The Surprising Skincare Benefits of Turmeric

Kochi, India
Tom Stoddart Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Turmeric (curcuma longa) is being touted as an ingredient that not only helps spice up curry dishes, but also adds potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to the diet. If you enjoy Indian cuisine, you’re probably familiar with this super spice.

The western medical community has been doing research into turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially curcumin, a compound that gives turmeric its dark yellow color, and its potential in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

But in the East, turmeric has long been used for medicinal purposes.

Turmeric is from a perennial shrub originating in south and southeastern Asia and western India. In India, it was first used as a dye and then as a spice. It has been used in Indian ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for years for the treatment of inflammatory and digestive disorders.

Turmeric – A Sacred Spice

Turmeric was also used in religious rites in both ancient India and China. Turmeric is still used during many traditional Indian celebrations. It is used in Hindu rituals, and as dye for holy robes, as well as saris and other Indian clothing. In the Holi, a Hindu spring festival, turmeric paste is applied to the skin as a body ornament.

The Royal Treatment

The spice is also used in bridal beautification ceremonies in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Turmeric is used in southern India as part of the marriage ritual. On the wedding day, the string of the Thali necklace (Mangalsutra), which is the equivalent of a wedding ring, is prepared in turmeric paste, dried and then tied around the bride’s neck by the groom.

In the palaces of Central Java, Indonesia, the root was used during Lulur, an ancient royal ceremony for the bride-to-be, in a ritual to cleanse the body and give it a radiant glow. Hindu brides-to-be rub a mixture of turmeric and gram flour on their bodies on the morning of their wedding to give the skin a golden glow.

A spice to dye for

The ground turmeric spice that is sold in stores and turmeric used for dye are processed from an underground stem called a rhizome, which resembles a plant’s root. Raw turmeric in its original form looks like a ginger root.

Skincare benefits

There is a long list of skin care benefits associated with turmeric, including the treatment of acne blemishes, blackheads, dark spots and hyperpigmentation and other skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It helps heal and prevent dry skin, and to slow the skin aging process, and is used to diminish wrinkles, keep skin supple and improve skin’s elasticity. This sunny bright spice is also being used as an ingredient in sunscreens. It is used daily by East Indian women as a facial cleanser and exfoliant.

Buying and using turmeric for skincare

Regular turmeric can temporarily stain the skin. Kasturi turmeric (curcuma aromatica) is non-staining and has the same properties for clearing acne, inhibiting facial hair growth and brightening the complexion. It is not edible and therefore not used for cooking and should only be used externally. It may be difficult to find in some areas of the US. 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 helps 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 substitute with rice flour.

For a wrinkle reducer and skin brightener: A mixture of milk and turmeric is good for fine lines and wrinkles. Mix turmeric powder and rice powder with raw milk and tomato juice, enough to form a paste, and apply to face and neck for 30 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.

Facial cleanser for a glowing complexion: Mix a pinch of kasturi turmeric with milk. Turmeric (a natural antiseptic) with milk is also good for poison ivy, eczema and psoriasis.

Face cleanser to exfoliate and brighten skin: Mix chickpea (or rice) flour with turmeric powder in equal proportions. To save time for future treatments, store the mixture in 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.

Facial hair reducer: 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 should see results in about a month.

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.

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.

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. The orange juice provides fruit acid to clear blemishes and sandalwood is a natural astringent. Add about 1-½ 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.

If the idea of concocting a homemade mask is not your cup of turmeric tea, try Juara's Turmeric Antioxidant Radiance Mask.

Learn more about turmeric’s medicinal qualities.