It's hard not to love a spice like turmeric, largely because it kind of seems like it heals everything. Digestion complications? 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 experts Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, Michelle Wong, and Aimee Paik, to give us the lowdown on this ancient ingredient.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of turmeric for the skin.
- Type of ingredient: Anti-inflammatory
- Main benefits: Diminishes fine lines and wrinkles, treats acne, and brightens skin.
- Who should use it: In general, people with inflammation, acne, and/or oily skin.
- 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
- Promotes healthy skin: "Turmeric has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant effects, which can benefit the skin in many ways," says Mudgil. "Turmeric has been reported to help with eczema, psoriasis, acne, and wound healing," he adds.
- Manages oily skin: Turmeric is good for oily skin because it helps regulate the production of sebum, an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands.
- Combats acne: 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 turmeric as a tea to help prevent acne outbreaks. However, if turmeric tea doesn’t sound palatable to you, try mixing it with water, coconut oil, or sesame oil, and dabbing it onto blemishes and acne scars. You can also combine a small about of turmeric with lemon or cucumber juice (just a few drops to make a paste) and apply for 10-15 minutes.
- Brightens skin: "Turmeric contains the antioxidant curcumin, which is also anti-inflammatory and can lighten pigmentation," adds Wong. Translation? Bye-bye, dark spots.
- Reduces facial hair: Kasturi turmeric is used in many cultures as a facial hair reducer, but keep in mind that studies haven't 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 (read: no face staining here). You can also add turmeric to your favorite facial scrub. Leave on for 10-15 minutes and if used regularly, you might see results in about a month.
- Improves fine lines and wrinkles: Turmeric boasts anti-aging benefits since it can help to slow down the skin's aging process. It's 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 so 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. And if you're eating 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.
What Kind to Buy
As previously mentioned, regular turmeric can temporarily stain the skin. But 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, and therefore 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.
How to Use it
Tumeric is incredibly versatile and can be incorporated into various steps of your skincare regimen, as well as added to certain products. Try it out as a face cleanser, mask—especially if you have oily skin—or night cream. More on how below:
- Use it as a face cleanser: Gram flour (aka besan flour, chickpea flour, and garbanzo flour) is often used in homemade recipes with turmeric, to cleanse and exfoliate the face. Mix it (or rice flour) with turmeric powder in equal proportions. Add raw or soy milk (or yogurt) to a teaspoon of chickpea/turmeric powder to make a paste. Milk contains lactic acid, which works to improve skin's texture by sloughing off dead skin cells, replenishing moisture, and rejuvenating the complexion. Apply evenly to the face and leave on for about 10-15 minutes. Wash the mask off with warm water.
- Try it as a face mask: "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." For a DIY mask, add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sandalwood powder and a pinch of ground turmeric to 3 tablespoons of orange juice and apply the paste to the face. The orange juice provides fruit acid to clear blemishes and sandalwood is a natural astringent. Leave on for about 10-15 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.
- Apply it 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. Wash off the mask in the morning using a gentle cleanser.
For a less messy nighttime regimen, you can add a pinch of turmeric to your favorite moisturizer or treatment product. And be sure to use an old pillowcase and bed linen that you don’t mind staining. Alternatively, purified curcumin can be used instead if you want to use a serum since it's colorless.
The Best Products with Turmeric
There's a fine line between dewy and oily enough to make you break out. 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.
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 micellar water or toner in the morning, and your skin will thank you for the 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.
(Note: This product is currently out of stock. For something similar, we recommend Clarins Double Serum Complete Anti-Aging Concentrate, $90)
Model Miranda Kerr isn't hesitant to embrace turmeric for the wonder-ingredient it is; instead, she makes it the focal point of this scrub from her line, Kora Organics. Hey, if it's good enough for a Victoria's Secret angel, it's good enough for us.
Can I use raw turmeric alone on my face?
Yes, but it's recommended to mix with a liquid (e.g. honey, milk, yogurt, water, etc.) for easier application and better absorption. Before using topically, please consult a dermatologist.
Does turmeric lighten the skin?
Thanks to turmeric's anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it can help to reduce dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
Can turmeric be applied daily?
Yes, however, unless using Kasturi turmeric or purified curcumin serum, avoid leaving on skin for extended periods of time since turmeric has the propensity to leave stains.
Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: a review of its’ effects on human health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92.
Vaughn AR, Branum A, Sivamani RK. Effects of turmeric (Curcuma longa) on skin health: a systematic review of the clinical evidence. Phytother Res. 2016;30(8):1243-1264.
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.
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.