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It's hard not to love a spice like turmeric, largely because it kind of seems like it heals everything. Digestion issues? Turmeric. Hangover? Turmeric. Congested skin? Turmeric. Regardless of the issues that may arise in our daily lives and with our bodies, turmeric is always there—and it's readily available in treats like golden milk lattes (our favorite anti-bloat remedy). We spoke to Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, founder of Mudgil Dermatology in NYC; Dr. Michelle Wong, Science Educator and Content Creator behind LabMuffin; and Dr. Aimee Paik of Apostrophe to give us the lowdown on the ancient ingredient.
- Type of ingredient: Anti-inflammatory.
- Main benefits: Soothing, detoxifying, exfoliating.
- Who should use it: In general, people with inflammation, acne scarring, or puffiness.
- How often can you use it: At max once a day, lest you start to stain your skin. If you're using kasturi turmeric, as much as you want.
- Works well with: Honey, apple cider vinegar, gram flour, milk, anything else you use in at-home masks.
- Don't use with: Lime—the two used together are a common homemade treatment for skin lightening.
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric powder is made from the root of Curcuma zedoaria, a form of ginger native to Southeast Asia. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is what gives it that yellow-orange tinge; it's also what makes it such a potent anti-inflammatory. Western brands have only recently taken note of something Eastern cultures have known for hundreds of years, and because of it, they've begun to include turmeric in their products as well.
Benefits of Turmeric for Skin
Anti-everything effects: "Turmeric has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant effects, which can benefit the skin in many ways," says Mudgil.
Helps skin ailments: Mudgil also says "Turmeric has been reported to help with eczema, psoriasis, acne, and wound healing." Purified curcumin can be used instead if you want to use a serum, since it's colorless.
Lightens pigmentation: "Turmeric contains the antioxidant curcumin, which is also anti-inflammatory and can lighten pigmentation," adds Wong.
Healing: It helps heal and prevent dry skin.
Anti-aging: Turmeric slows the skin aging process, and is used to diminish wrinkles, keep skin supple, and improve skin’s elasticity.
Side Effects of Turmeric
The big, common side effect of turmeric is a purely superficial one; it has a habit of staining everything yellow. Paik even goes to far as to say she would avoid it—"I wouldn't recommend it as a skincare product," she says. Her reasoning? "The odor and yellow discoloration will be off-putting to most." However, this isn't the case with kasturi turmeric. If you're eating the turmeric instead of using it on your skin, you also might have gastrointestinal problems from going overboard. But other than that, you're fairly free and clear.
How to Use It
What Kind to Buy
Regular turmeric can temporarily stain the skin. Kasturi turmeric (curcuma aromatica) is non-staining and is believed by some cultures to have the same properties for clearing acne, inhibiting facial hair growth, and brightening the complexion (although there aren't ample findings from studies to commit these properties as fact). It, however, is not edible, therefore not used for cooking, and should only be used externally. It may be difficult to find in some areas of the United States, but you can look for kasturi turmeric in Indian stores. Gram flour (also known as besan flour, chickpea flour, and garbanzo flour) is often used in homemade recipes with turmeric, to cleanse and exfoliate the face. Milk contains lactic acid, which works to improve skin's texture by sloughing off dead skin cells, replenishing moisture, and rejuvenating the complexion. If you are allergic to wheat flour, you can also substitute it with rice flour.
Oily Skin Mask
Turmeric is good for oily skin because it helps regulate the production of sebum, an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands. "Turmeric can be used as a mask and washed off," says Wong. "Because of its bright yellow color, it isn't popular as a leave-on product and can stain your face yellow." The orange juice provides fruit acid to clear blemishes and sandalwood is a natural astringent. Add about 1½ tablespoons of sandalwood powder and a pinch of ground turmeric to 3 tablespoons of orange juice and apply the paste to the face. Leave on for about 10-15 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.
As a Face Cleanser
Mix chickpea (or rice) flour with turmeric powder in equal proportions. To save time for future treatments, store the mixture in an airtight bottle. Add raw or soy milk (or yogurt) to a teaspoon of chickpea/turmeric powder to make a paste. Apply evenly to the face and leave on for about 10-15 minutes. Wash the mask off with warm water.
As a Facial Hair Reducer
Kasturi turmeric is used in many cultures as a facial hair reducer, but keep in mind that studies haven't actually been able to prove that the ingredient is successful at decreasing hair growth. If you want to try it for yourself anyway, you can mix kasturi turmeric with chickpea flour, which is also used so that your face does not get stained. You can also mix the turmeric with a favorite facial scrub. Leave on for 10-15 minutes. If used regularly, you might see results in about a month.
As a Night Cream
Prepare a paste made from turmeric and milk or yogurt and apply it to your face. Allow the mask to dry and leave it on overnight. For a less messy nighttime regimen, you can add a pinch of turmeric to your favorite moisturizer or treatment product. (In both cases, be sure to use an old pillowcase and bed linen that you don’t mind staining). Wash off the mask in the morning using a gentle cleanser.
As an Acne Treatment
Turmeric is used for acne because of its antiseptic and antibacterial properties that fight pimples and breakouts. It removes redness from acne and other types of scarring, reduces inflammation, and evens out skin discolorations. Some people drink the spice as a tea with water or milk to help prevent acne outbreaks. If turmeric tea doesn’t sound very palatable to you, try mixing turmeric with plain water or coconut or sesame oil, and dab onto blemishes and acne scars. You can also mix a small about of turmeric with lemon or cucumber juice (just a few drops to make a paste) and leave on the marks for 10-15 minutes.
The Best Products with Turmeric
There's a fine line between dewy and oily enough to make you break out, and we at Byrdie are dedicated to preventing you from tipping over that line. While a vitamin C and turmeric oil may sound like something that's going to clog your pores, it won't; at least as long as it's this one from Sunday Riley. While the turmeric is working to calm any inflammation and even out skin, vitamin C is treating damage from the sun. Together, they make for one amazing oil that will leave your skin with a lit-from-within glow.
A lot of balms that promise to clean off makeup severely underperform. Not Farmacy's, which is the perfect—we know from experience—first step in a double cleansing routine. Use the included spatula to scoop it out, or just apply it with your fingers. The more water you have on your hands, the easier it will be to scrub off all your makeup without a hint of irritation.
Anyone who's a die-hard skincare junkie likely balks at the idea of not washing their face twice a day. At night, you're covered in the grime from outside, and in the day, you're covered in the grime from sleep. Horrifying. But cleaning your face doesn't have to mean washing it, and this cleansing water is a perfect example. Put it on a cotton pad and run it across your face like you would a micellar water or toner in the morning, and your skin will thank you for a much needed break.
Given turmeric's reputation for staining your skin, you might be surprised to learn this vitamin-E fortified serum is actually milky white when it comes out of the bottle. Still, it could be bright orange and we would put it on our faces. Dealing with hyperpigmentation or redness? Verso's booster soothes your skin while dealing with the free radicals causing the issue in the first place.
Model Miranda Kerr isn't hesitant to embrace turmeric for the wonder-ingredient it is, instead making it the focal point of this scrub from her line Kora Organics.
This moisturizer comes from simple brand the Inkey List, which dedicates itself to making products accessible to people with any level of skincare knowledge. On their roster? This moisturizer, which uses turmeric as a brightening agent.
Hollinger JC, Angra K, Halder RM. Are natural ingredients effective in the management of hyperpigmentation? a systematic review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(2):28-37.