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If you’re a fan of using honey in your tea or on your toast, just wait until you try it on your skin. It’s a triple threat: It fights acne-causing bacteria, soothes inflamed skin, and acts as a natural humectant for a dewy finish.

But for the biggest benefits, not just any honey will do. You’ll need Manuka honey.

This type of honey is made by bees that collect nectar from a wild shrub native to New Zealand. Among its many attributes are its supercharged anti-inflammatory properties.

Here’s why that makes Manuka honey so special and why you should consider incorporating it into your skin care routine, plus a few products to help you get started.

“Manuka honey, aka medicinal honey, is a single-origin honey produced from the nectar of the Manuka bush,” explains Natalie Aguilar, a celebrity facialist and dermatological nurse. “The Manuka flowers are only found in specific microclimates that are native to New Zealand.”

Plus, those flowers only bloom a few weeks out of the year. In other words: This stuff is rare, which means it can also be expensive.

Still, Manuka honey stands out for more than its limited availability and price point.

Antimicrobial properties

All honey has antibacterial properties. But the way Manuka honey produces these antimicrobial effects is what makes it different.

“What sets Manuka honey apart from other honeys is its magic ingredient methylglyoxal and its non-peroxide antibacterial activity,” Aguilar says. “These unique properties have been identified in successfully treating certain skin conditions, such as burns, acne, and wounds.”

There’s also preliminary evidence that Manuka honey may offer healing properties for atopic dermatitis, or eczema.

When it comes to plain old skin care, Manuka honey can help prevent acne-causing bacteria while simultaneously nourishing the skin’s microbiome. Plus, as a natural humectant, it pulls in moisture from the air for plumped, hydrated skin.

Rating system

Not all Manuka honey is created equal.

In fact, the prized honey has its own rating for its antibacterial and potency properties called the Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF.

“UMF is an advanced grading system of the honey’s bio-active chemical compounds (such as methylglyoxal, leptosperin, dihydroxyacetone, and non-peroxide activity), and it’s used to indicate the quality, rating, and authenticity of the product,” says Aguilar.

A larger UMF number means better quality and more antibacterial activity. This number comes in handy when you’re shopping for Manuka skin care products.

“Sadly, like many expensive and rare products, Manuka honey is also subject to copies and passing off,” says Claire Perry, the brand director at Manuka Doctor.

“Some dishonest companies have been caught either diluting their Manuka honey with cheaper European honey or artificially adding chemicals to make their Manuka appear stronger than it once was.”

Aguilar advises checking the UMF rating to identify authenticity, potency, and purity of a given product for a specific skin care need. In general, look for ratings above 16 on skin care products for best results.

Keep in mind that most major skin issues are caused by inflammation, which makes Manuka honey a no-brainer additive in skin care products.

The sweet ingredient is a workhorse, balancing the skin’s pH, sloughing off dead skin cells, decreasing acne-driven inflammation, sweeping away bacteria, healing pimples, and leaving skin soft and hydrated.

Plus, “it’s increasingly being used in anti-aging creams, because it may help improve the appearance of wrinkles by helping damaged skin function more like young, healthy cells,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai’s department of dermatology.

That’s why you’ll find it blended into numerous products, from cleansers and eye creams to moisturizers and masks.

While you can certainly use straight Manuka honey, you might need to dilute it with a few drops of warm water. Don’t worry, it won’t affect the antibacterial properties. You can then use it as a cleanser, mask, or spot treatment for blemishes.

Another option is a pre-made product that blends Manuka honey with other potent ingredients. I’ve tried some great options. Here are my top recommendations.

Antipodes Manuka Honey Skin-Brightening Eye Cream and Day Cream

  • Price: $$$

These products were my official introduction to Manuka honey skin care, and I was immediately impressed.

The eye cream is designed to minimize dark circles by brightening and hydrating that delicate under-eye area. Spoiler: That’s exactly what it does. It’s rich and thick, but it soaks in easily and makes for a great base if you’re using concealer.

There’s no greasiness, no telltale gleam — just brightened, hydrated skin that lasts all day long. It does contain fragrance though, so skip this one if you’re pregnant.

I had a mental hurdle to clear with the day cream, because facial moisturizers tend to leave me shiny and overly greasy. Plus, between oil cleansing and my favorite facial oils, a moisturizer can feel a little redundant.

Color me surprised when I smoothed on some of this day cream as a last step in my skin care routine and discovered it’s my ideal finishing touch. It leaves my skin mildly dewy in the best way and, yes, noticeably brighter.

In addition to Manuka, both products contain a grape seed extract and kiwi fruit blend, and I find that the combination works absolute wonders.

Qēt Botanicals Honey Cream Mask with Active Manuka

  • Price: $$$

Manuka honey meets Moroccan lava clay and a trio of potent oils in this soothing mask.

“The celebrity and first ingredient in our mask is the Manuka itself,” says Lisa Brill, the founder of Qēt Botanicals.

“We wanted to offer a specific, Manuka-forward mask because of the naturally potent properties it carries that help skin be its best… Manuka offers vital amino acids, vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and even zinc — all skin-loving, and all wonderful.”

And all true! The mask doesn’t smell particularly sweet, and it’s darker than I expected. But mixing it with a few drops of water creates an almost clear honey veil that spreads easily. It’s highly concentrated, and a little goes a long way.

A steamy washcloth easily wipes away the product, and the mask leaves my skin feeling incredibly soft, smooth, and perfectly hydrated.

I tend to use face masks sporadically. But Manuka honey masks are gentle enough for more frequent use, and this one in particular can be used daily. Because it leaves my skin so fresh, clean, and clear, I’m all for that.

Savor Beauty Manuka Honey Mask

  • Price: $$$

This natural exfoliating mask is particularly beneficial for dehydrated, dry, or breakout-prone skin thanks to a blend of Manuka honey, papaya and apricot enzymes, and rice bran.

“It has enriched organic Manuka honey that soothes inflamed skin. [It also draws] in moisture for dehydrated skin as papaya and apricot enzymes slough off dry, flaky skin,” explains Angela Jia Kim, the founder of Savor Beauty.

The thick, golden mask feels rich and indulgent on my skin. It doesn’t dry like traditional face masks, staying sticky and moist.

I love the brand’s suggestion of applying it pre-shower, so the steam can melt the honey into my skin. It’s billed as a glow-booster, and I think it absolutely delivers.

Naturopathica Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm

  • Price: $$$

When I pictured a Manuka honey cleansing balm, this is exactly what I had in mind.

The balm looks like creamed honey, and it smells sweetly fragrant. You apply it to dry skin and then massage it in with wet fingers before wiping it off with a warm washcloth. This seems to be the standard approach with Manuka honey skin care products.

An excellent bedtime product, this balm gently clears away makeup, sunscreen, and general yuck that accumulates throughout the day, and it leaves my face fresh and bare, primed for a good facial oil.

The Naturopathica product development team tells me that their Manuka is sourced from New Zealand and has a UMF of 16+.

“It’s the star ingredient in the cleanser because it boasts the cleansing power of the product and leaves skin soothed and nourished, never tight,” says a rep for the company.

In two words: highly recommend.

Manuka Doctor Exfoliating Cleanser

  • Price: $

If you’re looking for a little exfoliating action on top of the hydrating and soothing goodness that Manuka delivers, this cleanser from Manuka Doctor has you covered.

You apply the daily cream cleanser to dry skin (avoiding the eye area because of the teensy exfoliating particles), and then you massage it in with wet fingers.

I often find exfoliating cleansers leave my skin feeling tight, but that’s not the case with this one. Maybe it’s the Manuka honey, or maybe it’s the beeswax or hyaluronic acid. All I know is this has to be one of the gentlest and most effective scrubs out there.

One note — it does contain parfum. Artificial fragrances can be irritating to people with sensitive skin, and shouldn’t be used by people who are pregnant.

Lano Golden Dry Skin Salve

  • Price: $

The exceptionally dry high-desert climate of my home state means dry skin is a constant adversary. I have little tubes of lotion everywhere: downstairs, upstairs, in my bag, in my car, you name it.

But after using the Lano Golden Dry Skin Salve, I’m not reaching for any of them. Dry knuckles and elbows are a thing of the past, thanks to this incredibly rich formula. It’s a small tube, but a little dab of this rich yellow ointment goes miles. I find that the combination of lanolin, vitamin E, Manuka honey and beeswax is literal magic.

Fair warning: It can be a little stiff coming out of the tube, so be prepared to warm the salve between your fingers before dabbing it on those scaly spots.

Some reviewers say they had success using the salve on eczema, something founder Kirsten Carriol anticipated.

“Manuka honey is widely known for its proven antibacterial properties. I included it, because we knew a lot of people using [the salve] may have severely compromised skin and symptoms of itchiness, flaking, or cracking,” she explains.

“The antibacterial properties of Manuka honey are intended to protect skin from bacteria while enhancing the power of the lanolin and vitamin E in the formula.”

Dealing with inflamed, itchy, cracked, flaky skin? This is how you fix it. Oh, and try it as a cuticle cream!

In the world of natural skin care, Manuka honey holds its own. This soothing yet seriously potent ingredient could be all you need for bright, clear, hydrated skin.


Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.