Honey as a topical treatment for wounds

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Feb 28;(2):CD005083. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005083.pub3.


Background: Honey is a viscous, supersaturated sugar solution derived from nectar gathered and modified by the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Honey has been used since ancient times as a remedy in wound care. Evidence from animal studies and some trials has suggested that honey may accelerate wound healing.

Objectives: The objective was to determine whether honey increases the rate of healing in acute wounds (e.g. burns, lacerations) and chronic wounds (e.g. skin ulcers, infected surgical wounds).

Search methods: For this first update of the review we searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (searched 13 June 2012); The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 5); Ovid MEDLINE (2008 to May Week 5 2012); Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations 12 June 2012); Ovid EMBASE (2008 to 2012 Week 23); and EBSCO CINAHL (2008 to 8 June 2012).

Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials that evaluated honey as a treatment for any sort of acute or chronic wound were sought. There was no restriction in terms of source, date of publication or language. Wound healing was the primary endpoint.

Data collection and analysis: Data from eligible trials were extracted and summarised by one review author, using a data extraction sheet, and independently verified by a second review author.

Main results: We identified 25 trials (with a total of 2987 participants) that met the inclusion criteria, including six new trials that were added to this update. In acute wounds, three trials evaluated the effect of honey in acute lacerations, abrasions or minor surgical wounds and 12 trials evaluated the effect of honey in burns. In chronic wounds, two trials evaluated the effect of honey in venous leg ulcers, and single trials investigated its effect in infected post-operative wounds, pressure injuries, cutaneous Lieshmaniasis, diabetic foot ulcers and Fournier's gangrene. Three trials recruited people into mixed groups of chronic or acute wounds. Most trials were at high or unclear risk of bias. In acute wounds, specifically partial-thickness burns, honey might reduce time to healing compared with some conventional dressings (WMD -4.68 days, 95%CI -4.28 to -5.09 days), but, when compared with early excision and grafting, honey delays healing in partial- and full-thickness burns (WMD 13.6 days, 95% CI 10.02 to 17.18 days). In chronic wounds, honey does not significantly increase healing in venous leg ulcers when used as an adjuvant to compression (RR 1.15, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.38), and may delay healing in cutaneous Leishmaniasis when used as an adjuvant to meglumine antimoniate compared to meglumine antimoniate alone (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.51 to 1.01).

Authors' conclusions: Honey dressings do not increase rates of healing significantly in venous leg ulcers when used as an adjuvant to compression. Honey may delay healing in partial- and full-thickness burns in comparison to early excision and grafting, and in cutaneous Leishmaniasis when used as an adjuvant with meglumine antimoniate. Honey might be superior to some conventional dressing materials, but there is considerable uncertainty about the replicability and applicability of this evidence. There is insufficient evidence to guide clinical practice in other types of wounds, and purchasers should refrain from providing honey dressings for routine use until sufficient evidence of effect is available.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Apitherapy / methods*
  • Burns / therapy
  • Honey*
  • Humans
  • Leg Ulcer / therapy
  • Pressure Ulcer / therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Surgical Wound Infection / therapy
  • Varicose Ulcer / therapy
  • Wound Healing*
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*