How Can Turmeric Benefit Your Skin?

Turmeric, also known as the golden spice, is a spice from the turmeric plant. It has been used for medicinal purposes in the East for centuries. Widely used in Ayurveda, the Indian practice of holistic medicine, turmeric is also used as a spice in cooking as well as in religious ceremonies.

This spice may represent a low-cost, well-tolerated, effective agent in the treatment of skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, skin cancer, and skin infections.

Turmeric roots with turmeric powder on wooden background

krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric, grown in Southeast Asia, primarily India, is a species of the ginger family. The underground stem, or rhizome, is the part of the plant where the spice is derived from and is used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. 

Turmeric is the source of curcumin, a polyphenol that targets multiple signaling molecules (these molecules send information between cells). Traditionally, curcumin is used in Asian countries as an herbal medicine. It offers health benefits for inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndromes, pain, and degenerative eye conditions. These benefits are a result of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  

Skin Benefits

Several studies have shown that turmeric and curcumin may provide health benefits for several skin disorders. However, evidence supporting the effectiveness of turmeric in treating these conditions is not very robust.

Acne

Curcumin is a potential alternative treatment for acne. Studies in a rat model of acne showed improved antibacterial activity after treatment with a gel containing curcumin and lauric acid.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis typically begins in early childhood and usually disappears by adolescence. Yet some people may have it as adults. Symptoms include dry, itchy skin, and red rashes that can appear on the scalp , face, hands and feet.

In Asian countries, the use of curcumin to treat eczema is common practice. Curcumin leads to the curbing of T-cell activity (T-cells are white blood cells in the immune system). A study that used an herbal extract cream that also contained curcumin showed it alleviated many of the symptoms of eczema. However, the non-comparative study lacked a control group, had a high drop-out rate, and made it difficult to determine the effects between turmeric and other cream ingredients. More clinical trials are necessary to determine turmeric's efficacy in treating atopic dermatitis.

Scalp Conditions

In a study that examined the effect of a turmeric on scalp psoriasis, forty patients were divided into two groups. One group received turmeric tonic two times for nine weeks, while the other group received a placebo. By the end of the trial, the turmeric tonic reduced symptoms and improved quality of life for patients.

Under Eye Circles

In addition to helping with skin conditions like acne, women in India use turmeric as a skin-lightening agent. For example, curcumin gel has been reported to improve the appearance of photo-damaged skin conditions such as pigmentary changes. 

Scabies

Scabies is an infestation of the microscopic human itch mite that burrows under the upper layer of the skin. Symptoms include a rash and severe itching. The two most commonly used medications to treat scabies are a permethrin cream and oral ivermectin. However, essential oils that have antimicrobial properties have also been used. Tea tree oil, clove, neem oils and turmeric have shown to reduce the survival rate of mites unlike permethrin and ivermectin.

Psoriasis

In a study with animals, a gel formulation with 1% curcumin improved psoriasis-like inflammation. Studies indicate that curcumin's antioxidative properties may lessen the oxidative stress in lesions. Two other studies show that curcumin may also hinder phosphorylase kinases (the enzyme that's responsible for catalyzing glycogen breakdown) in patients with psoriasis. In studies using mice, curcumin also impeded potassium channels in T cells, which have role in the early start of psoriasis.  

According to some studies, curcumin plays a role in wound healing by decreasing the body's natural response to skin wounds like inflammation and oxidation. Topical application of curcumin helps in granulation, new tissue formation, collagen deposition, tissue remodeling, and wound contraction.

How to Use It

Turmeric can be used in various forms, including as an essential oil that can be added to cosmetics in creams, gels, skin masks, and shampoos along with other natural ingredients such as coconut oil and floral essences. It can be turned into a paste and applied to wounds; and it can be used in teas (turmeric is often an ingredient in chai teas) and supplements to alleviate several conditions from joint pain to digestive disorders. Many of these are homeopathic products that have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There are a number of topical analgesic creams that contain turmeric and other ingredients like menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate (all topical pain-relievers) that can be purchased over the counter, but note that many of these topical creams or gels may not have been reviewed or approved by the FDA.

Turmeric root powder extract, along with other herbal ingredients, is also included in dietary supplements in capsule form. Before you decide to use any sort of dietary supplement and you’re on any sort of prescribed medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there may be any contraindications. 

Risks

In general, curcumin has few side effects and is considered safe by the US Food and Drug Administration. However, a few symptoms have been reported in a trial to assure curcumin's safety and its health benefits. Seven people received 500–12,000 mg in a dose; 72 hours later they experienced diarrhea, a headache, a rash, and yellow stool. In another study, some participants received 0.45 to 3.6 g/day of curcumin for one to four months. They reported nausea, diarrhea, and an increase in serum alkaline phosphatase (this may indicate liver damage or a bone disorder) and lactate dehydrogenase (an enzyme found in almost all body tissues).

Lastly, but less worrisome, if you’re using a paste made with turmeric, it will stain your skin and clothing. 

Turmeric has been used to alleviate several skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis. However, some people are allergic to turmeric. If you have an allergy to turmeric, do not use supplements or topical medications that contain this ingredient. 

A Word From Verywell

Turmeric has been used to alleviate a wide variety of conditions, such as acne and other painful skin conditions. Studies with limited parameters like small participant groups and short trial periods indicate that turmeric aids in healing these conditions. But before you experiment on your own with turmeric, consult with your doctor or dermatologist to make sure you don't have an allergy to the substance and you are not using anything that would interact with turmeric.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, The Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011.

  2. Vollono L, Falconi M, Gaziano R, Iacovelli F, Dika E, Terracciano C, Bianchi L, Campione E. Potential of Curcumin in Skin Disorders. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 10;11(9):2169. doi:10.3390/nu11092169

  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Turmeric. Updated May 2020.

  4. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017 Oct 22;6(10):92. doi:10.3390/foods6100092

  5. Vollono L, Falconi M, Gaziano R, Iacovelli F, Dika E, Terracciano C, Bianchi L, Campione E. Potential of Curcumin in Skin Disorders. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 10;11(9):2169. doi:10.3390/nu11092169

  6. Medline Plus. Atopic Dermatitis. Updated August 18, 2020.

  7. Bahraini P, Rajabi M, Mansouri P, Sarafian G, Chalangari R, Azizian Z. Turmeric tonic as a treatment in scalp psoriasis: A randomized placebo-control clinical trial. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018 Jun;17(3):461-466. doi:10.1111/jocd.12513

  8. Gopinath H, Karthikeyan K. Turmeric: A condiment, cosmetic and cure. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2018 Jan-Feb;84(1):16-21. doi:10.4103/ijdvl.IJDVL_1143_16

  9. Chandler DJ, Fuller LC. A Review of Scabies: An Infestation More than Skin Deep. Dermatology. 2019;235(2):79-90. doi:10.1159/000495290

  10. Nardo VD, Gianfaldoni S, Tchernev G, Wollina U, Barygina V, Lotti J, Daaboul F, Lotti T. Use of Curcumin in Psoriasis. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2018 Jan 21;6(1):218-220. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2018.055

  11. Akbik D, Ghadiri M, Chrzanowski W, Rohanizadeh R. Curcumin as a wound healing agent. Life Sci. 2014 Oct 22;116(1):1-7. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2014.08.016

  12. DailyMed. Turmeric-infused pain cream. Updated January 13, 2020.