Turmeric for Acne: Possible Benefits, Drawbacks, and Effectiveness

Close-Up Of Turmeric Spilling From Measuring Spoon On Table
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Turmeric, that exotic spice that gives flavor to curry is a hot new health food. But can it really clear acne and treat acne scars?

Let's take a look at what the science says.

What Is Turmeric?

Curcuma longa, as turmeric is botanically known, is a plant that is native to Asia. It's a relative of ginger, and it has a distinctive spicy smoky flavor.

The root is dried and powdered to give us the bright golden yellow to orange spice. It's widely used in Indian cuisine, and you can find it in the spice aisle of your local grocery store.

Turmeric has been used for centuries in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat a vast array of health problems. Traditionally, it's used for anything from indigestion to arthritis. It's also been used in folk medicine as a treatment for skin issues like diaper rash, psoriasis, and acne.

With more people becoming interested in natural remedies as a whole, it's not surprising that turmeric is getting a second look.

Turmeric Vs. Curcumin

When talking about turmeric, you'll also hear a lot about curcumin. Curcumin is a component found in turmeric.

Although there are more than 300 components in turmeric that have been identified, curcumin is the most widely studied. The words curcumin and turmeric are often used interchangeably when talking about the health benefits of the spice.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

As far as natural remedies go turmeric, and specifically curcumin, has been studied more than most. The list of health benefits given to turmeric is long and varied.

Turmeric is credited as being an anti-ager and a powerful antioxidant. It shows promise as a possible treatment for arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers are also studying turmeric for anti-cancer properties.

Both topical and oral turmeric has been studied. And, even though turmeric is one of the most widely researched herbal remedies, we still have very limited info as of yet.

Early evidence shows some promise, but much more research needs to be done to see exactly what turmeric can do, and how it does it.

Antibacterial Effects of Turmeric

As far as acne is concerned, turmeric does have some qualities that make it worth a closer look at a possible acne treatment. Curcumin kills acne-causing bacteria, in vitro at least.

Inflammatory acne is, in part, caused by bacteria called Propionibacteria acnes (P. acnes). This bacterium is a normal resident of the skin; it doesn't mean you're unclean or unhygienic in any way.

This bacterium is becoming more resistant to antibiotics that have been used to treat acne for decades. So, there's been interest in finding other antimicrobial agents to step up and take this place.

Studies have shown that curcumin, that important component in turmeric, kills P. acnes and does so even better than the acne drug azelaic acid.

This was done in vitro, which means in a test tube in a lab, and also tested on pig's skin. It wasn't done on human skin. And simply because it works in a lab doesn't mean it will work the same on human skin.

More research needs to be done in this area, but it's a good start.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Turmeric

Probably the most well-known and well-studied benefit of turmeric is its anti-inflammatory quality. There's some indication that turmeric may help reduce the inflammation of acne, either when taken orally or used topically.

But there haven't been any large clinical trials done, so we really don't know for sure what (if any) effect turmeric has on acne.

Turmeric and Acne

Turmeric has not been proven to treat acne or acne scars. Although turmeric and its constituent curcumin has shown some promise, as of yet it hasn't been proven to have any effect on any dermatological issue.

As for acne scarring, some a few sources claim turmeric helps fade hyperpigmentation, so it may help topically to fade dark acne marks. There's nothing to suggest that turmeric has any effect on pitted or depressed acne scars.

Still, there is enough to keep researchers looking into this herbal remedy.

It May Cause Skin Irritation

Here's a detail about turmeric that we're certain about: it can cause contact dermatitis.

Some people develop redness, itching, and blisters after applying turmeric directly to the skin. That's definitely not something you want to find out after applying turmeric all over your face!

Remember, just because turmeric is a natural substance doesn't guarantee it's effective, or even safe, for your skin.

It Can Stain Your Skin (and Everything Else)

Another drawback to turmeric is its ability to impart its color on everything it touches. It's used as a dye in many cultures due to this very fact.

So before you go and whip up a turmeric mask, know that the bright yellow spice can stain your skin, your countertops, washcloths, towels, and anything else it comes in contact with.

Ways to Add Turmeric to Your Acne Skin Care Routine

After weighing the pros and cons, you may decide to add turmeric to your acne treatment routine. In general, turmeric is a very safe herbal remedy.

Cook with it. The easiest, and without a doubt, most delicious, way to get your dose of turmeric is to add it to your diet. Add it to curries, soups and stews, rice, or steamed vegetables. It's a versatile spice that you can do a lot with.

Drink turmeric tea. Another way to up your turmeric intake is to drink it in tea. There are many prepackaged teas that contain turmeric, or you can simply make your own with the dried root or powder.

Take turmeric or curcumin supplements. Curcumin/turmeric supplements are another option. Be sure to follow the directions on the package. Although they're generally recognized as safe, large doses of turmeric/curcumin can cause an upset stomach. Also, you'll want to talk with your doctor first before starting on supplements to ensure it's safe for you to do so. Curcumin can interact with certain medications. Those with gallbladder disease also shouldn't use these supplements.

Use a turmeric mask or soap. Rather get your turmeric topically? There are some over-the-counter skin care products that contain turmeric (how much of the spice they actually contain though is debatable).

If you decide to use a DIY turmeric mask, test to make sure you won't have a reaction to the spice before you use it on our face. You can do a patch test by applying a bit of your DIY concoction to the crook of your elbow on your inner arm. Let it sit there for a few minutes, then rinse off.

Monitor your skin for redness, irritation or rash for the next 24 hours. Not having a reaction on your arm doesn't guarantee you won't have a reaction on your face, but if your arm does become irritated, you will know unequivocally to not use it on your face.

The patch test will also show you exactly how much staining you'll get from that particular recipe. You'll be able to practice your stain removal technique if the turmeric does turn your skin orange.

Know that you can develop a sensitivity to turmeric over time. So it's possible to have a reaction even if you've used the spice on your skin before without a problem.

Turmeric can be drying to the skin, so take care if your skin is already feeling dry. And, of course, ask your dermatologist before trying any turmeric products, whether pre-made or handmade.

A Word from Verywell

Whether you decide to use turmeric or not, your best option for clear skin is to use a proven acne medication. You'll get better and more consistent results with these treatments rather than an herbal remedy.

If you need help with treatment, make an appointment with a dermatologist. There are many acne treatment options available that will work for you.

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