- Turmeric has a long history of use in traditional and complementary medicine as a treatment for certain skin disorders, upper respiratory tract infections, joint pain and inflammation, and digestive system issues
- Curcumin is the main active component of curcumin and is responsible for delivering these health benefits
- More clinical studies are needed, but early evidence indicates that turmeric skin care products and oral supplements can provide benefits for skin health
Acne is a very common skin condition that begins when pores become blocked with excess sebum (oil), dead skin cells and debris to form comedonal acne. When Cutibacterium acnes propagate, this causes inflammation and the development of acne papules, pustules and in more severe cases, cysts. Turmeric for acne may be a viable solution as it has been demonstrated to have benefits for skin health.
Can Turmeric Treat Acne?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant belonging to the ginger family. As well as being a popular and flavorful spice in Indian cooking, turmeric has been used for many centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian medical system that is still valid today.
Traditional medicine has been shown to complement modern health systems, is widely practiced and incorporates many treatment modalities that are beneficial for skin care.
While there is a lack of clinical studies on turmeric and acne, there is clinical evidence to support that curcumin, the active component of turmeric, can help treat acne as part of a multitargeted therapy due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric for acne scars
As with acne, there are few clinical trials that examine the efficacy of turmeric against acne scars, however, many studies and clinical trials do support its strong wound healing effects. These same benefits could theoretically be applied to the treatment of acne scars.
Curcumin accelerates healing by supporting the various stages of the natural wound healing process.
It has been proven to inhibit inflammation to reduce tissue damage, encourage collagen deposition and repair tissue. These benefits can be key in not only supporting the healing of acne pimples but also in helping to prevent the formation of scar tissue.
Acne scarring can manifest in the form of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), dark spots that remain once an acne blemish has healed. In one study of a turmeric-based cream, researchers established that hyperpigmentation was reduced in participants by 14% over a four-week period.
This benefit can be attributed to curcumin’s ability to significantly inhibit melanin production. With time and continued use, skin will naturally lighten as damaged skin cells slough off and are replaced by healthy cells.
Turmeric is not effective against hypertrophic (raised) scars but is for atrophic (shallow) scars due to its efficacy in stimulating collagen production. Over time, damaged skin tissue can fill in to minimize depressions in skin and enable a smoother complexion.
How Turmeric Works to Treat Acne
Turmeric has been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
In one systematic review examining the effects of turmeric on skin conditions, including acne, 10 studies noted statistically significant improvement in severity in the turmeric groups compared with control groups.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have also been well established in studies. It has been demonstrated to provide significant effects in the treatment of acne and in relieving itching, a symptom that often results due to inflammation and as part of the healing process.
C. acnes bacteria is understood to contribute to inflammation by triggering the release of proinflammatory cytokines. Curcumin can regulate the expression and secretion of these cytokines to effectively reduce inflammation; doing so targets redness, swelling and pain of inflamed lesions, and helps clear and prevent breakouts.
Antioxidants play a vital role in skin health by providing anti-aging benefits. They scavenge for free radicals to protect against environmental threats, guard against skin damage, and reduce and prevent inflammation.
Antioxidants can also lighten PIH that may remain once acne flare-ups resolve. Curcumin has been found to have antioxidant activity to prevent, treat and control inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea and acne.
Curcumin can therefore be an effective acne treatment as this compound has healing properties to help support healthy skin.
How to Use Turmeric for Acne
Turmeric is available in powder and supplement form and can be found in a range of over-the-counter (OTC) skin care products.
While turmeric is available for consumption, some studies indicate that curcumin taken orally is poorly absorbed and is therefore a poor candidate as an effective oral agent; other studies, however, do point to its efficacy when ingested in supplement form or when used as a spice in cooking.
Further clinical trials are therefore required to find more conclusive evidence on oral use.
When applied topically, curcumin has been shown to be better absorbed, but effects can be greatly enhanced with the application of different formulation strategies. Adding other ingredients such as lauric and myristic acid and modifying the delivery system by including, for example, micelles and liposomes, increases bioavailability and absorption.
Formulated curcumin products can provide from 100-fold to more than 400-fold better absorption than unformulated curcumin.
Of importance is that most commercial products and spices contain synthetic dyes that can cause significant staining of not only skin and nails, but fabrics and hard surfaces. To avoid this, look for pure, organic turmeric for minimal staining, and to achieve best results for your skin.
Before applying turmeric to your skin, it’s advised to perform a patch test first as some people may be allergic to this yellow spice.
Turmeric face mask for acne
A DIY turmeric mask can help soothe inflamed skin by reducing the redness and irritation associated with acne breakouts.
Raw honey also supports turmeric’s effects due to its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities and yogurt can calm itching and pain; both ingredients boost moisture content to aid dry skin; lemon can target excess oil and bacteria.
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder (organic)
- 1 tsp raw or organic honey
- 3 drops lemon juice
- 1 tsp plain yogurt
- In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well to form a thick paste
- Cleanse your face, apply the paste and allow to rest for 15–20 minutes
- Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water
- Continue with your skin care routine
A turmeric face mask to treat and control acne can be used several times a week in the morning or at night.
While oral consumption has been shown to produce few benefits due to poor absorption, adding certain active agents to turmeric can produce effective results. One such agent is piperine, an alkaloid that is present in black pepper.
Alkaloids have been shown to have pharmacological effects such as reducing inflammation and can provide several health benefits. As well, one study demonstrated that when an alkaloid is combined with curcumin, it can increase bioavailability by 2000%.
Turmeric lemon water
The benefits of turmeric can be obtained by combining some simple, easily found ingredients. Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, drinking this beverage each morning will boost the health of your skin and cleanse your body.
If you find the blend too bitter, add some honey or a favorite spice.
- 1 cup very warm or hot water
- 1/2 tbsp organic turmeric powder
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
Turmeric tea can be found in grocery stores and natural food stores, and online. Prepare the tea as you would regular tea and include black pepper. You can add honey and lemon to improve the taste, if needed.
Another option is turmeric supplements. While they are considered safe, you should still consult your dermatologist before taking them. To know the right dosage follow the instructions on the packaging or the recommendation of your dermatologist.
Some supplements may include black pepper; if not, you can also enhance its effectiveness by adding it yourself.
Cooking with turmeric
You can reap the benefits of turmeric by including this spice to a wide range of dishes.
In one study review, researchers concluded that turmeric has significant antioxidant abilities when included in foods. They found studies that indicated sufficient levels of turmeric can provide antioxidant protection when consumed in such foods as curries.
Turmeric and its curcumin compound are considered safe but can cause stomach issues when consumed at high dosages. Mild side effects include nausea, dizziness and diarrhea. As well, some people may be allergic to this spice or may develop contact dermatitis from using turmeric topically.
The following are alternatives to turmeric, if this remedy is not right for you, or if you would like try other natural or OTC topical solutions for acne:
- Benzoyl peroxide is a first-line treatment against acne as it can target inflammation, kill C. acnes, and slough off dead skin cells and excess oils to brighten and clear skin
- Tea tree oil is a very well-known essential oil that has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties to calm inflammation, redness and swelling; accelerate wound healing; and combat oiliness.
- Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that can be found in oral supplements and skin care products. It has antibacterial properties and can lighten depigmented spots, making it effective for both active acne and PIH.
While more clinical studies are needed to determine the full range of benefits turmeric has to offer, current studies do provide evidence that this spice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat and control acne, when used alongside more conventional therapies.
It has also been shown to speed up wound healing, stimulate collagen production to help smooth the appearance of depressed scars and lighten the appearance of hyperpigmented spots that remain once acne pimples heal.
Organic turmeric is dye-free and therefore won’t cause the staining that results from commercial products. While it is understood to be poorly absorbed when taken orally in powder and supplement form, or as an added ingredient when cooking, effects can be improved with the addition of black pepper.
Topical application has been proven to provide best results, as it is better absorbed through the skin, especially when formulated with other ingredients to enhance bioavailability. You can choose from OTC skin products or create a turmeric face mask to treat acne symptoms.
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