different antibacterial strengths of Manuka honey so in order to guarantee that the honey is of medicinal quality, there is a trademarked rating system called the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). 5 is the minimum UMF rating you will find but it is worth noting that Manuka honey is generally not considered beneficial below a UMF 10+ rating. UMF 10-15 is useful; however, if you want to treat something, a UMF of 16-20+ is of superior quality and much more effective. This quick breakdown of UMF ratings can be used to decide the strength you require: UMF 0-4 Non-therapeutic UMF 5-9 Maintenance level with general honey benefits UMF 10-14 Antibacterial components to support healing and bacterial balance UMF 15+ Superior levels of phenols that are highly therapeutic. Do not exceed 1 tablespoon at a time at this level.
Other rating systems are in use so do check which system is being used when purchasing – you can find more information here. Officially, the jury is still out as there is no conclusive scientific evidence that Manuka honey can cure or alleviate eczema in children. However, a small study of adult eczema sufferers did find a noticeable improvement in 8 out of 10 cases treated for 2 weeks with a honey, beeswax and olive oil mixture. This supports the anecdotal evidence that some eczema sufferers do experience a beneficial effect, both through eating honey and through applying it directly to the skin.
However, a similar small study using Manuka honey to treat eczema showed no benefit over and above treating with aqueous cream. Application of Manuka honey to the skin is thought to help eczema by: Keep the skin moist which helps to reduce or remove the incidence of eczema flare-ups Reducing inflammation, which in turn can aid healing Inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, including Staphylococcus, commonly found on eczema-prone skin The high viscosity of honey is also thought to form a barrier for the skin which is helpful in preventing infection in the first place. Consumption of Manuka honey is also thought to boost the immune system – it makes sense to foster a healthy immune system when trying to reduce the impact of eczema. Applying Manuka honey to the skin – is it practical?