Turmeric for Acne: Possible Benefits, Drawbacks, and Effectiveness

Turmeric, the golden spice that gives flavor to curry and other foods, is a well-known anti-inflammatory herb that is purported to clear up acne and treat acne scars. While the herb has been used for millennia in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, modern science is inconclusive on these specific benefits, though the herb is generally very safe to use and is found in many various skincare products on the market today.

Close-Up Of Turmeric Spilling From Measuring Spoon On Table
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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 (and supplement 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.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Although there are more than 300 components in turmeric that have been identified, curcumin is the most widely studied. Curcumin seems to be the active component that's primarily responsible for the health benefits of turmeric, the list of which is long and varied, showing promise as a possible treatment for arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers are also studying turmeric for anti-cancer properties.

Antibacterial Effects

As far as acne treatment is concerned, turmeric does have some qualities that make it worth a closer look. Turmeric is credited as being an anti-ager and a powerful antioxidant. Both topical and oral turmeric have been studied, and, even though turmeric is one of the most widely researched herbal remedies, experts still have very limited info as of yet. Of special interest is that some research suggests curcumin kills acne-causing bacteria, at least in a lab setting.

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 of turmeric, not only kills P. acnes but 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.

So, while more research needs to be done in this area, it's a good start.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

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.

No large clinical trials have been done yet, though, so we really don't know for sure what (if any) effect turmeric has on the inflammation of acne.

Acne Scarring

As for acne scarring, 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.

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 an effect on any dermatological issue.

Side Effects and Other Considerations

It's important to be aware that turmeric can cause a type of allergic reaction in some called contact dermatitis.

Some people develop redness, itching, and blisters after applying turmeric directly to the skin. Remember, just because turmeric is a natural substance doesn't guarantee it's effective, or even safe, for your skin.

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, clothes, countertops, washcloths, towels, and anything else it comes in contact with.

Adding 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. You have multiple options for adding it:

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.

Many prepackaged teas that contain turmeric are available, 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 healthcare provider 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 shouldn't use these supplements.

Use a Turmeric Mask or Soap

Rather get your turmeric topically? There are some over-the-counter skincare 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 previously used the spice on your skin without a problem.

Turmeric can be drying to the skin, so take care if your skin is already feeling dry.

Ask your dermatologist before trying any turmeric products, whether homemade or store-bought.

A Word from Verywell

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

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

6 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. National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Turmeric.

  2. Fowler JF Jr, Woolery-Lloyd H, Waldorf H, Saini R. Innovations in Natural Ingredients and Their Use in Skin Care. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.

  3. Vaughn AR, Branum A, Sivamani RK. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: a Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Phytotherapy Research. 2016 Aug; 30(80):1243-64. doi:10.1002/ptr.5640

  4. Liu CH, Huang HY. In vitro anti-propionibacterium activity by curcumin containing vesicle system. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2013;61(4):419–425. doi:10.1248/cpb.c12-01043

  5. Hollinger JC, Angra K, Halder RM. Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol.

  6. Chaudhari SP, Tam AY, Barr JA. Curcumin: A Contact Allergen.The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.