In today’s article I’m going to talk about turmeric in skincare. I get questions about this all the time. What does turmeric do for skin? Do I recommend turmeric face masks and turmeric lotions and creams?
I’m also going to not only talk about that but I’m gonna review the Inkey List Turmeric moisturizer. So we had a product review and an ingredient review in one article.
What is turmeric?
It is a spice that is derived from the root Curcuma longa. It’s used in lots of delicious foods.
It has something in it called curcumin, which is antioxidant that is profoundly anti-inflammatory. Not only is curcumin anti-inflammatory but it also is antimicrobial and has been shown to have some anti-cancer properties as well.
You probably already know this but turmeric has this bright yellow color and actually when it’s exposed to acid, it turns red.
Turmeric in foods is thought to have profound health benefits. However we do know that turmeric and the curcumin in turmeric have poor bioavailability, meaning when you ingest turmeric, it’s difficult for your body to absorb it. Things like black pepper can increase the absorption of turmeric.
That’s why it’s thought to be beneficial in a lot of traditional Indian foods that incorporate some of these other spices, improving its bioavailability, meaning absorption into the body.
There is a lot of enthusiasm for putting it on your skin to take advantage of some of these beneficial properties, like being anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
Turmeric or curcumin is hydrophobic or water fearing and therefore you’d think that it would actually be pretty easy to get it into your skin, your waxy, lipid layer. And using something that is lipophilic (oily) you would think it would get into the skin wall. But it’s a lot trickier than that.
Turmeric is really hard and very challenging to formulate into a topical product and it has to do with its pH and its water solubility is poor.
So getting it into a product that you can actually use is really challenging. Not only that.
While it can get into your skin and cross that waxy, lipid barrier, because of its hydrophobicity, it has a challenging time getting across cell membranes once it gets into the deeper layers of your skin. Getting into the cells is proving to be challenging with turmeric and topical use of turmeric.
There are definitely some challenges for manufacturers when trying to come up with a topical product that will effectively deliver curcumin or turmeric to the skin in a way that’s going to be meaningful.
Whenever you use antioxidants in your skin care products, some of the effects from the antioxidants, if they are working and are doing anything, they’re not gonna be immediate. They’re not even something that you’re gonna necessarily notice.
Generally speaking, we have very few studies on topical turmeric on actual people for any particular skin outcome.
There is a study by a group of Swanson and others. They conducted a nine-week study examining the effects of a topical turmeric cream on hyperpigmentation.
People who had dark spots, like post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, put the turmeric cream on twice a day for four weeks. At the end of the four weeks, there was a statistically significant decrease in the number of dark spots in comparison to the placebo cream that had no turmeric in it.
This suggests that maybe topical turmeric creams could be helpful for hyperpigmentation.
When people make all these claims about turmeric being helpful for dark spots and skin brightening, it is all on this one little tiny study.
This same group then later did a larger study. This time instead of looking at dark spots, they looked at wrinkles and fine lines. This was a 10-week study so a little bit longer, it was blinded and randomized.
The individuals used a turmeric extract cream formulated with niacinamide or they used a cream that had just niacinamide. Niacinamide has been shown to be beneficial for improving wrinkles, fine lines and skin textural.
They wanted to see if niacinamide can do better if they add turmeric to it.
After twice daily application, at four weeks, they showed there was a statistically significant decrease in wrinkles and fine lines over just the niacinamide cream.
Niacinamide cream improved things but not as great as niacinamide plus turmeric.
These are two really small, very short studies, suggesting that topical turmeric at least is well tolerated in those small groups.
A lot of what you will hear about using turmeric is anecdotal experience and for anything else there’s really no data.
How does that factor into the Inkey List product?
I use this a number of times and I have no issue with it.
I’ll tell you though it’s a product that I have a feeling the Inkey List is going to find that consumers don’t get along with and here’s the reasons why.
First of all, it smell almost like turmeric, but it has to be expected. I don’t mind that smell but I have seen reviews of people that can’t stand the smell. That alone is off-putting. I hope they don’t counteract that by putting the fragrance in it.
This product is formulated with squalene, which is a lightweight emollient. Squalene is great, I have no issue using it in moisturizers, but there is some thought that theoretically topical squalene could worsen some people’s acne.
Just based on the fact that squalene is part of our natural sebum, aka oil, and so there’s some thought that using squalene in your skin care products could exacerbate acne.
The other offender in this is coconut oil. Coconut oil is an ingredient that is comedogenic. I worry that something like this might exacerbate someone’s acne alright.
Other reasons that I think this might fail with consumers is the fact that this product markets itself as something that’s going to prevent and/or improve dry skin. I’m not so sure about that because this product has some nice emollients that will smooth and soften dry, rough skin, but it doesn’t have any occlusive ingredients to seal in trans epidermal water loss.
This probably might actually make your skin a little bit drier if you just use this as your moisturizer alone.
Not only that, I would anticipate that the turmeric can also be potentially irritating and also drying just based on how it has to be formulated.
I think it might be a fail overall in the hands of many consumers. It’s not a bad product per se. I didn’t have any issue using it, but it does have a coconut oil, which can cause acne, breakouts and theoretically worse people’s acne.
I don’t think it’s a good moisturizer alone. If you want to incorporate turmeric into your skincare routine, I suppose this is a reasonable starting point.
I recommend using a product like this because it’s affordable and you can put your faith in it since the Inkey List formulated it in a way that is going to be absorbed into your skin as opposed to if you go into your kitchen and make a turmeric mask, which I don’t recommend doing.
I know a lot of you do that mask and have no issue with it, enjoy doing that, but I’m not gonna recommend that people do that because it can be irritating and how are you going to formulate the solution in such a way that the curcumin compounds are gonna get into your skin.
I think it just ends up putting you at more risk for irritation and staining your skin with that bright yellow color.
Overall I’d say if you want to incorporate turmeric into your skincare, try this. It’s pretty affordable but know that it can cause irritation and problems for some people.
This product is definitely not gonna make my must-haves list. They’ve got better products that are more evidence-based.
People are enthusiastic about turmeric, so of course they’re going to create a product that meets a consumer demand. That’s to be expected. But whether or not it does anything I’m not super confident.
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.