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Sweet Spot- Formulating with Honey
Author: Debbie May
Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Everyone knows the uses of honey in food products, but this sweet ingredient is now becoming an additive in a wide range of beauty products as well. If you're not already incorporating honey into your recipes, then now is the time to start! 

Honey is a viscous liquid derived from the nectar of flowers and secreted by honey bees. In cosmetics and personal care products, honey is used in the formulation of a wide range of products including bath products, eye and facial makeup, fragrances, hair products, personal cleanliness products, and suntan and sunscreen products. Honey is primarily used as a food and it has long been used to sweeten and flavor other foods and beverages.

Honey bees transform saccharides into honey by a process of regurgitation and digestion. The bees perform the regurgitation and digestion as a group. Honey does not spoil because of its’ high sugar content and typically consists of 38% fructose, 31% glucose and 1% sucrose. It is approximately 50% denser than water. The antibacterial properties of honey are attributed to an osmotic effect, the presence of hydrogen peroxide in honey, and acidic pH. Because of these attributes, honey has been used historically for dressing wounds, skin ulcers and burns.

Honey is added to cosmetics and personal care products as a humectant, a flavoring agent and as a skin conditioning agent. To be effective as a skin care additive, honey needs to be used in formulation at 2% or above. However, it typically is used at low levels in cosmetic products because of difficulties in formulating with it and an undesirable stickiness which can affect skin feel. [1]

Honey is primarily a saturated mixture of two monosaccharides, with a low water activity; most of the water molecules are associated with the sugars and few remain available for microorganisms, so it is a poor environment for their growth. However, if water is mixed with honey, it loses its low water activity, and therefore no longer possesses this antimicrobial property. [2]

A recent study showed that a natural combination of honey, olive oil, and beeswax can provide significant benefit to people suffering from eczema or psoriasis. More importantly, however, the study indicated the ability of the honey mixture to decrease the need for corticosteroids. [3] A specific type of honey, Manuka honey from New Zealand, has also recently shown the ability to prevent and treat chronic wound infections including meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). [4]

In manufacturing, it is preferred to use honey which has been dried and transformed into a free-flowing powder. Honey Powder can be used to manufacture products such as creams, lotions, soaps, scrubs, masks, body wraps, bath teas, milk baths, bath salts and bath bombs. Honey Powder has good solubility in water and is added to the water-phase in formulation. If you have ever tried incorporating honey into anhydrous formulations, you may find that liquid honey will ooze out of formulation unless an emulsifier is used.

In 2012, the assessments collected from just domestic honey packers exceeded $1,200,000.00USD. According to the National Honey Board, 85% of current honey users report that honey is used at least once a month in their household. More respondents report using honey for non-food purposes; of note, women, adults over 50, non-Caucasians and parents. [5]

Honey is safe to use in formulation for most consumers, however it is important to note that like any ingredients, there are risk groups for this additive. Honey should not be used in any formulations intended for children under the age of one year, those with honeybee allergies and/or vegans. Honey has been known to contain spores of the harmful bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause infant botulism. In young children less than 1 year old, the digestive tract lacks the protective mechanisms to prevent the growth of the C. botulinum spores and production of the botulism toxin. Consumers with pollen allergies, as well as those allergic to other bee-related allergens, should avoid honey consumption and honey products. [6] Lastly, vegans do not consume products derived from living beings such as honeybees.

If you are not already incorporating honey into your skincare formulations, now is the time to start. Increased usage of honey combined with the ongoing positive research regarding topical use make for one sweet combination!

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