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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Turmeric

Dermatologists say it brightens skin.

Black woman with short hair and hoop earrings in natural light

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The beauty market has become drastically different: green beauty is a much larger piece of the pie, and even the brands that aren’t exclusively natural are tuning into this trend and harnessing the far-reaching, science-backed benefits of nature-born ingredients. And right now, few plants are experiencing more crossover and praise than turmeric.

Turmeric is a spice used mainly in Asian cooking—specifically, Thai and Indian. This bright orange-yellow spice gives curry its distinctive flavor and color. Just like many other amazing natural ingredients, it offers valuable skin benefits, too. In fact, Indian women have been using turmeric as a skincare ingredient for centuries. "Turmeric has been reported to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant characteristics," notes Meghan Feely, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai in Manhattan, as well as a media expert for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Some purport turmeric can brighten the skin, and benefit patients with acne due to the effect of curcuminoids."

We spoke with Feely; Annie Gonzalez, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatologist in Miami; and David Petrillo, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of Perfect Image skincare, for more about the benefits of turmeric for skin.

Turmeric

  • Type of ingredient: Natural antiseptic.
  • Main benefits: Antibacterial, antimicrobial, reduces scarring, soothes inflammatory skin, brightens.
  • Who should use it: Those with acne, scarring, or inflammatory skin issues would benefit most from using turmeric.
  • How often can you use it?: A turmeric mask can be used up to two to three times a week. Some products containing turmeric can be used daily, as well.
  • Works well with: In general, turmeric can be used with most products and ingredients.
  • Don't use with: Turmeric-based products can be used with most ingredients.

What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a spice that is harvested directly from the turmeric plant and holds a yellow-hued component known as curcumin, which gives the spice its bright tone. Crowned as one of the most beneficial natural ingredients, turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as part of delicious recipes, but also to reap the multitude of skin and hair care benefits that it offers.

"Turmeric has a mixture of medicinal, therapeutic, and cosmetic benefits which stem from its chemical composition and main active lipophilic polyphenol substance, curcumin, which exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties," says Petrillo. There is a ton of research that speaks to this. One 2014 study found that thanks to its exceedingly potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin can actually help speed up the healing of wounds. Another study conducted in 2019 found that the compound aids in skin regeneration in a variety of respects, from boosting collagen production and diminishing psoriasis to protecting against free radical.

Benefits of Turmeric for Skin

turmeric skin
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• Eases inflammation: Ongoing research has shown turmeric and the curcumin it contains play a safe and compelling role in promoting healthier, normalized skin, says Gonzalez. "Research has shown that turmeric and its derivatives interrupt signaling in surface cells that trigger signs of irritation, therefore it helps calm skin and may even play a role in reducing the look of acne and rosacea-related redness."

• Promotes wound healing: Inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or other injuries or wounds to the skin, can benefit from turmeric, not only applied topically but also ingested as a spice or an oral supplement. That's because of the curcumin, which eases and calms the skin.

• Lightens hyperpigmentation: Because turmeric is packed with so many powerful properties, it can function "as a natural skin lightening agent for age spots, scarring, or wound healing," says Petrillo.

• Boosts collagen: Turmeric is rich in vitamin C, which boosts collagen and encourages cell turnover.

• Protects against sun damage: "Applying turmeric to skin can help offset signs of environmental damage, and to some extent, prevent some of the skin-damaging effects from UV light, similarly to other popular antioxidants vitamin C and E," says Gonzalez.

• Serves as a dye: In addition to its uses as a spice and as a beauty product, turmeric also functions as a dye. Hence, people use it as an all-natural self-tanner. Before you slather yourself in the spice, though, know that very few skin tones match turmeric perfectly. Especially if you have light skin, turmeric will probably temporarily stain your skin yellow; other skin tones might get just a radiant glow.

• Minimizes pores: Try adding a bit of turmeric to your favorite face mask—or whip up a quick DIY version by mixing turmeric with raw honey and a teaspoon of yogurt. The mixture will help clear and smooth your skin, minimize the appearance of pores, and make your skin appear fuller and plumper.

• Brightens skin: Among curcumin's many benefits are that it is antimicrobial, providing "soothing and brightening [benefits]," says Gonzalez.

Side Effects

Turmeric is pungent, yet gentle—so there are no known side effects when using it topically. "Topical application of turmeric may be a good alternative [to ingesting turmeric] as it can be more effectively absorbed through the skin," says Petrillo. "Be careful not to use too much or too often, as it can temporarily stain your skin yellow."

Petrillo advises purchasing powdered turmeric and adding it to your skincare products, to see how your skin handles it. "It is best to add them to a mask or evening treatment and start in a lower dose first because of the staining it can cause and you also want to make sure your skin tolerates first before increasing," he says. "Make sure to wash off with warm water or gentle cleanser afterward and remove all traces of the mask."

How to Use It

Turmeric can be applied topically to skin or ingested orally for its skin-boosting benefits. The best way to reap its benefits when ingested, however, is to add pepper as a means of boosting your body's absorption of the key ingredient. "When you ingest turmeric, the effectiveness of curcumin is low due to the molecule being hydrophobic, which leads to poor intestinal absorption," says Petrillo. "A study conducted using black pepper—which has the active component piperine—demonstrated a significant increase in absorption and bioavailability of curcumin with no adverse effects. This essentially means, by using or adding black pepper with turmeric, it will increase the absorption and bioavailability of the active component into the body so you can be sure to get the benefits it has to offer."

When used topically, it has no known side effects. "Topical versions are pretty versatile and can be used both day and night to reap their antioxidant power," says Gonzalez. "This ingredient is also compatible with other skin care ingredients with similar functions."

Best Products With Turmeric

Sunday Riley cleansing oil
Sunday Riley CEO + E Micro Dissolve Cleansing Oil $38
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"Cleansing oils are a great first step of cleansing, and this formula contains an antioxidant powerhouse that combines the power of turmeric with vitamin C," says Gonzalez. "A touch of white willow bark also helps to gently exfoliate the skin from impurities."

May Lindstrom Skin The Problem Solver
May Lindstrom Skin The Problem Solver $100
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“Turmeric is definitely a favorite of mine,” says May Lindstrom, the natural beauty guru behind the cult-fave eponymous skincare line. For skin specifically, she says, it’s an anti-inflammatory powerhouse: “Turmeric is rich in curcumin, a natural active ingredient that promotes the healing and brightening of the skin.” With activated charcoal, cacao, soil nutrients, and turmeric, this unbelievably effective mask really does solve all our skin’s woes in one go. (We also guarantee that you’ll be addicted to its warm spiciness.)

Aveda Invati Advanced Exfoliating Shampoo
Aveda Invati Exfoliating Shampoo $34
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Because of its high antioxidant content, some natural beauty proponents argue that curcumin can aid with hair loss. Either way, use this turmeric-infused shampoo to nourish your scalp and your strands.

Root Science Superfood Facial Exfoliant
Root Science Superfood Facial Exfoliant $60
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This wonderfully gentle exfoliator uses natural ingredients like fruit fibers, clay, and herbs for its scrubbing action—and it never fails to give us noticeably brighter skin after use.

Bright Skin Targeted Treatment
Eminence Organic Skin Care Bright Skin Targeted Treatment $65
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Licorice root extract combines with turmeric to reduce the look of dark spots over time and with continued use. "The combination of licorice root and turmeric help to reduce hyperpigmentation," notes Gonzalez.

The Mahalo Balm
Mahalo Skin Care Treatment Balm $90
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Come for the gorgeous, Instagram-ready packaging, stay for the lusciously scented, skin-soothing formula. In addition to anti-inflammatory turmeric, macadamia balances oil production, tamanu fights acne, and carrot and sea buckthorn accelerate healing.

The Beauty Chef Glow Advanced Inner Beauty Powder
The Beauty Chef Glow Advanced Inner Beauty Powder $18
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Turmeric is one of the prime ingredients in this beloved ingestible beauty powder, thanks to its antioxidant content and uncanny ability to settle a finicky digestive system.

Up Next: This turmeric mask for acne will brighten and tighten your skin in minutes.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Arct J, Ratz-Łyko A, Mieloch M, Witulska M. Evaluation of skin colouring properties of curcuma longa extractIndian J Pharm Sci. 2014;76(4):374‐378.

  2. Farris PK, Rogers N, McMichael A, Kogan S. A novel multi-targeting approach to treating hair loss, using standardized nutraceuticalsJ Drugs Dermatol. 2017;16(11):s141‐s148.

  3. Dulbecco P, Savarino V. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in digestive diseasesWorld J Gastroenterol. 2013;19(48):9256‐9270. doi:10.3748/wjg.v19.i48.9256

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