What Are the Benefits of Honey on Skin Boils?

Golden honey with honeystick. cinnamon and anise stars
Honey in a bowl on a wooden surface. (Image: Mariakarabella/iStock/Getty Images)

Honey is more than a sweet treat to eat -- it might also work well to treat skin wounds and infections such as boils. Boils develop when the bacteria or fungi enter the skin around a hair follicle. Boils resemble pimples but often grow larger as they go deeper into the skin. Boils can make you feel ill. Never apply regular honey to a boil without your doctor's approval.

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Honey works in several ways to kill bacteria. Because honey is acidic, bacteria can't survive well in it. Honey's high sugar content draws fluid out of the microbes, dehydrating them and causing them to die. All honey might not be equal when it comes to antimicrobial action, or the ability to kill germs, however. The antibacterial properties of different types of honey can vary as much as 100- fold, according to an October 2008 "U.S. News and World Report" article. Manuka honey, produced mainly in New Zealand, contains compounds with a particularly high ability to kill bacteria, according to a June 1999 report in the "Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine."

Benefits

Honey has several benefits over antibiotics for treating wounds such as boils. When taken by mouth, antibiotics can cause stomach upset, including nausea and diarrhea. Antibiotics are also common sources of allergic reactions, which can cause life-threatening symptoms such as throat swelling, in some cases. Bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria most often responsible for causing boils, according to MedlinePlus, often become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Honey applied externally to wounds does not have these negative effects.

Studies

Studies on using honey to treat bacterial infections have shown mixed results. An October 2008 Cochrane Review looked at 19 clinical trials using honey to treat various types of wounds, including chronic ulcers, burns, lacerations and surgical wounds. Honey treatment compared to conventional therapies showed benefit in mild to moderate burn wounds but did not improve healing in chronic ulcers, common in diabetics with poor circulation. An Indian study in the September 2011 "Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery" reported that the wounds of patients whose burns were treated with honey rather than traditional treatments became sterile faster and healed more completely.

Risks

If you have an allergy to honey or to bees, applying honey to boils could cause an allergic reaction. Some people also experience stinging when applying honey to wounds. Studies have not examined the effects of honey specifically on boils. Ask your doctor if you want to try commercially available honey-impregnated dressings to treat boils.

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