But honey isn't just for sweetening tea and biscuits. Women have been slathering it on their skin for thousands of years, too. Cleopatra was known for her milk and honey baths, while Poppaea Sabina, wife of Emperor Nero, concocted a milk and honey lotion that was said to keep her complexion looking flawless. In more modern times, honey can be found in moisturizers, cleansers, masks, and scrubs, all of which can help make your skin that radiant, soft, and smooth.
First, let's look at a few fun facts about how honey is made. Bees collect nectar from flowers and store it in their "honey stomachs." This nectar is then partially digested before the honeybees regurgitate it and store it in wax honeycombs inside the beehive. A colony of around 60,000 honeybees can make more than 100 pounds of honey per year, though in her short lifespan (female bees make honey), each bee only makes about one teaspoonful.
Honey has long been seen as a symbol of sweetness, and rightfully so, as the gooey substance is loaded with monosaccharides fructose and glucose. It even has the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar. Depending on the type of flowers from which bees gather nectar, honey can vary in taste, color, and even clarity.
When it comes to skincare, it is honey's high sugar content that makes it an excellent exfoliant. Its sugar enzymes help break down the protein bonds that hold dead skin cells at the surface, and this shedding of dull flakes can make skin look radiant. Honey also contains acid, which contributes to skin exfoliation. "The pH of honey can vary from 3.4 to 6.1, depending on the type of honey," says Rita Teixeira, educator for Sothys Paris. "The higher the pH, the deeper the exfoliation."
Those looking for gentle exfoliation will be especially pleased with honey-infused treatments and products. "Our clients love these treatments, because, while the treatments are exfoliating, they are not abrasive," says Danielle Knerr, spa director at The Spa at Norwich Inn (CT), which offers the Milk and Honey Manicure ($50, 50 minutes) and Pedicure ($65, 50 minutes). "Honey is a moisturizing exfoliant, so these treatments leave the skin smooth with a hint of a milk-and-honey scent."
Honey is known to moisturize skin, because it is a humectant. That means it has the power to both attract moisture to the skin and lock it in for lasting hydration. For those who have sensitive skin that's easily irritated by AHAs and other exfoliants, honey may be the skin-sloughing answer, as it also possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties. "The natural humectants in honey leave skin smooth and revitalized," says Melanie Silver, director of rooms and spa at the Salish Lodge and Spa (Seattle). The Salish Spa offers a Honey and Oatmeal Body Scrub ($115, 50 minutes) that relies on the moisturizing qualities of honey drawn straight from the hives in the hotel's 120,000-honeybee apiary. While honey-based treatments are beneficial to most skin types, guests who suffer from bee sting reactions should avoid these treatments and products, as they may cause irritation or an allergic reaction.
For most spa-goers, though, the benefits of honey are endless. In the past few decades, science has discovered the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey, making the ingredient useful in treatments aimed at preventing and treating blemishes and acne. A glucose enzyme found in honey creates a slow-releasing form of hydrogen peroxide, though the process is only activated when diluted with water. This discovery explains why honey has been historically used as a treatment for burns and cuts to both promote healing and prevent infection. Some modern-day wound gels with raw honey are even approved to treat drug-resistant strains of bacteria. For complexion benefits, honey can be applied directly to blemishes as a spot treatment or used in masks aimed at gently eradicating the bacteria that causes breakouts.
Honey may be regarded as an elixir of immortality in Hinduism, yet it doesn't offer quite the anti-aging punch as other natural ingredients. That said, what honey lacks in anti-aging benefits is made up for by its indulgent characteristics. Honey's golden hue and thick, gooey texture give the ingredient a sense of decadence that always resonates with spa guests. At The Southern Spa at Southern Ocean Lodge (Kangaroo Island, Australia), guests enjoy the sweet fragrance and textural qualities of the honey used in many of the spa's treatments, like the Ligurian Honey and Almond Wrap ($272, 90 minutes). Guests also like that the honey is indigenous to the area. "Kangaroo Island is home to the only pure strain of Ligurian bees in the world," says spa manager Louise Lanyon. "Honey produced by these bees is known for its outstanding quality." Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Mayakoba (Quintana Roo, Mexico) also offers honey-based treatments using honey from the native Melipona becheeii bees that reside in the hotel's Willow Stream Spa Garden.
Honey? Yes, please!