Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It contains an active, nontoxic ingredient called curcumin, which has been used to treat various skin conditions and other disorders as far back as 4,000 years ago. Today, turmeric is widely used for various medicinal purposes in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of chronic diseases.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It causes dry skin that may be itchy, inflamed, and discolored (red, purple, brown, or ashen, depending on a person’s skin color). There are currently 31 million Americans living with eczema. Although there is no cure for the condition, limited but growing evidence suggests that oral or topical turmeric may help relieve symptoms related to eczema.
Turmeric may offer many benefits as a low-cost, natural remedy for eczema. However, it is important to discuss any new treatment options (even home remedies) with your health care provider or dermatologist before starting them. In general, turmeric should be used as a complement to — not a replacement for — your other treatments for eczema.
Turmeric contains a key ingredient called curcumin. Various studies have found curcumin to have antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help protect sensitive skin. It may also affect the immune system cells that are in part responsible for eczema. Many topical products containing curcumin — such as ointments, soaps, and cosmetics — are sold throughout Asia, the Middle East, and the United States.
In a clinical study conducted in India, participants treated their eczema with turmeric cream, combined with other herbal extracts. After four weeks, they experienced significant improvements to their symptoms, including discoloration, swelling, itching, scaling, and thickening of the affected area. However, this study had a small sample size, and the other ingredients may have contributed to the results. Further research is necessary to assess the long-term effectiveness of topical turmeric.
Various clinical trials have found supplemental curcumin products, such as tablets and capsules, to be safe for adults. However, research is limited as to the effectiveness of turmeric supplements in treating eczema. One study examined the effects of using turmeric capsules for uremic pruritus (a symptom of renal disease that causes excessive itching). After eight weeks of taking the capsules three times daily, subjects reported improvements to their itchy skin and overall skin condition. Turmeric is also believed to help improve symptoms of psoriasis, another inflammatory skin condition.
To use turmeric, you can also skip the supplements and consume it in dishes and beverages such as curries, soups, and teas. Studies have found turmeric mixed with black pepper (which contains the main active ingredient piperine) helps increase the body’s absorption of curcumin by 2,000 percent. Golden milk, a recipe that has been used for more than 4,000 years, combines turmeric and black pepper. A recipe for golden milk, along with other dishes using turmeric, can be found on the National Eczema Association website.
Whether or not turmeric improves your eczema, taking or using the spice is unlikely to cause harm. Turmeric and curcumin extracts are safe even at high doses, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes curcumin as a safe compound that does not cause any serious side effects.
Still, it is important to note the limitations of using turmeric as a treatment. For example, topical turmeric will temporarily stain the skin a yellow color, as well as fabrics. Experts have also found curcumin to be poorly bioavailable — in other words, curcumin breaks down quickly in the body and cannot be easily absorbed by targeted organs.
Additionally, some people have reported mild side effects from topical and supplemental turmeric, such as:
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