Subject: Topical honey either as a salve or diluted with water is useful in treating a wide variety of skin conditions. A new study on treating herpes simplex with honey inspires me to cook up a salve.
“This seems Biblical” keeps running through my mind as I watch my double boiler waiting for the mixture to melt. There is something so fundamentally ancient about the ingredients and fundamentally simple about their proportions. One part honey, one part beeswax and one part olive oil. These ingredients have been harvested, valued, traded and treasured as a source of wealth from antiquity to the present. Just their combined smells stimulate parts of my brain and unlock genetically imprinted memories of other times.
I am following the recipe of Al-Waili. This Al-Waili is not some ancient prophet but a modern day researcher from the United Arab Emirates who is researching and publishing papers on using honey to treat skin conditions.
Al-Waili's first honey paper was published in 2001 and looked at seborrheic dermatitis. [i] This is the common cause of dandruff, though in this case patients had severe flaking in large plaques on scalp, face and chests. Treatment was simple “The patients were asked to apply diluted crude honey (90% honey diluted in warm water) every other day on the lesions with gentle rubbing for 2-3 mins. Honey was left for 3 hr before gentle rinsing with warm water.” This routine was followed for a month at which point, “All the patients responded markedly with application of honey. Itching was relieved and scaling was disappeared within one week. Skin lesions were healed and disappeared completely within 2 weeks.” As anyone who has suffered from seborrhea know, these results are remarkable.
A second paper from 2003 looked as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. It's this paper where I've gotten my recipe from. [ii] The protocol was complicated. The honey salve was added to varying strengths of steroid mixtures and also compared against a placebo Vaseline mixture. The honey salve was useful on its own and also allowed a 75% reduction in the strength of steroids being used without a worsening of symptoms. This is interesting as it reminds me of the old use of bee sting therapy for treating arthritis: the stings have an anti-inflammatory effect that could replace steroids. This makes me wonder that perhaps the same effect might come from a salve.
Watching the beeswax melt in my pot, it was clear that this wasn't a pure product. There was a sludge of bee fragments that sank to the bottom. Perhaps some essence of bee has a therapeutic effect in this salve.
Another paper came out in March, 2004 and looked at honey for treating fungal infections of the skin. Using the same beeswax, honey and olive oil mixture, Al-Waili had test subject apply his mix to a range of topical fungal infections. “ Clinical response was obtained in 86% of patients with pityriasis versicolor, 78% of patients with tinea cruris and in 75% of patients with tinea corporis. Mycological cure was obtained in 75, 71 and 62% of patients with PV, tinea cruris and tinea corporis, respectively.” [iii] In other words, the majority of patients found fairly prompt relief. Those of you who have had ring worm, a relatively mild fungal infection, know how obstinate these conditions can be.
The most recent study was published in August, 2004. It compares the use of honey versus acyclovir in treating recurrent cold sores or genital herpes.
Honey worked much better than acyclovir in terms of of reduced attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and healing time. The people who used honey instead of acyclovir cream shortened their healing time by 43% for cold sores and 59% for genital herpes sores.
With acyclovir treatment, none of the attacks went into complete remission, and all the lesions developed a crust. No side effects were noted with repeated applications of honey, whereas 3 patients developed local itching with acyclovir.
The patients were asked to randomly use either acyclovir or honey treatment during the first attack. They were instructed to initiate treatment within 1 hour of the appearance of first sign or symptom of recurrence.
When honey was used as the treatment, the lesions were firmly pressed with gauze soaked with honey for 15 minutes, 4 times a day, until completely healed. When acyclovir cream was used, it was applied 6 times a day. [iv]
Although this salve mixture smells pleasant, it is very sticky. I can't imagine using it without access to plenty of warm running water. As far as using it in a sandy desert environment, well there would be drawbacks.
I've written about honey in the past for healing surgical wounds, preventing cancer metastasis and acting as an antioxidant in the blood.
I've now got a tub of Al-Waili's mixture that I'm going to bring in to the office for anyone who wants to give it a try.
Other Honey articles:
[i] Eur J Med Res. 2001 Jul 30;6(7):306-8.
Therapeutic and prophylactic effects of crude honey on chronic seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.
Al-Waili NS .
Dubai Specialised Medical Centre and Medical Research Labs, P.O.Box 19964 , Dubai , United Arab Emirates . firstname.lastname@example.org
Honey has antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidants activities and has high nutrient value. In this study we investigated the potential use of topical application of crude honey in the management of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Thirty patients with chronic seborrheic dermatitis of scalp, face and front of chest were entered for study. Twenty patients were males and 10 were females, their ages ranged between 15 and 60 years. The patients had scaling, itching and hair loss. The lesions were scaling macules, papules and dry white plaques with crust and fissures. The patients were asked to apply diluted crude honey (90% honey diluted in warm water) every other day on the lesions with gentle rubbing for 2-3 mins. Honey was left for 3 hr before gentle rinsing with warm water. The patients were followed daily for itching, scaling, hair loss and the lesions were examined. Treatment was continued for 4 weeks. The improved patients were included in a prophylactic phase, lasting six months. Half patients were treated with the topical honey once weekly and the other half served as control. All the patients responded markedly with application of honey. Itching was relieved and scaling was disappeared within one week. Skin lesions were healed and disappeared completely within 2 weeks. In addition, patients showed subjective improvement in hair loss. None of the patients ( 15 patients) treated with honey application once weekly for six months showed relapse while the 12/15 patients who had no prophylactic treatment with honey experienced a relapse of the lesions 2-4 months after stopping treatment. It might be concluded that crude honey could markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis and associated hair loss and prevent relapse when applied weekly.
PMID: 11485891 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
[ii] Complement Ther Med. 2003 Dec;11(4):226-34.
Topical application of natural honey, beeswax and olive oil mixture for atopic dermatitis or psoriasis: partially controlled, single-blinded study.
Al-Waili NS .
Dubai Specialized Medical Center and Medical Research Laboratories, Islamic Establishment for Education, Dubai , United Arab Emirates. email@example.com
OBJECTIVES: To investigate the effects of honey, olive oil and beeswax mixture on patients with atopic dermatitis (AD) or psoriasis vulgaris (PV). MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twenty-one patients with dermatitis and 18 patients with psoriasis were entered for patient-blinded, partially controlled study; 11 patients with dermatitis used topical betamethasone esters and 10 patients with psoriasis used clobetasol propionate. Honey mixture contained honey, beeswax and olive oil (1:1:1). Mixtures A, B, and C contained honey mixture with the corticosteroids ointment in a ratio of 1:1, 2:1, and 3:1 respectively. Patients with dermatitis were subjected to controlled bilateral half-body comparison to evaluate the efficacy of honey mixture against Vaseline, or mixture A against Vaseline-betamethasone esters mixture (1:1) in patients using topical corticosteroid treatment. In patients with psoriasis, the effect of honey mixture was compared with paraffin in an individual right/left-sites comparison, or mixture A against paraffin-clobetasol propionate mixture (1:1) in patients using corticosteroid topical therapy. In dermatitis, body lesions on right or left half-body were assessed for erythema, scaling, lichenification, excoriation, indurations, oozing and itching on a 0-4 points scale. In psoriasis, lesions of selected site were assessed for redness, scaling, thickening and itching, on a 0-4 points scale. RESULTS: In honey mixture group, 8/10 patients with dermatitis showed significant improvement after 2 weeks, and 5/11 patients pretreated with betamethasone esters showed no deterioration upon 75% reduction of corticosteroid doses with use of mixture C. In psoriasis, 5/8 patients showed a significant response to honey mixture. In patients using clobetasol propionate, 5/10 patients showed no deterioration upon 75% reduction of corticosteroid doses with use of mixture C. CONCLUSION: Honey mixture appears useful in the management of dermatitis and psoriasis vulgaris.
Controlled Clinical Trial
PMID: 15022655 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
[iii] Complement Ther Med. 2004 Mar;12(1):45-7.
An alternative treatment for pityriasis versicolor, tinea cruris, tinea corporis and tinea faciei with topical application of honey, olive oil and beeswax mixture: an open pilot study.
Al-Waili NS .
Dubai Specialized Medical Center and Medical Research Laboratories, Islamic Establishment for Education, Dubai , United Arab Emirates. firstname.lastname@example.org
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the possible role of honey, olive oil and beeswax in the treatment of skin fungal infections. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Thirty-seven patients with pityriasis versicolor, tinea cruris, tinea corporis and tinea faciei were studied. After clinical evaluation of redness, scaling, pruritis and burning/pain sensation and mycological assessment, honey mixture containing honey, olive oil and beeswax (1:1:1) was applied to the lesions three times daily for a maximum of 4 weeks. RESULTS: Clinical response was obtained in 86% of patients with pityriasis versicolor, 78% of patients with tinea cruris and in 75% of patients with tinea corporis. Mycological cure was obtained in 75, 71 and 62% of patients with PV, tinea cruris and tinea corporis, respectively. The patient with tinea faciei showed clinical and mycological cure 3 weeks after commencement of therapy. CONCLUSION: Honey mixture may have place in the management of these skin conditions and rigorous, controlled trials are justified.
PMID: 15130571 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
[iv] Med Sci Monit. 2004 Aug;10(8):MT94-8. Epub 2004 Jul 23.
Topical honey application vs. acyclovir for the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex lesions.
Al-Waili NS .
Department of Nephrology and Urology, and Alternative Medicine, Dubai Specialized Medical Center , Dubai , United Arab Emirates . email@example.com
BACKGROUND: The objective of this research was to investigate the effect of the topical application of honey on recurrent attacks of herpes lesions, labial and genital, as compared to acyclovir cream. MATERIAL/METHODS: Sixteen adult patients with a history of recurrent attacks of herpetic lesions, 8 labial and 8 genital, were treated by topical application of honey for one attack and acyclovir cream for another attack. RESULTS: For labial herpes, the mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 35%, 39%, 28% and 43% better, respectively, than with acyclovir treatment. For genital herpes, the mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 53%, 50%, 49% and 59% better, respectively, than with acyclovir. Two cases of labial herpes and one case of genital herpes remitted completely with the use of honey. The lesions crusted in 3 patients with labial herpes and in 4 patients with genital herpes. With acyclovir treatment, none of the attacks remitted, and all the lesions, labial and genital, developed crust. No side effects were observed with repeated applications of honey, whereas 3 patients developed local itching with acyclovir. CONCLUSIONS: Topical honey application is safe and effective in the management of the signs and symptoms of recurrent lesions from labial and genital herpes.
PMID: 15278008 [PubMed - in process]