Living with psoriasis isn’t easy. The skin condition causes not only physical discomfort, but can be emotionally stressful as well. Since there isn’t a cure, treatments focus on managing symptoms.

Honey, particularly Manuka honey, has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and researchers have suggested that it might be suitable as a dressing for psoriasis lesions. Read on to learn more about this special type of honey and whether it can help soothe psoriasis symptoms.

Why Manuka Is Special

Manuka honey gets its name from the Manuka tree — or Leptospermum scoparium — which is native to New Zealand and Australia. While raw honey naturally contains small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, making it effective for treating infected wounds, Manuka honey has almost double the antibacterial potency of other honeys. That’s because of a chemical reaction that occurs when bees process Manuka’s nectar, creating methylglyoxal, which has known antibacterial effects. Several studies have shown Manuka to be effective in improving healing time and reducing infection in wounds. However, the honey used in hospital settings is medical grade, meaning it’s safe and sterile. You shouldn’t expect to buy a bottle and treat open wounds with it.

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Manuka honey has demonstrated the ability to fight infection with methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a type of staph bacterial infection that’s become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat regular staph infections. The infection is commonly found in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin cells. The exact cause is unknown, but experts have an idea of how the immune system works against the body to cause psoriasis. Certain white blood cells called T cells help the body protect itself against foreign substances that can cause infections, viruses, and diseases. When you have psoriasis, your T cells are too active. The cells not only attack harmful substances and organisms, but they also go after healthy skin cells.

Normally, skin cells go through a growth process that starts deep below the skin’s top layer and takes about a month for them to come to the surface. For people with psoriasis, this process can take only a few days. The result is patches of thick, red, scaly, itchy buildup. These patches can be painful and usually won’t go away without some type of treatment to stop the cycle.

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Anyone can get psoriasis, but people with a family history of the disease are more likely to get it than those without family history.

Psoriasis symptoms can happen in cycles, meaning they might go away for a period or get worse for a period. People can have lots of different triggers, including environmental and lifestyle ones. These can include stress, extreme weather changes, smoking, and skin injuries like bad sunburn, cuts, or bug bites.

Can Manuka Honey Defeat Psoriasis?

Despite its long history of medicinal uses, there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure whether or not Manuka honey is an effective natural treatment for psoriasis. Still, Dr. Marie Jhin, a dermatologist based in San Francisco, California, explains that Manuka honey’s natural anti-inflammatory abilities might make it ideal for improving symptoms of psoriasis.

“Psoriasis is a disease of inflammation, so if we can help the skin be less inflamed, it helps decrease the symptoms,” she says.

You can apply Manuka honey to the skin like any other cream or lotion. Since there isn’t a lot of scientific research on the subject, it’s unknown how many times or for how long the honey should be used.

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“I get a lot of questions about Manuka honey. There is no good evidence-based medicine that it is an effective treatment for either psoriasis or eczema,” says Dr. Lindsey Bordone, dermatologist at Columbia University Medical Center. However, she goes on: “I have some patients that eat it and say they feel better after, and a few that apply it to their skin, but there no studies confirming that it is helpful. There have been studies where honey was used on skin ulcers, but it actually impaired wound healing.”

“It’s not FDA-approved and there are no scientific studies. However, I’m okay with people trying stuff,” says Dr. Jhin. “Some people respond really well to things not studied, but we don’t have enough evidence for recommendation.”

What Are Other Home Remedies?

If you’re not into honey, there are other over-the-counter (OTC) creams and ointments and natural remedies available:

  • Salicylic acid: an ingredient found in many OTC creams and lotions for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It helps remove the scales caused by psoriasis.
  • Coal tar: made from coal, this can help slow skin cell growth and reduce inflammation. It’s common in OTC products, like T-gel, a shampoo used for scalp psoriasis.
  • Capsaicin: cream made with an ingredient in cayenne pepper. Helps fight irritation and inflammation.
  • Hydrocortisone cream: OTC cream with a little bit of steroid in it that helps reduce itching and discomfort associated with psoriasis.