For thousands of years, honey has been used as a wound treatment by indigenous cultures worldwide. Naturally golden in hue, honey is rich in nutrients and antioxidants, making it a popular treatment for wounds. The ability to use honey as a natural broad-band antibacterial agent has led to a recent resurgence in its clinical use.
In addition to its medical applications, honey has long been an ingredient in many hair and beauty products. Honey, propolis, and royal jelly are all byproducts of the beehive that have been shown to benefit the hair and skin. Many DIY hair mask recipes call for the use of honey as well, with the intended benefits ranging from motorization to strengthening.
Is there evidence to support the use of honey in hair? We turned to BosleyMD-certified trichologist Gretchen Friese and Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Cornell.
Meet the Expert
Honey for Hair
Type of ingredient: Hydrator, Strengthener, and Antibacterial Properties
Main benefits: Soothes the scalp, strengthens and hydrates hair, and boosts shine.
Who should use it: In general, it can be used by all hair types and textures. Those with dry hair and curly hair may benefit from honey as it helps to boost moisture. Additionally, because it is anti-inflammatory, it can be helpful for those with an inflamed scalp or those with dandruff.
How often can you use it: It's safe to use as a treatment once per week.
Works well with: Coconut or other carrier oils that add moisture to a mixture containing honey in hair treatments.
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that negatively interfere with honey. People with allergies to bee pollen can often be affected by products containing honey, so consult a dermatologist before beginning use.
Benefits of Honey for Hair
Honey has been used for centuries in folk medicine for wound treatment for its ability to repair skin and natural antibacterial properties. Honey leads to improved wound healing, pain relief in burn patients, and decreased inflammatory responses. With the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the use of honey is being utilized more frequently by Western Medicine and has been found to be almost equal or have slightly superior effects when compared with conventional treatments. There are many different types of honey, but the one most commonly sought after for medicinal treatments is Manuka honey.
When applied to the hair and scalp, honey is able to provide the same skin regenerative properties to the skin of the scalp. Overall, it provides a great deal of moisture to the hair and scalp. It works as an emollient and conditions the hair and scalp. Once the hair and scalp are moisturized by the honey, it also locks in the moisture as it has humectant benefits as well.
- Hydrates the Hair and Scalp: Honey is a natural moisturizer and can provide needed hydration to both the skin of the scalp and the hair itself. Its natural humectant qualities work to seal in the moisture and prevent transepidermal water loss.
- Prevents Dandruff: Honey's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help to fight and prevent dandruff, which is often caused by fungus or bacteria. Garshick says, "because it is anti-inflammatory, it can be helpful for those with an inflamed scalp or those with dandruff."
- Strengthens the Hair Follicle: Honey naturally contains protein. Garshick says, "Because honey contains protein, it can help to boost hair strength and structure and help with hair breakage." Breakage is one of the leading causes of hair shedding and loss, so by preventing it can lead to an improvement in the appearance of hair overall. "Honey can prevent damage, strengthen hair and reduce breakage of hair strands which will help hair grow longer," Friese adds.
- Improves Overall Scalp Health: Garshick explains that because honey has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it can also be helpful for scalp health in general. Many hair and scalp issues are related to the overall health of the scalp, so it is important to treat these issues at the source.
- Boosts Shine: Friese says that honey is great for adding shine in dry/dull hair. Garshick explains that by adding protein and moisture to the hair, honey will leave it looking shiny and soft.
- Can Aid in Hair Growth: Honey first helps the appearance of hair growth by preventing the breakage of existing hair. When it comes to new hair growth, Garshick says honey can help to promote cell growth, suggesting its benefits promoting hair regrowth. Friese agrees, pointing out that the benefits to the overall scalp health can lead to new growth. "It can also prevent scalp infections such as dandruff, thereby allowing clearer follicles and more hair growth. In some cases honey has been known to strengthen and/or wake up dormant follicles," she explains.
Hair Type Considerations
In general, honey can be used by all hair types and textures, including color-treated hair. Our experts agree that honey is safe for all to use, but that some hair types may benefit more than others. Those with dry hair may find honey more helpful, as it will improve shine and soften the hair. Brittle or damaged hair will benefit from the added protein from honey. Curly hair often needs both moisture and protein, so it may be best suited for those with wavy and curly hair. Additionally, because it is anti-inflammatory, those with an inflamed scalp or those with dandruff may also find it helpful.
How to Use Honey for Hair
Honey can be found as an ingredient in many hair products, especially those targeted for curly or damaged hair. Honey is also one of the most common ingredients in DIY hair masks and treatments due to its many benefits and easy accessibility. Honey should be used weekly as a treatment to maximize its benefits. As with anything you apply to your hair and skin, it is important to patch test a small area before applying it to your whole head. There is a potential for allergic reactions when using honey, as Friese explains that people with allergies to bee pollen can be affected by products containing honey.
- Make a scalp treatment paste: Friese recommends using honey on its own to maximize its efficacy. "The best way to use honey is to mix it with a little water (just enough to help it become less sticky), massage into the scalp, and pull through the ends of the hair. Leave in for one to two minutes. Then rinse and shampoo and condition as usual."
- Create a deep conditioning treatment: To create a custom deep conditioning treatment, mix honey with coconut or other carrier oils that add moisture. Friese shares that you can also create hair masks with a mixture of honey and yogurt or avocado and then mixing it to the consistency you desire.
- Add honey to your shampoo or conditioner: You can add honey to your existing shampoo and conditioner; however, avoid adding more than a few drops as it can lead to stickiness and build-up.
- Use hair products that contain honey: Both experts share that there are many great products for hair that contain honey. Garshick recommends Shea Moisture Manuka Honey and Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Protein Power Treatment for processed, colored and damaged hair and Garnier Whole Blends Repairing Shampoo because it incorporates honey, propolis, and royal jelly extracts to nourish, strengthen and repair dry or damaged hair. Friese recommends L'anza's nutrient-rich daily Healing Strength Manuka Honey Shampoo and Conditioner.