Turmeric and Curcumin

The root of the turmeric plant is perhaps most commonly known in the West as an essential spice in curry (a popular ingredient in many Indian foods) and mustards (as a yellow-coloring agent and flavoring).1 However, it also has a rich history of use in traditional medicines and for cosmetic use throughout the world.1 Even today, naturopathic doctors recommend various treatments contain turmeric for a variety of skin care remedies—from removing unwanted hair to treating acne and preventing wrinkles.2

Modern Cosmeceutical

Turmeric’s reported skincare benefits have a scientific chemical basis, primarily due to curcumin, the principal biologically-active constituent in turmeric. Recognizing that curcumin acts as an antioxidant, many scientists in the cosmetic and medical industries have been investigating ways that it can be incorporated as an ingredient in cosmetic and skin treatment products to reverse oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the skin.3

Free radicals are a major cause of skin problems with aging.3 Much of the oxidative damage from free radicals is due to chronic sun exposure, and some of the sun’s photo-aging affects include:4

  • Age spots and other discoloration
  • Excessive freckling
  • Leathery texture
  • Rough patches
  • Spider veins
  • Wrinkles

Some companies and doctors have already developed modern skin-care creams based on studies which have demonstrated curcumin’s beneficial effects on skin. One such product (Psoria-Gold), developed by Dr. Madalene Heng (a dermatologist trained at UCLA) is a potent topical ointment that she claims produces dramatic results on unsightly and often painful psoriasis. Dr. Heng’s cream is also purported to be an effective treatment for acne, rosacea, and wrinkles.5

Orange-Tinted Skin?

Curcumin is the polyphenol in turmeric that gives it the golden orange-yellow color it is prized for in foods.3 However, this color is certainly less desirable in cosmetic applications, especially since it can stain the skin bright orange.6

One option is to use a hydrogenated form of curcumin which is off-white.3 Not only does it add powerful antioxidant properties to skin products, but it also acts as a preservative for other ingredients (particularly moisturizing lipids).3 Another recently unveiled skin cream created by a division of the Proctor and Gamble Company (P&G Beauty) uses a purified turmeric extract which is white in color.6

Clinically Promising Results

Results from two separate clinical studies sponsored by P&G Beauty on their new moisturizing skin cream (marketed under the DDF brand) demonstrate that the turmeric-extract active ingredient significantly improved the appearance of participants’ skin. Women between the ages of 40 and 60 from two ethnic groups (Caucasian and Asian) were randomly assigned to use the turmeric cream or a control placebo cream twice daily on the face for eight weeks. Photos taken at baseline, four, and eight weeks were evaluated by experts for changes in fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. Their findings determined an approximately 15% positive difference between the test and control group.6

However, although these studies attempted to eliminate potential benefit from just the moisturizing element by recruiting participants already using moisturizers, other non-company dermatologists questioned some of the methods or lack of information provided in the two studies. For instance, turmeric was combined with niacinamide only in the Caucasian group, and difference in results between the two ethnic groups was unexplained.6 Previous clinical trials results reported by Proctor and Gamble indicated that niacinamide (vitamin B3) by itself improved wrinkles, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, sallow skin color and blotchiness.7

An earlier 2005 randomized controlled trial involving healthy non-smoking participants between the ages of 30 and 55 demonstrated more thoroughly measured positive results for curcumin facial cream. This study took place at Naresuan University Cosmetics and Natural Products Research Center in Thailand. Volunteers were randomly assigned to apply 2-mg of a curcuminoids-loaded solid lipid nanoparticles facial cream to one half of their face and 2-mg of a placebo cream base to the other half for an 8-week period. Results on skin wrinkles, hydration, melanin content, biological elasticity, and viscoelasticity were measured with sophisticated testing equipment. Skin irritation was measured by medical observation and also by testing water loss and skin pH. After the 3rd week, test results of all aspects on the treatment side were significantly better than the control side, with no sign of skin irritation.8

Deep Skin Health Benefits

Perhaps even more important than the cosmetic benefits of turmeric on skin are its anti-cancer effects. Since photo-damaged skin lesions (like age spots) can sometimes develop into basal or squamous cell carcinomas and malignant melanomas, curcumin’s known anti-carcinogenic properties may prove to provide more than just a superficial cosmetic therapy.4 Animal study results indicate that topical application of curcuminoids, even at low dosages, inhibits skin tumor cells, probably through antioxidant mechanisms.9 Topical pretreatment of skin in animal studies also significantly inhibited the oxidative effects of ultra-violet radiation.9

  1. Ravindran, P. N., Babu, K. Nirmal and Sivaraman, K. Turmeric: the genus Curcuma. s.l. : CRC Press, 2007. ISBN 0849370345, 9780849370342.
  2. Bakhru, H.K. Indian spices and condiments as natural healers. s.l. : Jaico Publishing House, 2001. ISBN 8172248318, 9788172248314.
  3. Draelos, Zoe Diana. Dermatology: Cosmetics. WebMD: eMedicine Specialties. [Online] April 30, 2009. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1066966-overview.
  4. Heng, Madalene. Dermatologist Deters Damaged and Aging Skin. Vista Magazine Online. [Online] 2007. http://www.vistamagonline.com/vista_articles/page.php?tp=3&p=1&id=27&s=dermatologist_deters_damaged_and_aging_skin.
  5. MacGregor, Hilary E. Out of the spice box, into the lab: Turmeric, an Indian staple, has long had medicinal uses. Now the West is taking notice. UCLA: Brain Research Institute. [Online] February 6, 2006. http://www.bri.ucla.edu/bri_weekly/news_060206.asp.
  6. Brauser, Deborah. Turmeric Cream Decreases Signs of Aging. Medscape Medical News. [Online] March 16, 2010. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/718563.
  7. Bissett, D. L., et al. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 26(5): Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin. Wiley InterScience. [Online] September 20, 2004. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118769826/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0.
  8. Plianbangchang, Pinyupa, Tungpradit, Watcharaphorn and Tiyaboonchai, Waree. Efficacy and Safety of Curcuminoids Loaded Solid Lipid Nanoparticles Facial Cream as an Anti-Aging Agent. Naresuan University Journal 15(2) . [Online] 2007. http://office.nu.ac.th/nu_journal/pdf/journal/15(2)73-81.pdf.
  9. Thiele, Jens and Elsner, Peter. Oxidants and antioxidants in cutaneous biology. s.l. : Karger Publishers, 2001. ISBN 3805571321, 9783805571326.
Highly reactive atoms or molecules that basically steal electrons from stable molecules or atoms, creating a cascade of reactions that are highly damaging to cells.
A beneficial natural chemical compound derived from plants.
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