JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(10):1102.
A supersaturated solution of glucose and fructose—while that may not sound like the description of a wonder drug, honey has been revered as a medication with powerful healing properties across a diverse group of cultures. Take this passage from the Quran in the chapter entitled “The Bee” (Surat a-Nahl): “And your Lord taught the honey bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men's) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men.”
The use of honey in the topical treatment of wounds and other cutaneous disorders has endured the rise and fall of civilizations. The first written record of honey as a wound-healing agent dates back to 2600-2200 bce, where it is mentioned in an ancient Egyptian trauma manual currently referred to as the Edwin Smith Papyrus.1 Hippocrates, the father of medicine and author of the eponymous oath every physician swears, recommended honey for wounds of the head, ears, and penis.2 Famed Roman poet and orator Ovid espoused the cosmetic use of honey in his poem Medicamina Faciei Femineae (Cosmetics for the Female Face). He provided a recipe that uses honey to even out skin pigmentation.
The eons have not extinguished the role of honey in dermatology. A recent systematic review1 of 26 clinical trials found there is moderate- to high-quality evidence that honey-impregnated dressings may help heal partial-thickness burns and infected postoperative wounds faster than conventional dressings. Another randomized clinical trial supported the use of honey for the treatment of painful, recurrent aphthous ulcers.3
In a rapidly changing world, it is reassuring to see that certain natural remedies have withstood the test of time. If history is any indication, the use of honey in dermatology will continue to evolve and will likely be used to treat a wide array of conditions. How sweet it is!