Ever considered using turmeric for acne? Perhaps you’ve heard about it and even read positive reviews. But before you decide to give turmeric a try, make sure you do some thorough research first.
Turmeric is a highly popular product for many purposes, including the skin. You’ve probably seen recipes on how to make your own turmeric mask and manufacturers vouching for the product’s ‘proven healing properties’. Can turmeric actually help with acne? What about its side effects?
In this post we’ll cover the entire story behind turmeric for acne so that you can make a truly informed decision.
Before we plunge ahead, let’s 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.
So with that said,
turmeric = curcumin.
What Does Science Really Say About Turmeric for Acne?
Scientific studies show that turmeric may be helpful in acne. When applied topically, it can kill bacteria and reduce acne-causing inflammation. When taken by mouth, it may reduce some risk factors of acne.
Turmeric has actually been used in traditional Indian medicine for hundreds and thousands of years. However, this practice of medicine (Ayurveda)also claims that toxic metals, such as arsenic and mercury, have healing properties.
Let’s dive in and see what science has to say about the benefits of turmeric. We’ll first take a look at the topical effects, then explore some of its indirect effects on areas other than the skin.
Test tube studies have shown curcumin to be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. One study showed curcumin being 36 times stronger than azelaic acid against the bacteria P. acnes. Curcumin also showed activity against Candida yeasts, though not as strong as anti-fungal drugs. Test tube studies, however, may not always be reflective of real-life effects.
Of the few human studies,one showed curcumin to be more effective than the prescription drug calcipotriol against psoriasis. This was due to its keratolytic effects, which reduced the clumping of skin cells that block pores.
While acne and psoriasis are not the same thing, the keratolytic effects observed in curcumin suggest that it could also help acne.
Another study on psoriasis patients showed no benefit when supplementing their diet with 4.5 g of curcumin daily.
According to a 2016 review article, individuals using a combination of both oral and topical curcumin had the best improvement in acne. However, the study with this data had several limitations. It was a small study with only 53 participants and a very small placebo group consisting of only 2 participants. The study span was also short, lasting just over 4 weeks when most acne studies are conducted for 8 to 12 weeks. For these reasons, we cannot draw any solid conclusions on the best way to use turmeric for acne.
Turmeric may also have indirect benefits by reducing known causes of acne, namely insulin and inflammation.
A recent publication outlined the potential of curcumin in improving diabetes and reducing insulin resistance. As mentioned previously on our blog,insulin is one of the cornerstone hormones of acne formation. Anything that reduces insulin is likely to be helpful for significant portion of adult acne sufferers.
Another study showed that treatment with curcumin increased insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammatory markers, both of which are favorable effects for acne control. However, this study was conducted with rats, so the results cannot be entirely translated to humans.
Acne patients generally have higher levels of inflammation and lower levels of antioxidants than those with clear skin. Similarly, treatments that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress can reduce acne.
Like most plants and herbal products, turmeric has some anti-inflammatory effects. A recent review suggests that curcumin might be useful for people experiencing inflammation.
Summary of Evidence
So does turmeric really work for acne? It might help in certain aspects, according to some studies. As a topical remedy, turmeric may show anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. As a supplement, it may reduce some risk factors of acne.
The problem is that the most of this data come from test tube and other preliminary studies, so it’s not clear if turmeric will have the same effect on acne patients. While there’s reasonable clinical data for its insulin- and inflammation-reducing effects, we still don’t have enough scientific evidence to confirm the direct benefits of turmeric for acne treatment.
Problems and Side Effects
Curcumin and turmeric are considered ‘minimally toxic’, but that doesn’t mean these products are completely harmless. Here are some warnings to consider:
- Curcumin binds to iron and may increase the risk of anemia.
- Curcumin can interfere with certain medications, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor if you are taking prescription drugs.
- Curcumin may lead to gut-related problems such as nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Studies have seen these side effects at doses as low as 450 mg daily.
- Curcumin has both oxidative and antioxidant properties. While only confirmed in test tube research, studies have shown exposure to curcumin leading to DNA damage.
Whether curcumin becomes a phototoxic substance upon sun exposure is not yet clear.
What we currently know is light exposure decreases the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Following the exposure, curcumin can induce a series of events that ultimately lead to cell injury and death. Moreover, a recent study suggests the absorption spectra of curcumin falls in the UV‐visible range, which means that curcumin can be degraded by light exposure.
Therefore, it is quite likely that exposing the turmeric-covered skin to the sunlight can put your skin at risk. For this reason, it’s best to use a turmeric face mask in the evening and apply sunscreen the following day.
Yellow.. and Even More Yellow
And let’s not forget the most obvious problem: curcumin is yellow, and I mean very yellow. It also stains just about everything. So if you are planning to make turmeric-based home remedies, expect to spend some time cleaning afterwards.
Topical turmeric, including face masks, can also make your skin yellow. Fortunately, this doesn’t affect everybody and the staining comes off easily.
Some people have reported yellow sweat from taking curcumin/turmeric supplements. Since curcumin can be excreted through the skin, this can also stain your bed sheets and clothes.
While staining isn’t a huge problem, it is something you should still keep in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How should I use turmeric for acne?
Applying turmeric to the skin as a facemask or taking supplements in the form of capsules/powder can provide skin health benefits.
- Add half teaspoon turmeric powder and one tablespoon of honey to sufficient warm water in a bowl.
- Mix the contents well with a spoon.
- Take care not to add too much or too little water. The consistency of the paste should be just enough to make it stick to your face and not drip.
- Apply the paste on your skin after it cools down.
- Leave it on the skin for 15-20 minutes and wash your face with water, preferably warm.
Another way to consume turmeric is to prepare tea (source: Medical News Today):
- Boil 32 fl oz of water.
- Add 1 teaspoon of ground, grated, or powdered turmeric.
- Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes.
- Strain the tea into a container and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.
- Will turmeric make my skin darker?
Turmeric is not likely to darken your skin. However, it has been reported to reduce hyperpigmentation, so using turmeric on the face may cause your skin to appear darker.
- Can I leave turmeric on my skin overnight?
You should not leave turmeric on your skin overnight. Doing so might stain your skin or leave a yellow residue. If this happens, however, the stain should go away once you expose your skin to the sunlight because sunlight degrades turmeric into a colorless product. When using a turmeric face mask, you should generally remove the mask after 15-20 minutes.
- Can turmeric burn my skin?
Turmeric does not directly burn the skin, but it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. In addition, turmeric can cause cell injury and death following light exposure.
- How long will it take to see my skin improve after using turmeric?
The skin health benefits of turmeric can vary greatly from person to person. Most acne studies evaluate the effects of turmeric over a period of 8 to 12 weeks, so you may have to wait at least two months before seeing any improvement in your acne.
Indian food is delicious, largely thanks to turmeric. But whether this remedy can be considered medicine is still up in the air. Preliminary studies show that turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, has some healing properties. It can reduce known acne causes such as bacteria, insulin, and inflammation, all of which make turmeric potentially useful for acne treatment.
In addition, there are no serious side effects of turmeric reported thus far. With the exception of some yellow staining and possible sunlight sensitivity, this product appears to be minimally toxic. While the scientific data remains unclear, it’s certainly not the worst product to try if you are inclined to test out home remedies.
For a more comprehensive look at turmeric, check out this article from HealthyButSmart.com. While our blog post focuses on skin-related benefits, HealthyButSmart.com takes a broader look at the overall health benefits of curcumin.
What are your thoughts about turmeric? Share your experiences with us below!