What The Hell Is Medical-Grade Honey?

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
The skin-care world has been buzzing (sorry, had to) with honey-infused goodies lately — everything from hand creams to toners to lip balms now has the bees' stamp of approval. The golden nectar is known for its antibacterial and moisturizing properties, and is especially great for those who suffer from acne, says dermatologist Jeannette Graf, MD.

But we're not just talking about the stuff from your local grocery store — there are different tiers when it comes to honey. Manuka has long been considered the crème de la crème of honey products — and just a few weeks ago, we discovered that you can get better, more potent results with medical-grade manuka.

"Manuka honey has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties," says dermatologist Julia Tzu, MD. "It's much harder to obtain because it's derived specifically from [bees harvesting nectar from] the manuka plant." The manuka plant is native to New Zealand and southeast Australia. Unlike regular, store-bought honey, which contains hydrogen peroxide as its main antimicrobial component, manuka honey contains methylglyoxal, which is much more stable and less likely to be broken down by outside factors, explains Dr. Tzu.

Honey is ranked based on the amount of this antimicrobial agent it contains. "There is a scale that has been developed called UMF — Unique Manuka Factor — which corresponds to the concentration of methylglyoxal," says Dr. Graf. "In order [for the honey] to be potent enough to be called medical-grade, the UMF has to have a minimal grading of 10."

While both manuka and store-bought honey are commonly used in DIY masks to moisturize, medical-grade manuka is also often used to heal chronic and acute wounds and burns, says Dr. Tzu. It can also have greater benefits in treating acne.

For the average consumer, we see no need to reach for medical-grade manuka when you can get manuka honey at your local vitamin shop or health-food store (Dr. Graf says to choose one formulated for skin care, not for oral consumption). But if you're really in need, Dr. Tzu suggests getting a prescription from your physician. "The internet is fraught with medical-grade honey, but I will make no comment on its quality or authenticity," she warns.

If you're not into honey-cleansing or DIYs, there's a host of manuka honey-infused skin-care products on the market. The Manuka Doctor's ApiRefine Illusionist Rapid Lift Mask is Dr. Graf's personal favorite. The ingredient has even made its way into color cosmetics — Dr. Tzu recommends Ardency Inn's Modster Manuka Honey Enriched Pigments.
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