So you are considering using turmeric for acne? Perhaps you’ve heard it can help, or even read positive reviews from other acne sufferers.
This is well and good, but most pages talking about using turmeric only tell you a part of the story. You may have read that several dozen studies have proven the healing properties of turmeric, but what’s missing is that almost none of those studies are done in humans. You may have seen recipes on how to make your own turmeric mask but not the fact that turmeric will make your skin sensitive to sunlight.
In this post I’ll go over these ‘missing facts’ so that you can make a truly informed decision.
Read This Book And You'll Know Exactly What You Have To Do To Banish Acne From Your Life - Forever
Can't make sense of acne? Nothing seems to work? Then you are doing it wrong. Science has clearly shown that getting clear is much easier than you think. I've done the hard work for you - just follow this simple roadmap.Read more
Turmeric = curcumin
Before we plunge ahead, I want to clarify some terms. Turmeric is a yellow spice you can find in most supermarkets. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. Most turmeric-related research is done with curcumin, and in this post I’ll use curcumin and turmeric more or less interchangeably.
What science really says about using turmeric to treat acne?
Turmeric has been used in traditional Indian medicine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But then again, humans have been doing ineffective and stupid things for far longer than that, so it doesn’t really prove anything.
The very same system of medicine (Ayurveda) holds that heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, have healing properties and intentionally adds these toxic substances to their remedies. Just goes to show that ‘surviving the test of time’ doesn’t automatically make something useful.
Some people are perfectly happy to try something ‘just because 2000 years ago a guru said it works’, but for those who prefer more reliable evidence, let’s see what science has to say about this.
Test tube studies have shown curcumin/turmeric to be:
- Anti-bacterial, including against P. Acnes bacteria (the bacteria linked to acne)
- Anti-fungal, curcumin can kill Candida yeasts, though not as well as anti-fungal drugs.
All of which makes turmeric potentially helpful in treating acne. But all of these results come from test tube studies. And we can’t be sure that the same thing happens in humans.
One of the few humans studies showed curcumin can be helpful in psoriasis – curcumin was more effective than the prescription drug calcipotriol. While acne is not psoriasis, the keratolytic effects (reduces clumping of skin cells that blocks the pores) seen in that study suggest it could also help acne.
Another study on psoriasis patients, this time using curcumin supplements (4.5g/day) showed no benefits.
Used internally curcumin/turmeric may also have indirect benefits to acne by reducing known causes of acne, namely insulin and inflammation.
A recent paper outlined the potential of curcumin to reduce diabetes and improve insulin resistance. As I have written elsewhere, insulin is one of the cornerstone hormones in acne formation and anything that reduces insulin is likely to be helpful for significant portion of adult acne sufferers.
Studies show acne patients have higher levels of inflammation and lower levels of antioxidants than people with clear skin. Similarly, treatments that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress can reduce acne.
Like most plants and herbs, turmeric has some anti-inflammatory effects. A recent review found that curcumin might be useful for people suffering from inflammatory problems.
Science shows turmeric could maybe perhaps possibly be helpful in acne. Topically applied it can kill bacteria and reduce acne-causing inflammation. Taken internally it may reduce some of the risk factors behind acne.
But the vast majority of this data comes from test tube and animal studies, which is great if you are a glass tube or a laboratory mouse, but I suspect that’s not the case.
You have to consider these findings as highly preliminary, and nobody can say whether curcumin/turmeric has the same effects in living humans.
This means that anyone who claims turmeric is proven to do anything but make curries delicious doesn’t know what they are talking about.
Problems and side-effects
Curcumin and turmeric are considered minimally toxic, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t cause any harm.
- Topically used curcimin is phototoxic, meaning it increases skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. So if you plan to apply it on the skin, make sure to also use sunscreen.
- Curcumin binds to iron and may increase the risk of anemia.
- Curcumin can interfere with certain medication. So if you are taking prescription drugs, make sure to talk to your doctor before taking curcumin or turmeric.
- Some clinical studies have reported gut-related problems, such as nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain even at fairly low doses (450mg/day).
- Test tube studies show exposure to curcumin can cause DNA damage. Similarly, curcumin has both oxidative and antioxidant effects. As with all test tube findings, it’s hard to say how these apply to living humans, but they do show curcumin may not be complete harmless.
Yellow.. and even more yellow
And let’s not forget the most obvious problem: curcumin is yellow, and I mean very yellow. And it stains. Like everything. If you are going to make turmeric-based home-remedies expect to spend some time cleaning afterwards.
Topically applied turmeric can also make your skin yellow. Though the staining apparently comes off fairly easily and doesn’t happen to everybody who uses turmeric masks.
Finally, some people report taking curcumin/turmeric supplements causes yellow sweat. Curcumin is excreted through the skin and this can stain your bedsheets and clothes.
Staining isn’t a huge problem, but it’s something you should keep in mind.
Indian food is delicious, thanks in no small part to turmeric. But I wouldn’t call turmeric medicine. Preliminary scientific studies show that turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, has some healing properties. It can reduce known acne causes; bacteria, insulin and inflammation. All of which makes it potentially useful as an acne treatment.
But scientifically this data is very shaky, as it’s based on preliminary test tube and animal studies. As humans are somewhat different from glass tubes and lab mice, we can’t say turmeric has the same effects on living humans. We need human studies for that, and so far preciously few have been done.
While considered safe, turmeric can have some negative effects, such as staining and making your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Is this something I would try? Probably not. I’m too lazy to go through all the hassle for something that may or may not work. But if you are looking for home-remedies, I can think of several options worse than turmeric.
Have you tried turmeric? Share your experiences below!
- Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials.
- Formulation and comparative evaluation of poly herbal anti-acne face wash gels.
- Curcumin, a component of turmeric: from farm to pharmacy.
- Inhibition of Propionibacterium acnes-induced mediators of inflammation by Indian herbs.
- In vitro anti-propionibacterium activity by curcumin containing vesicle system.
- Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic.
- Curcumin: A Novel Treatment for Skin-Related Disorders.
- Drug-induced suppression of phosphorylase kinase activity correlates with resolution of psoriasis as assessed by clinical, histological and immunohistochemical parameters.
- Curcumin and Diabetes: A Systematic Review
- Clinical utility of curcumin extract.
- Curcumin in inflammatory diseases.
Confused? Don't know how to get over acne?
Then you need to check out this short article series. In about 10 minutes you'll understand why you have acne and what you need to do to get over it. These are free articles with no email or sign-up required.
5 Awesome All-Natural Skin Care Products for Acne-Prone Skin
(hint: these are not acne products)