How Can Turmeric Benefit Your Skin?

The spice turmeric, also known as the golden spice, comes 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 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, and skin infections.

Turmeric roots with turmeric powder on wooden background

krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

What Is Turmeric?

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

Turmeric is the source of curcumin, a polyphenol that targets multiple signaling molecules (molecules that pass information between cells). Curcumin traditionally has been used in Asian countries as an herbal medicine. It offers health benefits against 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, a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It is more common in teenagers and young adults, but all ages can be affected. Studies in a rat model on 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 later in adulthood as well. 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 a 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 containing curcumin showed it alleviated many of the symptoms of eczema. However, the non-comparative study lacked a control group, had a high dropout rate, and made it difficult to distinguish between the effects of turmeric or the cream's other ingredients. Although the results of this study are encouraging, more clinical trials are necessary to determine turmeric's efficacy in treating atopic dermatitis.

Scalp Conditions

In a study that examined the effect of turmeric on one skin condition, scalp psoriasis, 40 patients were divided into two groups. One group received turmeric tonic twice a week for nine weeks, while the other group received a placebo. By the end of the trial, people using the turmeric tonic showed reduced symptoms and improved quality of life.

Under-Eye Circles

In addition to helping with skin conditions like acne, women in India use turmeric as a skin-lightening agent, specifically under the eyes. Curcumin gel also has been reported to improve the appearance of pigmentary changes due to photodamaged skin conditions (caused by exposure to the sun). 

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, cloves, neem oil (from an evergreen tree native to India), and turmeric have been shown to reduce the survival rate of mites, unlike permethrin and ivermectin.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder that produces patches of scaly skin that can itch. In one animal study, a gel formulation containing 1% curcumin improved psoriasis-like inflammation. Other studies also have pointed to the benefits of curcumin, including in preventing psoriasis. In studies using mice, for instance, curcumin slowed the activation of potassium channels in T cells, which play a role at the start of psoriasis.  

According to some studies, curcumin helps heal wounds by decreasing the body's natural response to skin wounds, like inflammation and oxidation. Topical application of curcumin contributes to granulation (healing at the edges), new tissue formation, collagen deposition (increases the strength of the wound), tissue remodeling (restores the characteristics of the tissues), and wound contraction (reduces the size of the wound).

How to Use It

Turmeric comes in various forms, including as an essential oil that can be added to 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 a common ingredient in chai teas) and supplements to improve several conditions, from joint pain to digestive disorders. Many of these, however, are homeopathic (alternative) products that have not yet been reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There are a number of topical analgesic (pain-relieving) creams that contain turmeric and other ingredients like menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate. These can be purchased over the counter but 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 type of dietary supplement and you’re also taking prescribed medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there may be any contraindications that would make taking the supplement inadvisable. 

Risks

In general, curcumin has few side effects and is considered safe by the FDA. However, a few symptoms were reported in one trial to assure curcumin's safety and its health benefits. Seven people received 500 mg–12,000 mg (milligram) doses who, 72 hours later, experienced diarrhea, headaches, rashes, and yellow stools. In another study, some participants received 0.45 grams–3.6 grams per 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 (which can lead to tissue damage at high levels).

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 improve a wide variety of conditions, such as acne and other painful skin problems. Studies with limited parameters like small participant groups and short trial periods indicate that turmeric aids in healing these conditions.

But before you experiment with turmeric on your own, consult with your doctor or dermatologist to make sure that you don't have an allergy to the substance, that you are using safe amounts, and that you are not taking 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.