You probably know turmeric as being one of the spices used in Indian and Asian cooking. It adds depth of flavour – and the vibrant yellow-orange colour – to dishes such as curries. But research shows that it does much more than just make our food taste amazing. In India, turmeric is also known as ‘the Golden Goddess’ and has been used for over 4,000 years as a medicinal herb to protect the body and increase vitality.
Modern studies have shown that this remarkable spice contains a unique range of beneficial compounds that can enhance our skin: from protecting us against premature aging, to clearing the skin, to supporting skin healing and cell renewal. It’s a true natural beauty all-rounder!
How can turmeric protect and enhance the appearance of skin?
1. Antioxidant – anti-aging
One of the primary reasons for skin aging – including wrinkles – is free radical damage. This can come from processes inside the body (our cells make free radicals just from producing energy!) and from outside the body, such as from UV damage.
As well as protecting our skin from the outside, we can take steps to reduce this damage by consuming plenty of antioxidants in our food. Studies suggest that natural constituents of turmeric – especially curcumin – may possess particularly strong antioxidant activity (1), and may directly reduce skin aging – including preventing moisture loss and protecting against wrinkles .
And it’s not only aging skin that could benefit. The antioxidant activity of turmeric may also help those with skin diseases such psoriasis and vitiligo, which can involve free radical damage [3, 4, 5].
In addition to free radical damage, inflammation is also a big factor in many skin problems, from acne to psoriasis, eczema and other skin rashes. It’s what causes the unsightly redness and swelling, as well as the soreness and heat. So calming down the inflammation is vital to help soothe and restore the skin.
Again, it’s turmeric to the rescue! One of this spice’s best-known properties is its anti-inflammatory activity, as shown in numerous research studies [6, 7].
3. Liver-supporting and blood-cleansing
One of the traditional uses of turmeric in herbal medicine is as a ‘blood purifier’. Modern research suggests that turmeric could actually help to clear toxins from the blood, in at least two different ways.
Firstly, it’s thought that turmeric can increase the activity of certain enzymes responsible for removing toxins from the blood (known as phase II detoxification enzymes) . Secondly, this wonder spice is thought to stimulate bile flow from the gallbladder into the digestive tract . As well as helping to digest our food, bile is the primary way in which our liver gets rid of fat-soluble toxins and wastes from our blood; it’s made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, ready to be excreted. Turmeric seems to help with this process!
So how does this apply to maintaining healthy, glowing skin? A build-up of toxins in the body is one of the potential reasons for skin problems, including dull-looking or sallow skin, skin reactions such as rashes, and even increased skin aging. In our modern environment we’re exposed to many more chemicals and toxins than our bodies are designed to deal with – in the air, in our food and water, on our furniture and in the products we use on our skin and in our homes. We need to give our body’s detoxification processes all the help they can get – to support our general health and vitality, as well as great skin.
4. Enhancing circulation
Good circulation to the skin allows nutrients to be delivered to our skin cells, and waste products to be flushed away. With optimal circulation, our skin has all it needs to be healthy, and can more efficiently get rid of rid of clogging, dullness-producing toxins.
Turmeric may support healthy blood flow and circulation to the skin. Curcuminoids in turmeric have been shown to have ‘anti-platelet’ activity [9, 10] – which basically means they can help to keep our blood flowing more easily. In a clinical trial, giving a curcumin supplement to patients was found to increase their micro-circulation  – the circulation to the smallest blood vessels such as those in the skin.
5. Boosting collagen production
Collagen is the vital protein that keeps our skin firm, supple and young-looking. It’s also needed for skin healing and renewal.
Our favourite spice could be helpful here too! It’s been found that curcumin in turmeric has skin-healing and wound-healing properties, including by increasing collagen deposits in the skin . This can be beneficial not only for reducing skin aging, but also supporting repair and recovery for those with problem skin or unpleasant skin conditions.
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2. Tundis R et al. Potential role of natural compounds against skin aging. Curr Med Chem. 2015;22(12):1515-38.
3. Thangapazham RL et al. Skin regenerative potentials of curcumin. Biofactors. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):141-9.
4. Antiga E et al. Oral Curcumin (Meriva) Is Effective as an Adjuvant Treatment and Is Able to Reduce IL-22 Serum Levels in Patients with Psoriasis Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:283634.
5. Becatti M et al. The involvement of Smac/DIABLO, p53, NF-kB, and MAPK pathways in apoptosis of keratinocytes from perilesional vitiligo skin: Protective effects of curcumin and capsaicin. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2010 Nov 1;13(9):1309-21.
6. Takada Y et al. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene. 2004 Dec 9;23(57):9247-58.
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10. Shah BH et al. Inhibitory effect of curcumin, a food spice from turmeric, on platelet-activating factor- and arachidonic acid-mediated platelet aggregation through inhibition of thromboxane formation and Ca2+ signaling. Biochem Pharmacol. 1999 Oct 1;58(7):1167-72.
11. Appendino G et al. Potential role of curcumin phytosome (Meriva) in controlling the evolution of diabetic microangiopathy. A pilot study. Panminerva Med. 2011 Sep;53(3 Suppl 1):43-9.
12. Akbik D et al. Curcumin as a wound healing agent. Life Sci. 2014 Oct 22;116(1):1-7.