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Self-preserving ingredients: Honey

What is it? 

A sweet, sticky liquid food made by bees from nectar.

How does it help preserve products? 

Honey has a high sugar content combined with a very low pH and water content, which makes it inhospitable to microorganisms. As a humectant, honey also draws water into sugar molecules leaving little for microbes to act on.

What are the benefits?

Highly antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and a humectant.

Interesting fact? 

Modern archaeologists excavating ancient Egyptian tombs have discovered pots of honey that date back thousands of years and are still edible.


Honey is the product of blossom nectar transformed into a rich, gluttonous ingredient by honey bees. The insects do this by reducing nectar’s water content from a very high level to a much lower quantity, meaning that honey itself is almost pure sugar. British Beekeepers Association trustee, Ian Homer, explains, “Bees collect nectar from various flowers and add invertase (an enzyme which the bee produces in the hypopharyngeal gland) which helps to invert the disaccharides (sugars) to monosaccharides. The water content of the nectar is usually around 80% when first collected and this is then evaporated in the hive by the bees to leave a water content of around 18%. At this point it is sealed in the cells in the comb and is stable.” Consequently, honey may crystallise but will not spoil and can be heated back to an edible liquid form.

Honey’s colour, flavour and properties are derived from regional flora visited by the bees, meaning a variety of different kinds are available to source. Lush Ingredients Buyer, Raquel Roriz-Rubim, explains “We've used a variety of honey in our products across the years, including English, Zambian and Greek, each reflecting the diverse floras of the bees’ habitats in all these different regions.”

These variations, however, all have a low water content, which creates an inhospitable environment for microorganisms - giving honey renowned antifungal, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. A high quantity of honey can thus be used to preserve products by stabilising formulas and reducing the amount of free water in a product and warding off microbial growth.

In addition, honey is beneficial for the skin and hair, helping to gently cleanse and hydrate. Lush Trainer, Georgina Shaw, explains, “Honey is a humectant: a material that both attracts and retains moisture. It’s clever because a lot of materials can help retain moisture, but humectants also manage to draw in moisture.” This means honey helps to gently balance the skin and scalp, hydrate the skin and give shine and gloss to the hair. Using this versatile ingredient as a natural preservative therefore gives customers even more of a good thing.

Raquel says “We currently buy English, clear, Zambian and Greek honey. They are mainly through two distributors, one who works directly with the producers and is a producer himself, and another who is a mainstream supplier.”


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