Possible Health Benefits of Turmeric for Eczema and Skin

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial plant related to the ginger family. The root stalks, or rhizomes, of turmeric are ground into a bright golden-yellow powder and used as a spice for coloring and flavoring food. Curcumin, the chemical compound in turmeric, has long been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for its anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties.

Turmeric can come in root, powder, or supplement form. Emerging research supports the topical use of turmeric to the skin via a cream or gel that contains extract from the turmeric root for improving symptoms of eczema. While this field of research is still growing, topical turmeric may be able to help alleviate some symptoms of eczema by decreasing inflammation and improving skin healing.

ground turmeric

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Health Benefits

Turmeric is a spice often used for medicinal purposes because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the polyphenol curcumin. However, curcumin has poor bioavailability when taken orally, meaning that the body cannot absorb it adequately because it’s rapidly metabolized and eliminated from the body. Supplementing turmeric with piperine, the compound found in black pepper, can help improve its absorption when taken orally. 

When applied topically to your skin, curcumin has shown better bioavailability than when it’s taken orally because it is not rapidly metabolized in the gastrointestinal tract. This means that it can be used more readily by the body before it is broken down and excreted. Because of this, topically applied turmeric has good potential to be used as a treatment agent for inflammatory skin conditions compared to oral formulations of turmeric. 

Physical Benefits

Preliminary clinical research suggests that turmeric can be beneficial for:

  • Regulating lipid metabolism by altering the activity of enzymes involved to lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood
  • Reducing oxidative stress by increasing antioxidants (like superoxide dismutase) and increasing activation of enzymes (like lipid peroxides and glutathione peroxidase) which break down harmful free radicals that contribute to widespread inflammation throughout the body
  • Decreasing inflammation by blocking the activation of the tumor necrosis factor, an inflammatory protein that becomes elevated with many conditions like obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome

While these benefits were observed through studies involving people who took turmeric orally, it can be extrapolated that topical turmeric can have similar benefits due to its improved bioavailability when absorbed through the skin. However, further research is needed.

While research is still preliminary and ongoing, clinical studies suggest that topical turmeric can be beneficial for treating eczema and other skin conditions by improving collagen synthesis and accelerating maturation and strengthening of collagen fibers. Collagen is the main structural protein that makes up the body’s connective tissues, including your skin. Topically applied turmeric can therefore help promote faster wound healing and skin cell turnover to help alleviate the dry, scaly patches caused by eczema.

According to a 2019 systematic review, topical use of turmeric may help suppress excess production and block activation of the tumor necrosis factor and inflammatory cytokines. Both tumor necrosis factor and other cytokines are inflammatory proteins that become elevated from widespread inflammation throughout the body involved in eczema and other conditions like psoriasis. When these inflammatory proteins are reduced, conditions like eczema have the potential to get better.

What Are Cytokines?

Cytokines are small proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. When released, they signal the immune system to do its job. Cytokines affect the growth of all blood cells and other cells that help the body’s immune and inflammation responses.

What Is Ayurveda? 

Ayurveda is a holistic form of medicine based out of India that focuses on a balance between mind, body, and spirit to promote good health by balancing life energies, called doshas.

While traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine utilize different treatment options for targeting specific health problems, Ayurveda utilizes alternative techniques like massage, oils, herbs, enemas, laxatives, and blood purification to maintain optimal health without a focus on specific diseases or conditions.

Possible Side Effects

Turmeric and the curcumin it contains are recognized as safe compounds by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with few side effects. The most common side effect of using turmeric topically is skin discoloration since the pigmented golden color will stain your skin when applied topically. However, this side effect is temporary and will subside once the compound is fully absorbed into your skin.

While curcumin is generally considered safe to use, some negative side effects, including headache, nausea, diarrhea, rash, and yellow stool, have been reported. These side effects were noted with the oral use of turmeric, but may result from topical use as well.

Curcumin may also have potential interactions with certain medications such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), antibiotics, antidepressants, cardiovascular medications, and cancer drugs. Always make sure to talk to your doctor before starting to take an herb or supplement either in oral or topical form to make sure that it will not negatively interact with the medications you are already taking.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

When you’re using a topical form of turmeric, you can choose either a micro-emulsion, gel, or ointment to apply to your skin. While all formulations have the potential to improve the symptoms of eczema, each formulation may be more beneficial for different symptoms. 

A 2015 clinical trial revealed that after daily application for four weeks, micro-emulsion formulations may be more effective in reducing redness and swelling, gels may be more effective for itching, and ointments may be more effective for scaling and skin patches. Each formulation contained 5% of turmeric extract.

Summary

Research has shown that topical use of turmeric can potentially help improve the symptoms of eczema. Turmeric may improve the production and strengthen collagen, which is one of the building blocks of your skin. Using it on your skin can help promote wound healing and help with the dry, scaly skin caused by eczema. While it’s deemed a safe compound, turmeric can potentially stain your skin and interact with other medications you use. Check with your doctor before adding turmeric to your treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

There are many different forms of eczema, and each person’s eczema can present differently. While turmeric cannot cure eczema or be used as a replacement for prescription treatments, it can be a useful complementary solution to add to your current treatment plan to help you manage your eczema symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about using turmeric topically to make sure there are no potential side effects or interactions with the medications that you may be taking. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can turmeric help with skin inflammation?

While research is still emerging and ongoing, a 2019 systematic review of available evidence suggests that turmeric can be beneficial for decreasing symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis.

How do you apply turmeric for eczema?

You can apply turmeric topically through a micro-emulsion, gel, or ointment that is specifically formulated to aid in the absorption of turmeric through the skin. Applying turmeric powder directly to the skin by itself will not have the same benefits, as it will be unable to penetrate through the skin on its own.

Who should avoid turmeric?

People who take certain medications like blood thinners (anticoagulants), antibiotics, antidepressants, cardiovascular medications, or cancer drugs should consult with their doctor before taking turmeric. Turmeric can potentially interact with these medications and may need to be avoided.

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