Honey Mixture Improves Skin Conditions
A mixture of honey, olive oil, and beeswax may relieve the symptoms associated with eczema and psoriasis, reports Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2003:11;226–34).
Atopic dermatitis (a form of eczema) is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that causes dry, itchy patches most commonly seen on the face, the insides of the elbows, behind the knees, and on the hands and feet. With repeated scratching, skin infections and abnormal thickening of the skin may result. The skin may also ooze and form crusts of dried fluid. Eczema affects up to 20% of people worldwide at some point in childhood; these individuals also have an increased tendency to develop asthma and hay fever. Children whose parents have a history of any of these conditions are more likely to suffer from eczema; malfunctions of the immune system may also be a cause.
Treatments for eczema focus on decreasing inflammation and preventing infection. Creams and lotions are recommended to maintain skin moisture, and over the counter and prescription corticosteroid creams are often used to relieve itching. Corticosteroid creams, however, may cause skin thinning and can prolong the healing time of injured skin. Newer drugs that target the immune system (e.g., tacrolimus ointment [Protopic™]) help control inflammation. Avoidance of substances known to trigger eczema (including animal dander, dust mites, certain foods, cigarette smoke, chlorine, and perfumes) can help decrease the number of flare-ups.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder characterized by abnormal cell formation. Skin cells are produced too quickly, resulting in thickened red areas covered with silvery scales, usually on the scalp, elbows, knees, back, buttocks, palms, and soles; these areas may be itchy or painful. Psoriasis affects about 2% of the United States population and appears more likely to develop in people who have a family history of the disease.
Part of the immune system is believed to trigger the abnormal buildup of skin cells seen in psoriasis, so some treatments are aimed at controlling this immune response. Therapies for psoriasis include creams that contain corticosteroids, vitamin D, or retinoids (synthetic forms of vitamin A), and ultraviolet-light treatment. Stronger drugs like methotrexate and cyclosporin may be prescribed for more severe cases. These drugs can cause serious side effects including liver and kidney damage, high blood pressure, anemia, and immune system suppression that can lead to infections.
The new study investigated the use of a topical application of honey, olive oil, and beeswax for the treatment of eczema and psoriasis. Twenty-one people with eczema and 18 people with psoriasis took part in the trial. Eleven of the participants with eczema and ten of those with psoriasis were using topical steroid creams before the study.
The participants with eczema who had had no prior treatment applied a mixture of honey, olive oil, and beeswax to the affected areas on one half of the body, and Vaseline to the affected areas on the other side of the body three times per day for two weeks. Those with eczema who were using corticosteroids prior to the study applied a combination of a steroid cream and the honey mixture to one side of the body, and a Vaseline and steroid cream mixture to the other side of the body three times per day for two weeks.
The participants with psoriasis who had had no prior treatment applied the honey mixture to one half of the body and an inert material (paraffin) to the other side. The participants using steroid creams prior to the study applied a combination of the honey mixture and a steroid cream to one side of the body, and a mixture of paraffin and a steroid cream to the other. Both groups applied their mixtures three times per day for three weeks.
All participants were assessed for signs of redness, scaling, skin thickening, itchiness, and oozing. Among the participants with eczema who had used no prior treatment, 80% had a significant improvement using the honey mixture; the amounts of itching, scaling, and oozing had the most profound improvements. Among those participants with eczema who had used a steroid cream prior to the study, a combination of the honey mixture and steroid cream led to substantial reductions in steroid doses in almost half of the participants. The honey mixture resulted in a marked improvement in 63% of the participants with psoriasis who had had no prior treatment. Steroid doses were reduced by up to 75% in half of the participants with psoriasis previously using steroid creams, with no deterioration in symptoms.
Honey has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help to decrease pain and the appearance of scars, and that lead to faster wound healing. Olive oil also has antibacterial properties and the ability to inhibit substances that lead to inflammation. Olive oil and honey both contain flavonoids that help protect cells and inhibit histamine (a substance involved in allergic reactions). Beeswax has anti-inflammatory properties and is often included in formulas to treat burns and other skin conditions.
A natural combination of honey, olive oil, and beeswax can provide significant benefit to people suffering from eczema or psoriasis. Perhaps the most significant finding of this study is the ability of the honey mixture to decrease the need for corticosteroids.
The mixture used in this study is not commercially available but may be made at home by combining equal parts of raw (unprocessed) honey, beeswax, and cold pressed olive oil. Start with a small amount of each ingredient (e.g., one or two tablespoons). Begin by melting the beeswax in a small pan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Once melted, remove it from the heat and mix in the honey, then the olive oil, stirring the mixture until well blended. While the mixture is still warm, pour it into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. The mixture should keep for up to three months. A few drops of vitamin E oil (from a gel cap) may be added to each batch for longer shelf life, and to enhance its healing properties.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Beauchamp is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc. in Wakefield, RI. Her emphasis is on women’s health, pediatrics, and detoxification.
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