Turmeric For Skin: A Hero Ingredient You May Not Know About

My maternal grandmother - nani - was a walking talking encyclopedia of what in the Indian Subcontinent we call desi totkas, i.e., home remedies for common ailments that have been handed down from generation to generation. I vividly remember a time several years ago when a heavy footboard fell on my mothers foot leaving it black, blue and swollen and causing so much pain that she couldn’t hold back tears. My nani warmed up some desi ghee - what’s known as clarified butter in the West - and added some powdered turmeric to it to make a paste which she applied to my mother’s foot before wrapping a cloth bandage around it. While the bruising and swelling took some time to subside, the pain went away almost instantaneously.

Turmeric, the Golden Spice, has relatively recently started making its presence known around the world in everything from curries to juices and lattes especially in health and medicine circles. The spice however, has been used medicinally for over 4,500 years, especially in the Indian Subcontinent. Ancient pots that contained residues of turmeric, ginger and garlic were discovered near New Delhi dating as far back as 2500 BCE and in 500 BCE, turmeric emerged as an important part of Ayurveda, an ancient form of holistic healing or alternative medicine that has its roots in India and is still practiced in the region today. The value of turmeric in Ayurveda is reflected in the fact that Ayurvedic literature has over a 100 names for it which translate to things like, “as beautiful as moonlight,” or, “one who is victorious over disease.” In Ayurveda, turmeric is used in the treatment of several concerns from chest congestion and skin diseases, to the healing of wounds and bruises.

Image of a turmeric latte

As the world has advanced, we’ve begun to scientifically investigate the impact of these old medicaments. Do they really work, or do we fall prey to the placebo effect when we use them? Mounting scientific evidence suggests that turmeric’s reverence in Ayurveda is not misplaced. Evidence has also accumulated that backs up the reduction in pain and inflammation that my mother experienced with my nani’s turmeric and ghee bandage as studies now demonstrate that turmeric is at least as effective a painkiller as ibuprofen, but without the associated toxicity.

Globally, as interest in health and wellness, disease prevention and alternative medicine, has grown, turmeric has been gaining popularity for its manifold health benefits. These include powerful antioxidant properties that protect healthy cells, especially those in the colon, from carcinogens and help to destroy cancer cells before they’re able to spread to other areas of the body. Turmeric is also beneficial for individuals with anxiety, arthritis and metabolic syndrome - a cluster of conditions including obesity and high blood sugar, pressure, and cholesterol, that increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes - and has been shown to help lower cholesterol and maintain healthy blood lipids, so much so that it is now available to consume as a tablet.

turmeric and ginger pills

Turmeric for skin

In addition to its popularity in wellness circles, turmeric has also gained popularity in skincare circles where once again, it’s been leveraged for a while in the Indian subcontinent perhaps most famously, as an ingredient in ubtan: a powdered concoction for the skin, made with things like gram flour and turmeric, that is mixed with rose water or milk to make a paste which is used to scrub the body for skin brightening benefits. Ubtan has traditionally been used by brides in the region and I know from experience that while extremely messy, it works.

Research is also starting to back up turmeric’s purported skincare benefits and has shown that curcumin, the compound that gives turmeric its yellow colour, may be used medically in the treatment of several skin diseases. Curcumin is thought to reduce inflammation in the body by down-regulating inflammatory targets, and inhibiting inflammatory cytokines: signalling molecules produced by our cells that promote inflammation in the body. These characteristics make curcumin a suitable candidate for treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis that are characterized by a derangement of the inflammatory response, and the results from initial studies that leveraged curcumin in their treatment have been encouraging.

In a four-week trial, 150 individuals with atopic dermatitis were given a herbal extract cream that also contained turmeric. All of their symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis - erythema, scaling, thickening, and itching - significantly improved. In another study, 40 men experienced an improvement in psoriasis with the use of a topical alcohol gel that contained 1% curcumin while in an in-vitro model of psoriasis, curcumin significantly improved skin barrier function by up-regulating the production of involucrin and filaggrin, both proteins known to regulate the skin barrier, the function of which is impaired in diseases like eczema and psoriasis. These are only two several studies that have demonstrated that curcumin has the potential to be a promising psoriasis treatment especially since no currently available effective treatment for the condition is without strong side effects.

With its known anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, curcumin also makes for a natural contender in the treatment of acne and has been shown to inhibit the growth of the bacterium responsible for acne vulgaris in-vitro. A study that divided 53 acne patients into four groups, and tested both ingested and topical turmeric over four weeks, exhibited promising results and found that the group that was given both the oral supplement and the topical cream, showed the greatest improvements.

Curcumin also protects the skin by quenching free radicals and reducing inflammation. It helps wounds heal faster, improves collagen deposition and increases the density of fibroblasts - cells that secrete collagen - and blood vessels in the dermis. A hot water extract of curcumin on skin cells has been found to inhibit UVB-induced inflammation and increase the skin’s water content, suggesting that curcumin might be useful in moisturizing the skin and may protect cells from pollutants and toxins. Given that UV damage is the single biggest cause of skin ageing and that the density of structural proteins like collagen begins to decrease in our skin as we age, these findings mean that turmeric also holds promise as an anti-ageing ingredient.

Curcuminoids are amazing given their incredible number of health benefits but what makes them even more special is that unlike several other currently available medications for the talked about conditions, they are nontoxic and don’t tend to have significant side-effects even at high doses. Their one limitation has to do with their low oral bioavailability but in skincare this limitation can easily be overcome by directly applying turmeric that has been properly stabilised in a skincare product to the required area so we can experience firsthand the marvels of the Golden Spice.

Turmeric in our products: Resurfacing Face Wash

AccuFix Resurfacing Face Wash

Our Resurfacing Face Wash is a sulfate-free, luxurious cleansing cream formulated with turmeric, honey and exfoliating acids. It helps fight skin damage and pigmentation and lifts away dead skin cells for a brighter complexion, and softer, smoother skin.