Spicing up your skincare: can turmeric make a difference?

Dr Zara Kassam, PhD

Turmeric has been praised for its health benefits, so could it help your skin? Dr Zara Kassam finds out.

Did you know that herbs and spices contain more antioxidants than any other food group? So could you have a great skin care ingredient sitting in your kitchen cabinets? Let’s take a moment to spice up our lives and explore the far-reaching benefits of this spectacular spice; Turmeric.

Turmeric is a commonly used spice in Asian cuisine, but when applied topically it has a number of skin care benefits; it can acts as an antiseptic, antioxidant, and is anti-inflammatory. It is gentle enough to sooth atopic dermatitis, rosacea flare-ups; fade pesky acne blemishes, calm irritation and boost radiance. Sounds too good to be true, right? However turmeric has a very long history of medicinal use, dating back nearly 4000 years. Contemporary medicine has started to recognise its importance, as shown by the numerous publications within the last decade.

Curcumin the active component of turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and was first isolated and characterised in 1910.  It is this component that shows these powerful properties. Curcumin protects skin by quenching free radicals and reducing inflammation. Studies have found that curcumin reduced wound-healing time and improved collagen deposition.


A clinical trial revealed the effectiveness of turmeric and its ability to heal wounds in a study carried out on 181 women who had undergone a caesarean section. It showed that when using turmeric topically, the scars healed twice as fast compared to the placebo group; and due to its effectiveness, appearances of dryness, rashes, swelling, and irritation associated with wound healing are repaired as curcumin also helps increase connective tissue formation and promote blood flow.

Not only this turmeric is said to prevent the adverse effects of exposure to UVB radiation, which can cause fine lines, wrinkles, and discolouration as well as reduce the skins elasticity.  So how does turmeric do this?  UVB radiation increases the production of the enzyme matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2). Once activated it degrades collagen leading to wrinkles and less smooth looking skin. Turmeric prevents sun damage by reducing the production of MMP-2 which in turn reduces the amount of collagen degradation. The upshot, less skin damage.

Due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, studies have found curcumin can help counteract the effects of aging. Various studies have concluded when applied topically in the form of a moisturiser, turmeric can drastically reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles; as well as fade dark spots. Changes in skin pigment were also noted to have significantly reduced by 15%, when used twice daily.

And it’s said turmeric may also help prevent or reduce acne outbreaks due to its antibacterial properties. Turmeric contains fatty acids and phytosterols, which have been found to reduce excess oil in the skin. In order to prevent the skin from becoming dry, oils are secreted by the sebaceous glands to help retain moisture levels in the epidermis; however excessively oily skin can lead to acne and cysts, this is usually a result of overactive sebaceous gland. One study found applying a cream containing an antioxidant extract from turmeric to the skin twice-daily reduced oiliness by 25 %; with a drastic change noticeable from as early as 4 weeks.

Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma and rosacea can all be managed by applying turmeric onto the effected areas. Though the underlying causes of these conditions vary, they all cause the skin to become inflamed. When applied to the skin of mice turmeric inhibited a protein complex that is considered to be the main cause of inflammation – NF-κB. Not only has it been shown to reduce inflammation, but it also protects the skin by improving collagen production while overpowering free radicals.


So why isn’t it approved as a medication for all these things? The answer is simple – there is some evidence but at the moment, not enough. One are though where the evidence is mounting is in treating pigmentation.

Turmeric contains a compound called Tetrahydrodiferuloyl-methane (Sabi-White) which is a powerful depigmenting agent. In cosmeceuticals such agents are used by dermatologists in the treatment of pigmentation disorders, such as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, dermatitis; and melisma. Sabi-White affects the biosynthesis of melanin to reduce localised hyperpigmentation and help to affect a lighter skin tone. It is important to not that this is an industry funded study.

But it seems there is potential for this spice in skin care. It has multiple benefits and could enhance the look and feel of your skin.

There are plenty of turmeric skincare products on the market; or you could even make your own at home. But before you slather yourself in the stuff; it is important to note that if you have light skin, it may temporarily stain your skin a slight yellow colour, while other skin tones (medium-dark) may get a radiant glow.  Don’t let it scare you, though. If you’re apprehensive about trying a treatment, apply it before bed.


Why not try a DIY turmeric facemask:

  1. Heat up a tablespoon of honey in the microwave for 10-15 seconds, wait till the mixture cools.
  2. Combine the honey with a teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of Greek yogurt.
  3. Apply the mask to your face.
  4. Leave for 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Rinse the mask off with Luke-warm water.

This turmeric facemask will help clear and smooth your skin, minimise your pores and make your skin appear plumper. If the turmeric stains your face, simply wipe it off with a facial toner or olive oil and enjoy the benefits of having radiant glowing skin.