Updated: Oct 1, 2019
by Rachel Nall, RN, MSN, CRNA
How is honey used on wounds?
People have used honey for thousands of years for wound healing. While we now have other very effective wound-healing options, honey may still be good for healing certain wounds.
Honey has antibacterial properties and a unique pH balance that promotes oxygen and healing compounds to a wound.
Before you reach into your cabinet, know that wound-care professionals use medical-grade honey for healing chronic wounds and other injuries.
Is honey effective for healing?
Honey is a sugary, syrupy substance that has been shown to have bioactive components that can help heal wounds.
According to a literature review published in the journal Wounds, honey offers the following benefits in healing wounds:
Acidic pH promotes healing. Honey has an acidic pH of between 3.2 and 4.5. When applied to wounds, the acidic pH encourages the blood to release oxygen, which is important to wound healing. An acidic pH also reduces the presence of substances called proteases that impair the wound healing process.
Sugar has an osmotic effect. The sugar naturally present in honey has the effect of drawing water out of damaged tissues (known as an osmotic effect). This reduces swelling and encourages the flow of lymph to heal the wound. Sugar also draws water out of bacterial cells, which can help keep them from multiplying.
Antibacterial effect. Honey has been shown to have an antibacterial effect on bacteria commonly present in wounds, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE). Part of this resistance may be through its osmotic effects.
Most medical professionals use a specific type of honey on wounds called Manuka honey. This honey comes from Manuka trees. Manuka honey is unique in that it contains the compound methylgloxal. This compound is cytotoxic (kills bacteria) and is a small molecule that may pass more easily into the skin and bacteria.
Honey and types of wounds
Wound healing professionals have used honey to treat the following wound types:
Researchers have conducted a variety of studies regarding the effectiveness of honey as a treatment for a variety of wounds. The Cochrane Review published a large-scale literature review of 26 such clinical trials, which encompassed 3,011 participants total.
The researchers concluded that honey appears to help heal partial-thickness burns and infected post-operative wounds better than many conventional treatments. However, there weren’t enough large-scale, high-quality studies to conclusively make recommendations for other wound types.
How do you apply honey for wounds?
If you have a wound or burn that won’t heal, it’s important to check with a doctor before using honey on the wound. Ask the doctor if honey is a possibility for treatment.
For severe wounds, it’s best a doctor or wound-care nurse shows you how to apply the honey the first time. This is because the amount of honey and the way the dressing is applied can impact how effective the wound-healing will be.
Tips for applying honey on wounds
If you’re applying honey on wounds at home, here are some general tips for application.
Always start with clean hands and applicators, such as sterile gauze and cotton tips.
Apply the honey to a dressing first, then apply the dressing to the skin. This helps to cut down on the messiness of honey when applied directly to the skin. You can also purchase honey-impregnated dressings, such as MediHoney brand dressings, which have been on the market for several years. An exception is, if you have a deep wound bed, such as an abscess. The honey should fill the wound bed before a dressing is applied.
Place a clean, dry dressing over the honey. This can be sterile gauze pads or an adhesive bandage. An occlusive dressing is best over honey because it keeps the honey from seeping out.
Replace the dressing when drainage from the wound saturates the dressing. As honey starts to heal the wound, the dressing changes will likely be less frequent.
Wash your hands after dressing the wound.
If you have any questions about applying honey to your wound, follow up with a physician.
What are the possible complications of honey for wounds?
Signs you could be having an allergic reaction to the honey include:
stinging or burning after topical application
If you experience these symptoms, clean your skin of the honey and seek medical attention.
Do not apply the honey again until you talk to a doctor.
Risks with raw honey
Some researchers have raised concerns regarding the use of raw honey, which is made from honeycombs and unfiltered, for wound treatment. They theorize that there’s greater risks for infection using this honey type.
While this is more of an idea than something that is proven, it’s important to be aware of the risks, according to the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.
It’s also possible honey may not work to heal your wound. Frequent applications are required to see a benefit. This could take a week or more. If you aren’t seeing any improvement, talk to a doctor or nurse.
You should always check with their doctor before using this honey type to ensure it’s safe to apply to the wound.
Medically reviewed by Gerhard Whitworth, RN on November 16, 2018 —
Written by Rachel Nall, RN, MSN, CRNA