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Is Manuka Honey the New Vitamin C? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About The Trendy Ingredient

Take a look inside your medicine cabinet. See the tiny mountain range of creams and serums, cleansers and exfoliants, sheet masks, clay masks and toners? It’s a miniature landscape of products, one that probably features vitamin C somewhere in the mix. And not by accident—you chose vitamin C because you heard that it would deliver brighter, more even skin. Your mom was obsessed. Your favorite influencer was obsessed. Everyone in the “industry” was obsessed. But here’s the thing: Vitamin C has met its match.

See, manuka honey has a lot of the same benefits: It helps with acne, and it soothes and nourishes skin. But unlike vitamin C, it’s not acidic, and it doesn’t have the same side effects that can be caused by vitamin C serums. You won’t experience things like irritation (due to all that acidity), more breakouts, flaky skin or an increased risk of sun damage when you use manuka honey.

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First, a history lesson. See, even just a couple of decades ago, ingredient education was infinitely less available to customers than it is now. In fact, before the turn of the millennium, cosmetic regulation was mostly about reactionary measures (does this roll-on deodorant make women break out in a rash?) rather than proactive safety requirements. As a result, cosmetics were not considered a public health concern, and a 1989 FDA report found that more than 5 percent of cosmetic samples from department stores were contaminated with mold, fungi and pathogenic organisms. All that changed in 1999, when the first Cosmetics Harmonization and International Cooperation (CHIC) meeting was held in Brussels with the goal of discussing basic safety measures and the exchange of data and information about what was being produced. This was bolstered in 2006, when the Personal Care Product Council (PCPC) developed the Consumer Commitment Code to enhance confidence and transparency for consumers and government regulators.

In other words, things are changing, and now that scientists are actually looking into the specifics of what goes into beauty products, a lot of discoveries (both gratifying and horrifying) have been made.

In short, we’ve gone natural, baby. Superior products made with good ingredients, once dubbed too hippie or too expensive, are now flooding the mainstream thanks to increasing demand for healthier options. In fact, 57 percent of all natural personal care sales comes from supermarkets and hypermarkets like Walmart.

And while vitamin C will always hold a place in our heart, this greater knowledge and transparency is making way for new ingredients with serious staying power. Top on our list is manuka honey, which keeps skin clear, clean, soft and hydrated. Read on to learn more about why it’s 2020’s answer to vitamin C.

What Is Manuka Honey Anyway?

Let’s start with the basics: Manuka honey is native to New Zealand, sourced from the nectar of the manuka bush flower, and contains more than 2,000 individual natural compounds. According to Erin Kelley, director of product at Comvita USA (an ingestible health solutions beekeeping company that has been honing manuka honey production since 1974), it’s these compounds that give manuka honey its range of health benefits. Not only that but “to obtain pure manuka honey is a specialized task for beekeepers as it is difficult to extract and has a limited harvest period of only two to six weeks per year, making it extremely rare,” says Kelley.

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But while you probably recognize manuka honey as a pricey condiment at a health food store, thanks to its high concentration of antibacterial properties (methylglyoxal), it’s actually a fantastic skincare ingredient too. See, when it comes to manuka honey for skin, those antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties set it apart from other honey varieties—not to mention other skincare ingredients in general. (Yes, inflammation is a hot topic in the wellness world, and a study on honey and health published by Pharmacognosy Research shows that honey “could be considered as a natural therapeutic agent for various medicinal purposes,” including skincare.)

And What’s All the Skincare Buzz About?

“Health and well-being are having a moment,” shares Maria Buck, senior scientist at Kiwi Botanicals. “People are looking to optimize their health on a daily basis instead of waiting until they get sick. This includes turning to ‘super foods’ that support overall health. Manuka honey is a miracle ingredient that offers many benefits.”

Another skincare expert we spoke with, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, agrees, noting that the increase in popularity of manuka honey is due in part to the growing trend of regularly using natural ingredients for beauty and wellness.

This is no news to native New Zealanders, who have relied on the honey and parts of the manuka plant as a natural skin remedy for more than 2,000 years, treating things like scalds, burns, skin diseases and colds, and have even used it as a mouthwash. Flash-forward to today, and an estimated third of produced manuka honey is used in the medical market. “Sterilized manuka honey is administered topically for its antibacterial properties to treat wounds and burns in wound care clinics and hospitals. Additionally, it is largely consumed to support digestive and immune health and to help soothe coughs and sore throats,” explains Kelley.

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Plus, because it’s gentle yet powerful when applied to skin, Dr. Zeicher notes that it “can be applied directly in its natural state.” However, he goes on to say, “it is increasingly being incorporated as an ingredient in commercially available skincare products.” And it’s no surprise that so many brands are scrambling to include its benefits in their lineups.

“Manuka honey is being used in anti-aging creams because it may help improve the appearance of wrinkles by helping damaged skin function more like young, healthy cells,” says Dr. Zeichner. “There is also data supporting the use of honey as a natural treatment for acne,” because it can balance skin’s pH levels to help heal breakouts. Additionally, it’s antibacterial and a natural exfoliant, so it sloughs away dead skin, oils and lingering bacteria, clearing your pores of what causes acne in the first place.

One more bonus? Manuka honey is a natural humectant, meaning it draws in moisture from the air and traps it in your skin. This kind of function is essential for hydration—you know, the key to keeping skin looking bright, plump and healthy.

It Sounds Great, but Is It Really for Me?

If you think all this makes manuka honey seem luxurious, you’re spot on. And in recent history, it’s been an ingredient associated with the high-end naturals buying market. (Sounds pricey, doesn’t it?) Luckily, it’s starting to trickle down to the rest of us.

Case in point? Kiwi Botanicals, a sustainable, natural skincare brand that has managed to tap the power of manuka honey in little $15 (or less) jars and tubs. Better yet, you can buy it at Walmart. The folks at Kiwi Botanicals believe that a truly indulgent skincare routine is one that’s clean, structured and simple: It washes away the bad (dirt) and maintains the good (moisture). They also believe in melty, slimy, gooey, foamy products that make your skin feel smooth, healthy and glowed-up.

Shop their products below to try manuka honey for yourself, the latest trend-star that you won’t regret putting on your face.

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