Manuka Honey is unique to New Zealand, the nectar being collected by the bees from the flower of the indigenous Manuka tree. Research at Waikato University has shown that all varieties of honey have some anti-bacterial activity. Manuka Honey has tested as having a much higher level of anit-bacterial activity, up to many tens of times greater than the other honeys tested. The term Active or UMF is used to indicate that the honey has been tested for increased anti-bacterial activity and then rated as to the strength of that activity.
There are a number of reasons for the antibacterial activity of honey. The high sugar content of all honey means there are few water molecules available, making it difficult for micro-organisms to establish, and the generally low pH is enough to inhibit many animal pathogens. The primary reason for anti-bacterial activity in most honeys is the slow release of hydrogen peroxide, which results from the action of the enzyme glucose oxidase when honey is diluted. However, this Hydrogen Peroxide can be broken down by heat and light, and may also be broken down by the catalase enzyme present within body fluids and tissues.
Some Manuka Honey has additional non-peroxide antibacterial components which are much more stable. This is often referred as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF™). The non-peroxide activity is due to the combined action of methylglyoxal (MGO) and another as yet unidentified synergistic component (that enhances the anti-bacterial action of methylglyoxal). The methylglyoxal is formed by a chemical reaction that occurs after the bees have processed the nectar into honey. This unique manuka factor is present in full strength active manuka honey, which provides a more potent anti-bacterial action and diffuses deeper into skin tissues than the hydrogen peroxide effect from other types of honey.
Manuka Honey can be tested for its level of non-peroxide activity and issued with a number to indicate how ‘active’ it is. So, a rating of 10 indicates the same level of antiseptic potency of a 10% solution of Phenol (Carbolic Acid). The higher the rating, the higher the activity and therefore the greater the healing ability
When the discovery of this increased level of anti-bacterial activity present in some Manuka Honeys was being first realised and initially researched, it was referred to as ‘Active Manuka Honey’. At this point in time the causes for the increased activity were as yet unknown.
As time has gone by and our knowledge has increased the meaning of the ‘Active’ has begun to change. Now it is fair to say that while both terms refer to antibacterial activity the general understanding of the terms active vs. UMF would be as follows:
Active includes the antibacterial activity that is present as a result of both any non-peroxide activity as well as the hydrogen peroxide activity, which is present within the honey. It is the total level of activity present within the sample, and may in some cases be the result of mainly hydrogen peroxide.
UMF™ refers to just the more stable non-peroxide component, it still has an active hydrogen peroxide component occurring as well, but this is not included in the calculation to measure its activity.
Therefore Manuka Honey with a UMF™ rating of 15+ will have greater total and more stable anti-bacterial properties than Active 15+ Manuka Honey.
Because of this change in terminology and meaning over the course of time, you will notice that we are now swapping to showing the non-peroxide only terminology on our packaging, i.e. UMF. When Manuka Honey is being used in skin care it is important not to get too hung up on the UMF or activity rating. Whilst it is relevant by far the most important factor to be considered is the volume at which honey is included in the formulation. A few drops of Manuka Honey in a formulation won’t provide any real benefit to the skin, where as a high percentage of honey in a formulation will.
For access to all the scientific information and amazing array of research articles that have been written we recommend visiting waikato.academia.edu/PeterMolan