Here’s how turmeric may help improve your skin

Learn the potential benefits and risks that this root may have on your skin, including its wound-healing and anti-aging properties.

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Aug 10, 2020 · 8 min read

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Anyone who’s tried turmeric as a spice in their food or drink knows it's delicious, but they might not know about its possible benefits for the skin. Over the years, this ancient Southeast Asian root has earned a reputation for being a natural health-boosting supplement. When it comes to our skin, turmeric fans claim it has miraculous anti-aging and anti-acne properties.

But what does science say about the possible health benefits of turmeric? Can it really help improve your skin?

Turmeric powder and root on black background

What is turmeric?

Turmeric root is often used as a cooking spice for its pepperish taste. Because of its rich yellow color, it’s sometimes called “the golden spice.” There are many ways to use turmeric powder, and it comes in a variety of formats, like food, drinks, dietary supplements, and even topical treatments. It has a long history of medicinal use, namely in India and China, where it has been used for centuries to also treat skin conditions and joint pain.¹

Turmeric vs. curcumin?

While turmeric is the name that’s gained recent fame for its potential health benefits, at the root of its fame is a specific chemical that naturally occurs in turmeric: curcumin. Studies have found that curcumin may have anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic,² and antioxidant properties. 

The catch? Published studies are limited and further research is needed in order to fully understand its effectiveness.

There’s only a small amount of clinical research on turmeric’s possible skin benefits, but one systematic review³ analyzed 18 studies that focused on skin health, analyzing issues such as acne, facial aging, psoriasis, vitiligo, and atopic dermatitis. Ten of those studies noted statistically significant improvements in skin condition, which means early evidence suggests that turmeric may provide benefits for the skin. While more studies are needed, this early research appears promising! 

That said, if you decide to take a turmeric supplement, be sure to do your homework first. It is possible that turmeric may interact with certain prescription medications (though more research is needed).⁴ As with all supplements, there are possible adverse reactions. Your best bet is to talk to your primary care physician or another in-person healthcare provider first.

Benefits of turmeric

Let's break down some of the possible benefits of applying turmeric topically and what exactly that can mean for your skin.

  1. Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) has natural anti-inflammatory properties. This is one of the reasons that turmeric has been used medicinally. When it comes to your skin, if you have inflamed acne, using turmeric orally or topically may help relieve some uncomfortable swelling because of its anti-inflammatory properties.⁵

  2. Turmeric contains antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals that damage your skin cells over time and contribute to signs of aging. Antioxidants help neutralize those molecules and may help prevent skin damage.⁶

  3. It may help clear up your breakouts. Turmeric has been shown to have antibacterial properties that inhibit acne-causing bacteria when combined with lauric acid, which is found in vegetable fats like coconut oil and milk.⁷ Keep in mind, though, that lauric acid is potentially comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores.⁸ So this may not be a good option if you’re prone to breakouts! 

  4. It may help heal wounds. Turmeric may help a cut or lesion heal because it acts on the various stages of wound-healing and speeds them up.⁹

Tips for using turmeric topically

Remember, researchers are still studying the possible benefits of topical turmeric, and nothing is proven yet. So if you decide to incorporate turmeric into your skincare routine, it’s probably best to do so in small doses at first and—again—consult a healthcare provider, too. Also, make sure your products are non-comedogenic and follow these tips:

1. Be careful with DIY

There are a lot of at-home recipes you can use to create a face mask with turmeric, but be sure the ingredients you’re using in the mask aren’t harmful to your skin. Some at-home masks recommend lemon juice, which can cause significant irritation to skin.

2. Know what form you want to use

 Turmeric comes as either a powder or as an oil (the latter may be easier to mix with your moisturizer.) Remember, whenever adding a new natural oil or supplement to your routine, be sure to first read up on whether it can cause irritation or clog your pores. You might want to try patch testing a small area of skin before going all in, too.

3. Do your research or ask a professional

Make sure you understand the potential side effects this ingredient (or any product) can have on your skin. At-home treatments are a little risky just because you might not know how they’ll react with other products you use or how your specific skin will react. A good rule of thumb when adding a new ingredient or product to your skincare routine is to consider a patch test to gauge your skin’s reaction.

When in doubt, send a message to your Curology provider or consult a medical professional to get an expert opinion on some of the best ways to work turmeric into your wellness routine.

4. Handle turmeric powder carefully

Turmeric can stain your skin, clothes, and even porcelain. If you’re making an at-home face mask, the last thing you want is a stain on your bathroom sink or worse, your skin. You can opt for a turmeric supplement in capsule form or tea to ingest its potential benefits and avoid the risk of staining. Just make sure you rinse out your mugs before that yellowish tinge sets in.

How to use turmeric at home

From spot treatments to serums, turmeric has found its way into many skincare products. With so many options, finding ways to pamper yourself with this medicinal root is as easy as a trip to your favorite beauty and wellness store or local pharmacy. If you already have some turmeric powder at home, there are plenty of ways you can use it outside of the kitchen. Here are six ways to use turmeric for your skin at home:

1. Overnight hydrating mask

You can make an overnight “golden” mask by adding a pinch of turmeric powder or a couple of drops of turmeric oil to your favorite evening moisturizer. (Just take extra care to not stain your clothes or pillowcases!) 

2. Turmeric tea

Brewing turmeric tea is as easy as adding a bit of turmeric powder to hot water along with lemon and honey. If tea isn’t your thing, you can try a golden latte.

3. Turmeric dishes 

Using turmeric in your cooking is another opportunity to take advantage of some of the spice’s possible health benefits. 

4. Face mask

You can use turmeric as a face mask to boost your skin’s antioxidants and potentially help heal past damage.¹⁰ Mix some turmeric powder with a bit of medical-grade honey and water or aloe vera gel and evenly distribute it across your face. Wait 5-10 minutes before rinsing it off. 

5. Healing paste 

If you want to use turmeric in specific spots, you can make a paste by mixing a bit of water with turmeric powder to use as a spot treatment. If it’s a bit too thin or you only have tumeric oil, a bit of flour can thicken up your mixture. This can also be applied to a lesion on a wound to help promote healing and lessen inflammation.¹¹ That said, be careful of applying any at-home treatments to an open wound! Consult a medical professional first.

6. Supplements

If drinking or eating sounds like something you wouldn’t enjoy, you can take a turmeric or curcumin supplement to give your body the spice’s potential health benefits.

Risks of using turmeric

Whether you want to use this spice as part of your skincare routine or take it as a supplement, there are both potential pros and cons to keep in mind.

  1. Studies show that turmeric may be a contact allergen¹² to some people, so if you’re considering adding it to your skincare routine, you might want to do a small patch test first.

  2. Whether you’re using it in food or drink or as part of your skincare routine, turmeric can stain. That includes skin, clothes, and even countertops. So always use it carefully and clean up any spills promptly. 

  3. Talk to your primary care physician before taking any vitamins or supplements. Everyone’s body is different, so it’s important to be aware of any potential adverse effects of any supplement, including turmeric. The research around turmeric isn’t conclusive (yet), which means experts still aren’t entirely sure of the risks. So be sure to proceed with care! 

What’s the takeaway?

The potential benefits of turmeric—healing wounds and acne lesions, soothing inflammation, and even anti-aging—are promising. Still, more research on the spice’s effects is still underway.  

If you’re looking for effective acne or dark spot treatments, using ingredients like tretinoin, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide that already have research evaluating their efficacy will aid your search for clear skin.

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FAQs

What is turmeric?

Turmeric root is often used as a cooking spice for its pepperish taste. Because of its rich yellow color, it’s sometimes called “the golden spice.” It has a long history of medicinal use, namely in India and China, where it has been used for centuries to also treat skin conditions and joint pain.

• • •

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. Prasad S, and Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine Chapter 13. Taylor & Francis (2011 n.d.). 

  2. Hollinger, J. C., et al. Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (2018, February 11)

  3. Vaughn, A. R.,  et al. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Phytotherapy research, (August 2016).

  4. Gary N. Asher, et al. Common Herbal Dietary Supplements–Drug Interactions. American Family Physician. (2017, July 15)

  5.  Yunes Panah, et al. Evidence of curcumin and curcumin analogue effects in skin diseases: A narrative review. Journal of Cellular physiology. (August 2018).

  6. Menon, V. P., & Sudheer, A. R.,  Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, (2007).

  7.  Liu C.H., and Huang H. Y.  In Vitro Anti-Propionibacterium Activity by Curcumin Containing Vesicle System. J-Stage.( 2013, April 1).

  8. Fulton J.E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. (January 1984). 

  9. Akbik, D., et al. Curcumin as a wound healing agent. Life sciences.(2014, October 22).

  10. Madalene C.Y. Heng. Topical Curcumin: A Review of Mechanisms and uses in Dermatology. International Journal of Dermatology and Research. (2017 July 6).

  11.  Akbik, D., et al. Curcumin as a wound healing agent.Ibid.

  12.  Chaudhari, S. P., et al. Curcumin: A Contact Allergen. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (2015, November).

This article was originally published on August 10, 2020, and updated on March 8, 2022.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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