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ingredient spotlight,  routine

Manuka Honey – Ingredient Focus

the hype

Manuka Honey seems to be the golden elixir in skincare these days. It is sourced from the flowering plant species of Leptospermum, native to Australia and New Zealand. The resultant honey is richer than regular honey in every way: the colour is darker; the flavour more distinct; the texture thicker; health benefits significantly magnified and the cost much higher. It is estimated that the Australian and New Zealand manuka honey export market is worth over $300 million.

the benefits

Much research has gone into proving the health and skin care benefits of Manuka honey. Its antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral and antioxidant strengths are beyond question. It is also used to accelerate the wound, acne and skin infection healing processes.

Due to antioxidant properties, manuka honey helps to prevent free radical damage. Antibacterial actives promote skin healing and humectant properties ensure excellent hydration, allowing natural absorption of water from the air.

Topical application of Manuka honey can help freshen the complexion and diminish the appearance of wrinkles by removing impurities, dead skin cells and making way for healthy new ones. Flaky skin and redness are often caused by excess oil, dead cells and clogged pores. The Methylglyoxal content in Manuka honey provides antibacterial behaviour which helps diminish redness and treat acne.

the science

Manuka honey varies in antibacterial power from batch to batch. Measures that indicate its potency are splattered on packaging including units of NPA, UMF and MGO. When compared to regular honey, Manuka contains intensified natural antibacterial activity often known as Non-Peroxide Activity (NPA), directly attributed to the naturally occurring chemical Methylglyoxal (MGO). The MGO scale defines the activity level of manuka honey or antibacterial inhibition effect.

The Unique Manuka Factor “UMF®” is a measure designed to indicate the strength of the NPA activity. A UMF® rating of 10 or above can claim therapeutic effect. In general, the higher the UMF®, the more effective the honey’s medicinal properties (and the more expensive it is to purchase).

MGO is measured in parts per million (ppm) and the NPA is measured as a percentage of phenol equivalent. Typical examples of the correlation between MGO and UMF® are as follows:

  • NPA/UMF® 5+ = MGO 83
  • NPA/UMF® 10+ = MGO 263
  • NPA/UMF® 15+ = MGO 514
  • NPA/UMF® 20+ = MGO 829


the test

I have often wondered whether it is more beneficial (and economical) to just lather my face in pure manuka honey rather than invest in a commercial mask that claims the benefits of honey (manuka or otherwise) at lower or unknown concentrations. So, I decided to test this scenario by comparing the performance of 100% Manuka honey to that of my favourite honey mask. The Manuka honey I had lying around (for medicinal purposes – a spoonful is a good way to soothe a sore throat) is NPA/UMF® 10+ (MGO 263) grade and the mask I will be comparing against is I’m From Honey Mask. Although this mask does not specifically use Manuka honey, it does have a high honey concentration and exhibits excellent performance.
Manuka Honey v Dedicated Honey Mask

the comparison

The I’m From Honey Mask has the following characteristics:

  • 38.9% natural Jirisan honey (said to benefit from over 1000 plants in the region);
  • 120g jar costs around US$38 (approximately AUD$50) which equates to AUD$0.41per gram;
  • Other key ingredients include propolis, bentonite, bee venom, natural extracts and oils, snail secretion filtrate and aloe.

The Manuka honey I compared it against has the following properties:

  • 100% Manuka honey content;
  • NPA/UMF® 10+ (MGO 263)
  • Approximately AUD$56 for a 500g tub which equates to AUD$0.11 per gram:
  • For the record, the NPA/UMF® 15+ (MGO 514) Manuka honey costs AUD$87.00 for 500g, which equates to AUD$0.17 per gram:
    So, looking purely at the difference in product, even high grade UMF® 15+ Manuka honey is significantly more economical, the mask being 2.4 times more expensive. The composition of the mask includes over 60% other ingredients which contribute additional moisturising properties whilst the honey was used alone. For performance, the UMF® 10+ grade Manuka honey was used since this was on hand.

    the performance

    As both delivered a satisfying experience, in order to test the difference, I applied them at the same time, one on the left side of my face, the other on the right. In terms of application, the I’m From Honey Mask is certainly more luxurious than 100% Manuka honey. It has a silky texture that glides on and stays put. The Manuka honey is more tacky but if it is soft enough (i.e. no crystallizing), it will apply well even though there is less slip. Once applied, both are equally comfortable to wear, however, natural body warmth makes Manuka honey prone to dripping so needs continuous supervision/maintenance. I found I needed to touch it up around 3-4 times over a 30 minute period. I removed both easily with a warm, damp wash cloth. Rinsing over a basin or in the shower is equally effective.

    Instantly after rinsing and patting my face dry, I noticed that the Manuka side was immediately soft and smooth. Five minutes later, the mask side caught up. It simply took a little longer for the skin to balance, the moisture remaining on the surface a little longer causing drag upon touching. Once it was completely dry, both sides were equally smooth. Both were bouncy soft and felt hydrated. Both sides looked bright and clean. The results were so similar, that I had to perform this test a few times in order to gauge any minor difference.

    If I was to be pedantic about it, the I’m From Honey Mask performed slightly better and mainly because it is also packed with other skin loving ingredients like propolis which improves suppleness, bentonite which enhances purification, aloe and oils for moisture and hydration plus snail secretion filtrate which aids elasticity to name a few. It basically targets several skin concerns at once. So is it a fair test? I think so. It pointed out that Manuka honey is excellent on its own but add a few drops of your favourite oil or essence alternatively mix in a few grains of brown sugar for exfoliation and great results are yours. It’s versatile enough to work with other household ingredients like banana and yogurt too.

    It’s worth noting that the Manuka honey I used for this experiment is the lowest grade considered of therapeutic benefit. Perhaps a higher MGO content would have exceeded the performance of the I’m From Honey Mask. One for next time!
    Manuka Honey v Dedicated Honey Mask

    the conclusion

    I love the medicinal effects of Manuka honey. I always gave a jar in the pantry to soothe a sore throat and there’s also a tube of Manuka honey antiseptic cream in my medicine cabinet. I’ve purchased a few skincare products in my time that boast the benefits of this ingredient too.

    However, I think I will continue to apply it directly to my skin in combination with other ingredients (oil, essence, etc) as required for a customised, cost effective treatment. The I’m From Honey Mask will also continue to have a place in my skincare routine as it is simply luxurious!

    the references

    Why Manuka honey is good for your skin Eliza Cracknell
    Manuka Honey: How And Why You Should Be Putting This Stuff On Your Face xo Jane
    Natural Health Barnes Naturals


    the disclaimer

    Please read in context with my disclaimer.


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