Women's Health: The Wonder of Turmeric

Sep 27 2010 Published by under [Medicine&Pharma], Cosmeceuticals

From page 28 of the July-August 2010 issue of Women's Health:


As one of the more "aged" members of this collective, I felt compelled to address the benefits of turmeric, also known as Indian saffron because of its deep golden color. According to The World's Healthiest Foods:

At the make-up table?

Turmeric has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, and while it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry, it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. Turmeric has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric was traditionally called "Indian saffron" because of its deep yellow-orange color and has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye.

Fellow Scientopian Krystal D'Costa of Anthropology in Practice has blogged about the use of turmeric in Gaye Holud, a Bengali wedding ritual, where its yellow color sanctifies the couple the evening before their vows. The post confirms what I remember most from dropping curry in my lap: it stains!

To further demonstrate this property of the spice, I performed an experiment (once a scientist, always a scientist). First I put 1/4 teaspoon of lotion (my vehicle) in each of two stainless steel containers. I then mixed 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric into one of the containers.

Line added to emphasize demarcation

I applied roughly equal amounts of each onto the back of my left hand. Even after rubbing both in, a yellow cast can be seen on the turmeric side, even on my olive skin. My fair-skinned daughter would look positively jaundiced!

When googling turmeric and skin care, one site provided a realistic, sober assessment of the spice's active ingredient, curcumin:

If you asked a dermatologist or skin care scientist what features they would want in a beneficial skin care ingredient, the answer may include the ability to neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation, modulate abnormal cell growth, reduce UV damage, and inhibit accumulation of age-related pigments. Interestingly enough, curcumin's resume matches all of the above quite well. Also, considering that skin is a lipid rich tissue (just as the brain is), curcumin may turn out to be not just neuroprotector but skin protector as well.

That said, the research into the effects of curcumin on skin aging is scant or absent (depending on where you draw the quality line). There is some evidence that topical curcuminoids reduce the incidence of skin tumors in mice as well as partly prevent UV damage. However, realistic human clinical studies are required to assess practical skin benefits of curcumin, if any.

Being a sciencey-type person, I then went to the primary literature via PubMed. My search used the terms "topical" and "curcumin" and located 58 citations, including 10 review articles. One that caught my attention studied its use in photoaging in mice; a portion of the abstract includes the following:

Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is a phytochemical with diverse antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties. However, it shows a poor topical bioavailability.

The authors went on to test the effects of encapsulated vesicles of curcumin and demonstrated that it restored redox balance to damaged skin. Free curcumin in lotion did nothing, presumably because it cannot penetrate skin!

So leave your turmeric in the kitchen (unless you're Bengali or otherwise engaged in a paint-the-body-yellow ritual of some sort); it is not going to stop wrinkles mixed in your moisturizer! Studies are underway using non-pigmented metabolites and effective delivery vehicles, so someday curcumin may be in our make-up case and sunblock. In the meantime, eating curry and yellow mustard may provide some anti-aging benefits, as well as delicious foods!

23 responses so far

  • NanU says:

    Unless of course you like a nice yellow-orange tint! Amazing what they'll use to sell skin products these days. Have people stopped buying the one with DNA in it? Even my techs know that putting DNA into face cream and expecting it to repair your skin is just stupid.

  • jc says:

    I think that's what Boehner uses since he claims his orange "paint the body ritual" is not from a tanning bed.

  • [...] The wonders of Turmeric! Apparently it’s got lots of antioxidants and you should put it in your moisturizer! Pity [...]

  • kdcosta says:

    Really nicely done, Pascale. The other thing about turmeric as a beauty aid is that it burns. Or at least it does if you have sensitive skin. I've only encountered it as a paste in the Gaye Holud (never in moisturizer), but I wonder if this might have inspired the cultural idea that it can "purify" the skin (i.e., burning = cleansing).

    • Pascale says:

      That's an interesting thought. I also noted in your post that yellow is the color of "sanctity" so a yellow stain would be sanctifying. Or maybe yellow became the color of sanctity because turmeric burned.

      Either way, I'm not putting it in my cosmetics.

  • vinod says:

    Turmeric is used in all regions for the couple prior to the wedding. in India and Pakistan. Turmeric is protective for irradiated skin , turmeric in cocnut oil or ghee as a carrier would be the way to go. It is easy to believe the fancy bottle contents.
    Phenomenal immune modulator to boot and non toxic. No pthalates in that cream.

    • Pascale says:

      Curcumin, the active molecule in turmeric, does show promise for protecting skin BUT putting turmeric in oil or ghee doesn't get the molecule into the skin where they can work. In published studies, that sort of prep failed to do anything.

      • David McKinley says:

        In article above, curcumin "the (sic) active molecule in turmeric" has ben shown to be ineffective topically, there,s no mention there of turmeric preparations, but you say 'published studies'. I can't help wondering if scientists did indeed on this occasion dodge their customary obsession with "the active ingredient" in a substance being the same as the source substance itself, whose actual 100s of ingredients as yet unlisted, work in literally incalculable combinations of physiological action, and are attested to by hundreds of generations of ancestors. If you know what I mean lol. I will seek published studies. But let us beware of falling in with this irrational equating of active ingredient/ source plant, just because it's a current habit. Reckless habit.Not science.Called science.

  • Violet in Twilight says:

    I don't want to sound, "but we knew this for ages...". Anyway, here's some of "folk wisdom" from India that I know.

    Turmeric was regularly used by women for skin conditioning and most importantly, hair-removal when mixed with mild exfoliates (such as coarse powder of split-chickpeas). In fact, it was a part of traditional beauty protocol to have turmeric bath (turmeric+chickpea power+coconut oil) once a week until a couple of generations ago. Also, the yellow stain doesn't show up very much and adds a 'golden' hue to darkly pigmented skin.

    But, the so-called "raw" turmeric burns. So, I got sagely advise from my older rural cousins never ever to think that fresh turmeric root would be "better" for skin. The boiled and dried one is better. The fresh one is restricted to special occasions. Also, a practical advise is not to use standard "curry" turmeric. Powdering of it would have involved contact with other spices. In fact, the 'skin' turmeric and 'curry' turmeric used to be sold as different products.

    I think turmeric effects are rather slow and perhaps only long term studies would show the effects with any statistical significance. But, I wonder who would volunteer to look 'yellow' on a long term basis.

  • Violet in Twilight says:

    Forgot to add, turmeric on special occasions would be followed with sandal wood paste to 'cool' the burn..

  • [...] this means the obvious choice here is to PUT THE MAGAZINE DOWN. After all, we already know that the science and health advice in there ain't so great, and do you really need to read ANOTHER article on "tips [...]

  • silky says:

    My parents moved to the desert part of US. It was killing my skin. So I decided to sooth it by using turmeric. I started using it last week. But I gave it a touch up by applying my usual moisturizer after washing my face (no soap). Oh my God! Today, for the first time, I am really seeing a difference in my skin. It has got smoother. It also took care of my acne problem. I am feeling happy to use it. But yeah, the powder does give an irritation in some parts of the skin. It is not that bad though. Do I look yellow? Sure I do and I thought it was embarrassing in the beginning. But I noticed that it goes great with foundation. My makeup glows.

  • The quick red wolf jumped over the lazy dog

  • LOVENATURALS says:

    oK WANT TO KNOW WHAT ONE YEAR OF APPLYING TURMERIC EVERY ALTERNATE DAY DID TO MY SKIN??HERE GOES.. IM A FAIR SKINNED GIRL WHO HAD DULL ACNE-PRONE UNEVEN TEXTURE AND COLOURING OILY T-ZONE AND DRY NON-T-ZONE OPEN PORES, WHITE HEADS, BLACK HEADS,PINK HEADS YOU NAME IT. ...sO I USED TO LOSE MY MIND TRYING DIFFERENT PRODUCTS EVERY OTHER MONTH ..RETINO..KOJIC..SERUMS..BLAH. uNTIL ONE DAY I GOT SO DISGUSTED AND THREW THEM ALL AWAY AND TURNED TO MOTHER EARTH FOR HELP! aND SO TURNED TO GOOD OLD TURMERIC..USED A FACE PACK OF MILK, TURMERIC, CHICKPEA FLOUR, LEMON JUICE SAFFRON INFUSED WATER AND ROSE WATER. aLL OF THE VERY BEST IN QUALITY AND PURITY. EVERY OTHER DAY!
    oNE YEAR LATER...(WITH TEARS IN MY EYES..) thank you turmeric!!!!!
    1) sKIN IS SO MUCH SOFTER
    2) COLOURING IS EVEN AND FLAWLESS
    3) ACNE! WHATS THAT?
    4) OPEN PORES...ALMOST GONE
    5) OIL BALANCE OF SKIN..PERFECT.HAVEN'T USED "any" OTHER MOISTURISER/PRODUCT ON MY FACE EXCEPT A MILD HERBAL FACEWASH.
    6) RECOVERY FROM TAN/SUN DAMAGE..HEALING TIME HAS REDUCED DRASTICALLY. SKIN REGAINS NATURAL COMPLEXION IN AS LITTLE AS THREE DAYS AS COMPARED TO NINE OR TEN DAYS DURING THE PRE-TURMERIC DAYS..
    7)OVERALL..GLOWING SOFT EVEN LUMINOUS SKIN!!!!is it really mine?????oh yeah

    • jessi says:

      I AM BI-RICIAL WITH VANILLA WAFER COLRED SKIN. I STARTED USING TUMERIC AND EVVOO A FEW DAYS AGO AND AN OIL CLEANSING REGIMEN. SO FAR I HAVE NO COMPLAINTS. STAY TUNED. I AM HOPEFUL!

  • MONICA says:

    Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking, but I have now figured out it's a waste of my time. Turmeric has been around for many many years, oh except in the USA because as far as they are concerned all they have to do is walk up to a counter and pay for something with only God knows what in it and apply it to their face and to noones surprise it makes its way to the back of the failed cream section in their beauty cabinet.
    I want you all to just do some research and see the skin of most women that are not fromthe USA and from the USA. Most NOT ALL not all MAKE sure you pay attention to the word MOST women from the USA have terrible skin. Acne and all kinds of things. Plastic surgery and BOTOX doesnt fix everything. This is natural and works.
    If you dont like a remedy someone posts just move on to something you do like. Trust me envy and jealousy is a very bad trait to have.

  • Cancer is an incurable disease and prevention is better than cure, so make the habit of turmeric.

  • Jennifer says:

    There are people all over the globe that use tumeric as a topical agent on their skin; more so on the face and have positive, beneficial results. Tumeric does help with many different skin issues; if these studies were done and the result indeed was poor bioavailability the results are still accurate-- people are ridding of acne, wrinkles, and other imperfections are still evident so leaving the tumeric in the kitchen makes absolutely no sense... The studies may say one thing, but the results are still there for many people, including myself and thousands of others. Perhaps you should try mixing the tumeric with something other than lotion.

    • Cindy says:

      I agree with you, Jennifer. I'm starting to believe that sites like this are planted just so people here in the USA will never discover the power of nature. Personally, I think BIG PHARMA is behind it all.

      Word is getting out about all the healing in nature.

      I have more faith in those weeds and roots out in the yard for my ailments and health complaints than I do any and all of what BIG PHARMA has to offer.

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  • cynthia mccoy says:

    It is my understanding that the turmeric Indians use cosmetically is a different species than the turmeric (curcuma longa) than we use in cooking and herbal medicine. The Indians use curcuma AROMATICA for cosmetic purposes--because it does not stain the skin. Of course, there are times when they want to stain the skin, and then of course curcuma aromatica would not be used. Curcuma aromatica, which in some Indian languages in called ""kasturi manjal", is extremely low in the curcuminoids we find valuable in spice turmeric; however, the aromatica species is antibiotic, has other great properties, and is often used to control facial hair growth.

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