Turmeric is a flowering plant related to ginger. It contains curcuminoid, a compound that seems to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. As a result, turmeric may help treat some skin conditions — including acne.
Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States, affecting around 40–50 million people in the country.
It usually results from dead cells and excess oil on the skin blocking the pores. This causes pimples, which may be whiteheads or blackheads, to form. Hormonal changes, bacteria, and issues such as friction can also contribute to acne.
Below, we look at whether turmeric can help resolve this skin issue.
Bacteria can play a role in the development of acne. Everyone has bacteria on their skin, and these microbes can combine with excess oil and dead skin cells to block hair follicles, making acne worse.
According to a 2016 systematic review, turmeric may help resolve skin conditions, such as acne, because it contains a compound called curcumin. This makes up roughly 90% of the curcuminoid content of the plant.
Curcumin has antimicrobial properties, meaning that it may combat the bacteria that contribute to acne — including a type called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), which can play a significant role in the development of the condition.
Moreover, according to 2019 research, P. acnes has become resistant to some antibiotic treatments, which has led researchers to explore the effects of curcumin on drug resistant strains of the bacteria.
The researchers found that curcumin could fight off antibiotic resistant strains of P. acnes in rats.
Also using a rat model, they discovered that curcumin, combined with lauric acid in a gel, could reduce the number of whiteheads and blackheads. The team concluded that curcumin may be a promising factor in the treatment of bacterial skin diseases.
A 2013 study in pig skin also found that curcumin, combined with lauric acid, could inhibit microbial growth.
Likewise, when researchers in 2018 used low-level blue light to enhance the antimicrobial effects of curcumin, P. acnes were significantly less able to survive.
However, despite the growing amount of evidence that curcumin can help resolve skin issues in lab settings, there is not enough research to confirm the safety or efficacy of using turmeric to treat acne at home.
Turmeric is safe to eat, though consuming excessive amounts or using it as a remedy for extended periods can cause gastrointestinal problems.
According to a 2017 review, people taking high-dose curcumin supplements may develop:
- yellow stool
- a rash
Other adverse effects may involve:
Authors of a 2015 review found that, though curcumin is known to combat inflammation, it can also be a contact allergen.
As a result, some people who apply turmeric to the skin may experience contact dermatitis, a kind of allergic reaction.
Symptoms may develop gradually and include:
- dry skin
- itchy, red patches of skin
- cracked skin
If dermatitis is a response to a strong irritant, symptoms may take a few hours to develop and include:
- burning, stinging, or itching
- fluid-filled blisters
Some allergic reactions are severe and require emergency medical help. Symptoms of a severe reaction may include:
- an itchy mouth
- shortness of breath
- tightness in the throat
- chest pain
- a pale or bluish tint to the skin
- a feeling of impending doom
Anyone who takes this type of medication should talk to a doctor before using turmeric for health reasons.
Turmeric has the ability to absorb intestinal iron. This indicates that it may be useful for people with high levels of iron but that it may cause or worsen anemia in others.
A 2019 case study reports that a person developed clinical signs of an iron deficiency after taking six turmeric extract capsules daily for a few months.
The signs of the deficiency began to resolve within 2 weeks after the person stopped taking the extract.
Some people enjoy drinking turmeric tea while many enjoy using ground turmeric as a seasoning.
If a person intends to use it topically to treat acne, they could try:
- combining a pinch of turmeric with 2 teaspoons of coriander leaf juice to form a paste
- applying the paste to the face 2–3 times daily after washing the face
However, talk to a dermatologist before using turmeric topically.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a person can help reduce or resolve acne by:
- washing the face twice a day with a gentle, nonabrasive cleanser
- making sure that any products applied to the face are free from irritants and allergens
- refraining from scrubbing the skin, as this can worsen acne
- refraining from popping pimples, as this can cause scarring and slow the healing process
- avoiding touching the face
Acne may affect a person’s self-esteem. Anyone who experiences this or has trouble managing their acne with home care and over-the-counter treatments should consult a dermatologist.
If a person tries turmeric and experiences any milder symptoms of an allergic reaction, they should stop using the remedy and talk to a dermatologist.
Anyone who experiences more severe symptoms should receive emergency medical care.
There are early indications that curcumin, a compound in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Following on from this, some researchers have found that the compound may help resolve some skin issues, including acne.
Scientists are now exploring the range of potential health benefits of curcumin. However, much more research is necessary before the medical community can determine whether turmeric is a safe and useful acne treatment.
Before taking turmeric supplements or using it on the skin, talk to a general practitioner or a dermatologist.