How does curcumin benefit skin?

Abstract image of Indian turmeric powder from vegetable market.
Curcumin is the major component of the herb turmeric.
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"Let food be your medicine, and medicine food," is advice credited to the father of medicine, Hippocrates. Fast-forward about 2,400 years -- it seems that hardly a week goes by without an announcement that some study has concluded that a certain food item has specific health benefits. Curcumin is one of those items that shows promise of providing a variety of health benefits.

Curcumin is the major component of the herb turmeric. Turmeric is found in India and other parts of Asia and Africa, and it's related to ginger. Its aromatic, yellow rhizome (underground stem) is turned into a powder and used as a food flavoring or dye. Curcumin is found in the rhizome and is what gives turmeric its yellow color [source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine].


Scientists agree that curcumin may have anti-inflammatory properties and may act as an antioxidant, but most studies so far have been conducted only in laboratories and not in people. Other research is looking into the use of curcumin and turmeric in treating many medical conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, high cholesterol and osteoarthritis [source: MedlinePlus].

As a health treatment, many people use turmeric in a powder form, in capsules, teas, and liquid extracts, or as a paste [source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine]. Some researchers are using it or testing it on a number of skin conditions, including eczema, scabies and chronic skin ulcers. Plus, it has been successful in speeding the healing of wounds, and bandages with turmeric as a disinfectant are sold in India. In addition, some researchers are investigating turmeric paste applied to the skin for its potential to help prevent skin cancer [source: American Cancer Society].

Turmeric has long been used as nature's anti-inflammatory ingredient. Many believe its protective properties work to relieve pain from inflammation in arthritis, sprains, rheumatism and post-surgery aches and pains. Many people prefer to mix it with hot water and sugar as a remedy for coughs and colds.

The use of curcumin abounds in treating a variety of skin conditions, but because most of the evidence is still inconclusive at best, the scientific jury is still out on its definitive benefits.

Read on to learn more about curcumin's presence in food and how it can help you.


Foods with Curcumin

You've probably consumed some food item containing curcumin at some point, even if you've never heard of it. If you've ever eaten a hot dog with mustard, you've likely had it -- it gives mustard its tang and familiar yellow color. Also, if you check the labels on pickles and other products with preservatives, and you'll likely find curcumin listed as its common name: turmeric. Curcumin also provides color for many foods, including dairy products, cereals, fruit and vegetable items, candy, soups, and fats and oils [source: Stankovic].

Curcumin is also found in many Asian dishes. If you've eaten curry, you've had curcumin. The turmeric you find in the spice section on your grocer's shelf probably contains about 3 to 5 percent curcumin [source: American Cancer Society].


If you want to try out curcumin's potential health benefits for yourself, start by adding a little turmeric or curry to your food more often. In doing so, you might want to consider the typical turmeric intake in India. The average resident of India is estimated to consume between 0.07 to 0.09 ounces (2 to 2.5 grams) of turmeric daily. This is 0.002 to 0.007 ounces of curcumin (60 to 200 milligrams) a day [source: MedlinePlus].

There is much discussion about curcumin's benefits for skin. It has been made into a salve to relieve certain skin conditions and wounds [source: American Cancer Society]. The best way to get its benefits for skin is probably to apply it topically instead of consuming it orally. However, extensive use of turmeric carries the risk of possible skin rashes and irritation.

Traditional and alternative medicine's interest in curcumin's healing properties is strong, and ongoing research may be able to conclusively determine curcumin's benefits for skin conditions in the near future. For more information on this herbal ingredient and its possible benefits, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Cancer Society. "Turmeric." Nov. 1, 2008. (Accessed Sept. 21, 2009)
  • MedlinePlus. "Turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) and Curcumin." Aug. 26, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 21, 2009)
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). "Turmeric." June 2008. (Accessed Sept. 21, 2009)
  • Stankovic, Ivan. "Curcumin." Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. 2004. (Accessed Sept. 23, 2009)
  • University of Rochester Medical Center. "Common Spice May Protect Skin During Radiation Therapy for Cancer." Oct. 7, 2002. (Accessed Sept. 22, 2009)
  • United Press International. "Turmeric Gives Little Relief for Psoriasis." March 1, 2008. (Accessed Sept. 23, 2009)