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Turmeric has long been a staple of Ayurvedic, Chinese, and Southeast Asian traditional medicine and is commonly cited as a potent anti-inflammatory. The golden spice can be used as an ingredient in smoothies, pasta, dessert, and even margaritas. It boasts health benefits like delaying diabetes, repairing brain stem cells, and decreasing heartburn. Among its chief health properties, turmeric can also benefit the skin.
"Due to its vast benefits, turmeric has been used for the treatment of various skin conditions including acne, hair loss, eczema, aging, itch, psoriasis, vitiligo, and skin cancer in both oral and topical forms," board-certified New York–based dermatologist Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, explains. Instead of simply using turmeric as an anti-inflammatory ingredient in your favorite dishes, there's mounting evidence that suggests using turmeric for skin can have major benefits. Levin breaks down just why turmeric is so good for you, how best to incorporate the spice into a skincare regimen, and the possible side effects you should know before testing out a new product.
"Many skin types can respond well to turmeric, from normal skin to those with inflammatory skin conditions," says Levin. According to research, turmeric has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-oxidative, and anti-neoplastic (cancer) properties. "There have been studies using turmeric in both gel and cream formulations alone and in combination with other ingredients," Levin says. Each of these methods has been shown to improve skin texture and fine wrinkles. The spice works to decrease the breakdown of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid in the skin.
Why It Works
The active component of turmeric is actually curcumin. Levin explains that curcumin is the active curcuminoid and volatile oil that contains vitamin A, minerals, and phytochemicals. "Curcumin has been shown to down-regulate different pathways in the immune system, which is why it is theorized to be beneficial in inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, and acne," she says.
How to Use It
"Curcumin actually has a poor bioavailability since it's not well absorbed and it's quickly metabolized and eliminated from the body," she says. Levin recommends using cosmetic-grade skincare products with tetrahydrocurcuminoids to reap all of the anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative properties. However, Levin notes that the dosages of curcumin in different turmeric powders vary depending on where it is sourced and where the plant is grown. You can also try an oral curcumin supplement. "I recommend a supplement with curcuminoid with piperine, as this has been shown to increase bioavailability, or taking turmeric/curcumin with fat-containing foods in order to increase the absorption."
"While turmeric and curcumin have been shown to be safe, there can be side effects," Levin says. The most common side effects are nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. She explains that, when taken orally, curcumin can interact with medication like aspirin and Coumadin, so be sure to consult your doctor before taking a turmeric supplement for the first time. It could also affect people with a history of gallstones and biliary tract diseases and shouldn't be used in women who are nursing or pregnant, according to Levin.
There are also possible side effects of using turmeric in the topical form. "Many people think that 'natural' products are safe, but natural products can also cause rashes and, even worse, allergic reactions." If you have a history of eczema, contact dermatitis, or sensitive skin, you should consult a doctor before experimenting with using turmeric for your skin.
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