Used as a key ingredient for making curries, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant native to southwest India and a member of the ginger family. Turmeric roots – or rhizomes – can be peeled and eaten fresh or dried and ground up into a fine powder.
Imparting an aromatic, earthy scent with a slightly bitter and peppery taste, turmeric has played a role in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for more than 4,000 years to treat stomach ailments, improve blood circulation, and heal skin wounds.
More recently, studies on the healing properties of turmeric have signalled that this potent herb may be a viable treatment and preventative for a variety of medical conditions. Curcumin – one of the most important active compounds found in turmeric – is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral powerhouse.
Beyond its spectrum of benefits for physical and mental health, turmeric has an amazing effect on skin as well. Read on to learn about what turmeric – and specifically curcumin – can do to enhance and beautify your skin while keeping your largest organ ever so healthy.
1. Hasten Healing
While there have been plenty of studies on the wound healing effects of turmeric on animals, a new clinical trial has revealed that turmeric does indeed speed up the healing process in human subjects as well.
In evaluating the healing of women who had recently undergone a caesarean section, researchers divided participants into three groups: intervention with turmeric cream, placebo, and control. The REEDA scale – which stands for redness, edema (swelling), ecchymosis (bruising), discharge, and approximation (a measure of the extent of the wound opening) – was used to assess the severity of the post-surgical trauma. A low REEDA scores means that the wound is healing well.
The results of the study showed that women who were treated with turmeric had a REEDA score of 0.46 after 7 days (compared with 0.88 for placebo and 1.17 for control). In two weeks, turmeric users rated 0.03 where placebo subjects rated 0.22 and the control group 0.36.
2. Correct Oily Skin
In order to prevent the skin from becoming too dry, oils and waxes are secreted by the sebaceous glands. This helps the epidermis retain moisture while keeping the skin soft and supple. Excessively oily skin, usually due to overactive sebaceous glands, can lead to acne, cysts, and other woeful skin conditions.
To measure the effects of turmeric cream on oil production of the skin, a 2012 study found that after four weeks of treatment there was a “significant decrease” in skin oils when turmeric was applied twice daily. Over a period of three months, turmeric cream reduced facial oils by nearly 25%! The researchers noted this beneficial effect was likely because turmeric contains fatty acids and phytosterols, which have been observed in other studies to reduce excess skin oils.
3. Sun Damage Protection
To see the shocking effects of sun damage on the skin, one need only look to Bill McElligott whose 28-year stint as a delivery driver rendered the left side of his face deeply wrinkled, sagging, and pitted while his right side is downright youthful by comparison.
A major cause of premature skin aging, exposure to the sun’s powerful rays can bring about fine and deep lines, discoloration, freckling, reduced skin elasticity, and the appearance of “spider veins” – the dilation of small blood vessels beneath the skin.
Although wearing sunscreen can help protect against sun damage, turmeric was shown to prevent many of the adverse effects of exposure to ultraviolet B radiation. Using hairless mice as test subjects, researchers exposed the rodents to long-term, low-dose UVB rays and applied turmeric extract twice a day. Normally, chronic UVB light would cause skin thickening, wrinkles, changes in skin pigmentation, larger blood vessels, and loss of elasticity, but the mice suffered none of these ill effects.
Why did turmeric work so well? Apparently, radiation increases the expression of matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2), an enzyme which, when activated, degrades collagen between the outer layer and middle layer of the skin; it is thought that the reason turmeric prevents sun damage is its ability to inhibit an increase in MMP-2.
4. An Anti-Aging Treatment
Scientists believe aging is not a predestined biological mechanism and that genes are not programmed to promote the aging process. Rather, one’s lifespan is controlled by genes that regulate the metabolism, DNA repair, antioxidant systems, and cell death. Aging signals a decline in the efficacy of the system itself; over time, random errors occur in DNA replication which leads to an accumulation of older cells and damaged tissue.
Pinpointing why random errors occur in the first place is the Ponce de Leonian task that could eventually bring about immortality. The current theories on the causes of aging have been associated with chronic inflammation which leads to protein, cell, and organ dysregulation as well as an overabundance of free radicals that attack cells and connective tissues.
Because of its dynamic anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, several studies have suggested curcumin can help counteract the effects of aging and age-related disease. One study observed that insects fed a diet of curcumin had a significantly longer lifespan. Another report, published in Immunity & Ageing, identified turmeric as a safe, beneficial spice that may be a prime ingredient for preventing the process of aging.
Clinical trials, too, have bolstered these findings. Two studies published in the March 2010 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that use of moisturizing creams containing turmeric twice daily for eight weeks had the effect of drastically minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles; dark spots and changes in skin pigment were also reduced by nearly 15%.
5. Skin Cancer Prevention
Curcumin has also been recognized as an impressive anti-cancer treatment, able to selectively kill tumor cells while leaving the normal cells intact – a feat that traditional chemotherapy treatments are unable to accomplish. Moreover, it has been shown to stop pre-cancer from becoming cancer.
The effects of curcumin extract therapy for the treatment of the three types of skin cancer – namely, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma – has showed a lot of potential.
In a 1998 study, curcumin was able to induce apoptosis – or cell death – in basal cell carcinoma. Additionally, the study noted that curcumin acted as a chemopreventative for skin cancer, effectively preventing cancer cells from forming. Another study examined curcumin’s effects on melanoma and found it to stop the spread of cancer cells to surrounding tissue while inciting melanoma cells to die off. And lastly, a 2011 study on squamous cell carcinoma found that curcumin inhibited the size and progression of tumor growth.
6. Treat Chronic Skin Conditions
Curcumin has been shown to be quite effective in calming the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma, rosacea, and other skin diseases. Although the underlying causes of these conditions vary, they share inflammation of the skin in common.
Capable of stymying several pro-inflammatory molecules, curcumin treatments have been found to block what is considered to be the “holy grail” of inflammation – NF-?B, a protein complex that is involved in cellular responses to external stimuli like stress, free radicals, ultraviolet radiation, and cytokines. It is also responsible for regulating the immune system’s response to infection. An overactive NF-?B has been linked to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, cancer, viral infections, and addiction.
Curcumin can not only halt inflammation in its tracks, but it also protects the skin by improving collagen production while vanquishing free radicals. And because it works so effectively for healing wounded skin, many of the manifestations of skin disease – dryness, rashes, scaliness, swelling, and irritation – are repaired since curcumin helps increase connective tissue formation and promotes blood flow.
How to Use Turmeric for Healthier Skin
Want to start getting all these benefits and enhance the look and feel of your skin? There are a few different ways to incorporate turmeric into your beauty and health regimen:
Isolating the curcumin component of turmeric, oral supplements offer high concentrations of curcumin (95%) and so provide a lot of bang for your buck. In order for curcumin to be properly absorbed by the body, it needs to be taken along with black pepper or piperine. When shopping, look for brands that come formulated with BioPerine (black pepper extract), like this one.
Perhaps the most delectable way to use turmeric is to incorporate this pleasant spice into the foods you prepare. The amount of curcumin in turmeric powdered spices and fresh rhizomes is quite low in comparison with oral capsules (an average of 3.14% by weight), so you will want to include this ingredient in many dishes to achieve the full benefits for your skin and overall health.
The recommended culinary doses of turmeric are 1.5 to 3 g per day for fresh roots and 400 to 600 mg three times per day for the powdered spice. Blend it into smoothies, add it to soups and stews, sprinkle some atop fresh hummus, brew turmeric tea, marinade meats – the list goes on and on.
When cooking with turmeric, always add black pepper or healthy fats (like coconut oil) to increase its bioavailability and improve absorption. Another thing to keep in mind is that turmeric is somewhat delicate and its beneficial properties can be reduced through the cooking process. Boiling turmeric for as little as 15 minutes can destroy up to 85% of its curcumin content so it’s best to add the spice after you have removed the dish from heat. Curcumin also degrades when exposed to light for prolonged periods so it should be stored in a cool, dark place (an opaque, airtight container in the fridge is an excellent choice).
Applying turmeric directly to the face and body will leave your skin feeling refreshed and rehydrated. You can purchase turmeric cream or make your own. When applying homemade turmeric masks to your skin, always allow it to dry and harden (usually about 30 minutes) before rinsing it away. Here are some wonderful recipes:
All-Purpose Mask – 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder + 1 teaspoon of honey + 1 teaspoon of milk or plain yogurt
For Acne-Prone Skin – 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder + 1 tablespoon of chickpea powder + 1 tablespoon of lemon juice + a touch of water
For Oily Skin Types – ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder + 1 tablespoon of gram flour + a touch of water
Moisturizing Cream – ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder + 1 tablespoon of rose water + 1 tablespoon of fresh cream
Toner – ? teaspoon of turmeric powder + 1 egg white + 1 tablespoon of oats
Before using turmeric creams, a word of warning: turmeric has a tendency to temporarily dye the skin. Although turmeric-stained skin doesn’t happen with everyone who uses it, you may wish to experiment using these turmeric recipes on an inconspicuous spot on your body to see how your skin reacts.
If you find turmeric stains your skin, you can try to remove it with a facial toner or make a gentle scrub from sugar and water. If these tactics don’t work for you, another option is to moisten a cotton ball in water and rub the stained area; the cotton should help wick up the yellow color.
While golden yellow skin will fade with time, getting turmeric on your clothing and other fabrics will leave a mark so be extra careful when working with this otherwise marvellous herb!