Honey Face Wash — Not As Bonkers As It Sounds

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
There comes a time in every woman's life when she's forced to question her choices. For me, that moment came while sitting naked in a photo studio with nothing but a makeshift garbage bag for a top as a 20-something photo assistant poured a full bottle of honey on top of my head. There's nothing like feeling cold, sticky goo run down your bare face in rivers to make you take a step back and consider what led you to that particular situation.
It all started a while back when we ran our Great No-Face-Wash Experiment story. Commenter Cat Coule mentioned that all she did to her face was honey washing. Having never heard of this particular DIY method, I was intrigued, so I decided to do a little digging.
According to the websites that popped up in my search, honey cleansing involves ditching traditional cleansers in favor of washing your face with raw honey. Since this sweet stuff has antimicrobial qualities, the theory is it will keep your face clean, won't strip away your natural oils, and can be beneficial in fighting acne.
My first thought was Well, that sounds batshit crazy — we should totally try it! I had absolutely zero intentions of being the one who actually embarked on the experiment. I'm usually adventurous — I'll do pretty much anything to my hair, and I'm always game to try the latest makeup and nail-polish colors — but as someone who has struggled with problem skin for her entire life, I simply don't eff around with my skin-care routine. After 20-or-so-odd years of experimentation, I've found something that works for me, so voluntarily dropping that in favor of slathering a thick, syrupy concoction on my face sounded like my idea of skin-care hell.
And, yet, there I sat, naked and sticky in that cold photo studio. How did I get to this place? What did honey wind up doing to my skin? Keep clicking to get the full rundown. But, be warned — I'm not sparing any of the gory details.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
In my head, when I dreamed up this experiment, I envisioned one of my lovely team members taking the bullet — er, I mean, embarking on this wonderful cleansing journey. It came down to me drawing the short straw (or just everybody else being busy testing other products for their upcoming stories). At one point, I seriously considered just scrapping the whole idea, so terrified was I of the prospect. But, I read such glowing reviews online, and my editor radar was telling me this was a truly interesting topic worth exploring, so I sucked it up and took one for the team.

Now, according to the sites I read, honey washing is pretty similar to your usual cleansing routine. In the morning, you simply rub it on your face, then wash it off with your hands or a wet washcloth. Repeat the same process at night, unless you wear makeup. Since honey doesn't have any makeup-removing properties, you'll need to use either a facial oil or a makeup remover first, followed by your honey. I'm already a big fan of oil cleansing — I do it almost every night — so this seemed like a pretty easy transition to me.

The type of honey you use definitely makes a difference. As one site pointed out, all-natural means absolute diddly when it comes to this sticky stuff. I was advised to pick up only those bottles of honey featuring the terms raw and unfiltered — that means they are minimally processed, so all the antimicrobial goodness hasn't been blasted out of them.

I also read that manuka honey was the absolute best option for the skin. I had every intention of picking up some of it — until I got to Whole Foods and saw the $49.99 jar of manuka sitting next to the $4.99 bottle of clover blossom. My inner cheapskate won that battle pretty soundly.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
My very first experience using the honey on my face is documented in this picture. I didn't test it out prior to our photo shoot, worried I might try it, hate it, and then kill the whole story in frustration. Let's just say I was not impressed. I cannot stand the feeling of something sticky on my hands, let alone slathered all over my cheek. It was incredibly difficult to spread, and I could almost feel my pores clogging up as I slicked it on my face.

It didn't help that my photographer kept asking me to spread on more and more of the stuff. Apparently, thin layers of honey don't translate well on film, so I needed a big, thick, goopy amount on my face in order to make it look like actual honey and not just some sickly hued oil my face was secreting. My silk shirt and jeans were covered in large drops of the stuff from the rivers that kept falling off my face — hence, the naked-but-for-a-trash-bag-top moment that followed.

Worse still, when I tried to get the gunk off my face, it proved near impossible to wipe with a washcloth. I kept pulling on my skin and still had the sticky residue. This experiment was definitely not off to an auspicious start.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Needless to say, when I got home that night and prepared to wash my face, I was not in the best of spirits. Two whole weeks of this hell? I rubbed on my oil cleanser and reveled in its familiar, slick feel, a welcome respite from the sticky tugging I had experienced earlier in the day. I washed off the oil, patted my face dry, commenced whining incoherently in the bathroom for a few minutes (my husband knocked on the door, concerned), then slapped on some honey. Sticky tugging, round two.

I don't have a washcloth at home — I've never been a fan of using a cloth on my face — so I just splashed some water on my face and prepared to dig in with my fingers to scrape this stuff off my skin. To my surprise, it rinsed off almost instantaneously, no rubbing required. Better yet, no sticky residue. I touched my face and was shocked by not only how soft it felt, but also how fresh my complexion looked. Maybe there is something to this...

I woke up the next day with a plan: I wet my face before I applied the honey, patting it lightly so the skin was damp, not dripping wet. I then applied the honey. Success! The honey-and-water combo let my fingers slide over my face without catching and tugging. It had almost the same slip as my facial oil did on my skin. I followed that up with my usual serum, moisturizer, and BB-cream combo (Kypris Antioxidant Dew, Skyn Iceland Pure Cloud Cream, Dr. Dennis Gross Instant Radiance Sun Defense Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40) and was relieved to see my skin was doing just fine sans cleanser.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Now, starting around day three is when things got a little hairy. I began noticing quite a few zits crop up. Usually, my acne happens hormonally, and I had just gone through my regular monthly breakout, so when a zit appeared on my chin, followed by one by my mouth and another few on my forehead, I started to grow concerned. I've broken out before from testing out too-heavy creams, but this didn't feel like that. My skin wasn't aggravated — in fact, it felt exactly the same as it does when I use my regular cleanser. It was almost as if all the blackheads that had been hanging out on my face for the past few weeks suddenly decided to get together and throw a rager.

After a few days (five to be exact), my skin calmed down, and I've been breakout-free for the past week. But, after chatting with an associate who works for a noted skin-care brand, I started to worry about what those sugars could be doing to my complexion. So, I called up Dr. Diane Berson, an NYC dermatologist, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell Medical College, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
While Dr. Berson says she wouldn't necessarily advise her patients to swap out their usual cleanser for honey, she also says — provided you aren't experiencing any sort of rash, abnormal breakouts, or allergic reactions to the honey — she doesn't see the harm in using it, either. "Natural honey has some antimicrobial properties, but it's not antibacterial," she notes. "However, honey is very gentle; it has emollient properties, so it can be hydrating. It contains silica, so it can help remove oils from the skin. It might also contain ingredients that are similar to an alpha-hydroxy acid, so it could theoretically help keep pores unclogged, and the pH is appropriate to the skin."

All that said, Dr. Berson notes that with something like this (as with all ultra-natural treatments) because they lack preservatives, you need to pay very close attention to the product's shelf life — or run the risk of it becoming contaminated or growing bacteria. Bottom line from Dr. Berson: "It's not something I would recommend to my patients, but if you are doing this and you feel good about it, your face feels clean, and you're not getting any adverse side effects, then that's fine — go for it."

Even though my little science project ended a while ago, here I am, still "washing" my face with honey. My skin feels awesome and looks just as good as it did when I was using my regular face wash. That photo up there? That's me without a stitch of makeup on, save for some tinted lip balm.

I actually find the whole process rather enjoyable and even pampering — not something I could say for my usual washing-up routine. It smells heavenly, and it's oddly soothing to do. Plus, thanks to the nice folks over at Manuka Doctor — who saw my Instagram post documenting my experiment and sent me a little care package — I now have some raw manuka honey to test out on my face. Gotta see if it's really that much better, right?

Finally, I have to say, I kind of like being able to drop this casually into conversations with my friends. "Well, during my morning honey cleanse..." is definitely a conversation starter, although I'm sure they are getting really sick of my self-righteous cleanser preaching. This must be what Shailene Woodley feels like all the time.
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