Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a golden yellow spice that packs bold flavor. It’s an essential ingredient in classic Indian curry dishes, as well as a powerful anti-inflammatory with a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine, according to a review.
You may also know turmeric as curcumin, but curcumin is only one active compound in turmeric — albeit a very important one. In fact, many of turmeric’s anti- inflammatory benefits trace back to curcumin.
Traditionally, folks have used turmeric in hopes of treating arthritis, indigestion, and excessive gas, along with boosting energy, according to Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Today, some people have turned to oral and topical turmeric treatments to manage the symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema, and it often appears in the form of a red, itchy rash on the arms, legs, and cheeks, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Other types of eczema have different symptoms.
Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis is chronic and requires constant management, as certain triggers — like stress, chemical irritants (like laundry detergent), allergens, and sweat — can cause symptoms to temporarily worsen (also known as flares or flare-ups), according to the National Eczema Association.
Though there’s no cure for eczema, you can manage this skin condition by using a variety of approaches. Turmeric may make a helpful complementary treatment, early studies suggest.
The Effects of Turmeric on Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis
Turmeric contains anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties, making it an appealing treatment option for a variety of skin conditions, including eczema and atopic dermatitis.
As eczema and atopic dermatitis are inflammatory skin conditions, any compound that can help lower inflammation would be theoretically beneficial for easing redness and irritation. Substances with antimicrobial properties may help prevent the growth of skin bacteria or fungi in people with eczema and atopic dermatitis, whose skin often breaks during flare-ups and may be susceptible to more irritation and damage.
Meanwhile, antioxidants protect your body against damage caused by free radicals, which are often found in environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke. When there’s an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body, a condition known as oxidative stress may follow, leading the free radicals to alter lipids, proteins, and DNA, according to a review in Pharmacognosy Review. Over time, diseases like cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease may develop.
As a skin-care treatment, turmeric may also be used topically in the form of creams and serums. Traditionally in India, turmeric was applied to the skin to make it glow, according to Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Today, turmeric has been added to skin-care products to accomplish this, as well as treat a variety of skin concerns. Sunday Riley CEO Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil, for example, claims to add luminosity to the skin, thanks largely to an oil-soluble form of vitamin C and distilled turmeric oil. Meanwhile, the Cocokind Turmeric Spot Treatment looks like a lip balm but is meant to be applied to the skin to unclog pores, fight inflammation, and fade dark spots. It also contains ginger and tea tree oil.
As a treatment for anti-inflammatory conditions in general, turmeric may be useful, studies suggest. For example, it may play a role in treating arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes, according to the review in Foods. In fact, an earlier study found that it may be more effective than common anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and aspirin. Yet the effectiveness of oral and topical turmeric applications on treating inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis needs more research.
“[Turmeric] has not been extensively studied,” says New York City–based Samer Jaber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, member of the American Academy of Dermatology, and founder of Washington Square Dermatology. And the studies that do exist aren’t very conclusive — or necessarily specific to atopic dermatitis.
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