Turmeric, also known as Curcuma longa, is a yellow spice native to India. It’s also a popular herb in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
It contains the compound curcumin, which has been widely shown to have anti- inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Therefore, it has historically been used to treat an array of inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema (1).
However, you may wonder whether using turmeric can truly fight eczema and if it’s safe.
This article tells you all you need to know about turmeric and eczema.
What is eczema?
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting 2–10% of adults and 15–30% of children (2).
Eczema presents as dry, itchy, and inflamed skin, resulting from a dysfunctional skin barrier that leads to excess water loss. There are many types of eczema, but all are characterized by undesirable patches on the skin (2, 3).
The underlying cause of eczema is unknown, but a person’s genetics and environment appear to be linked to its development (2, 3).
Common treatments include special moisturizers and topical anti-inflammatory creams during flare-ups to minimize itching and restore the skin’s moisture barrier.
However, given the increased popularity of natural remedies, many people are turning to herbal medicine for relief.
Eczema is one of the most common inflammatory skin conditions in children and adults. Common symptoms include dry, itchy, and inflamed skin.
Turmeric and eczema
Due to turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties, many wonder whether it can alleviate eczema symptoms.
Although the spice has been used for centuries as a natural treatment for skin disorders, there is little research specifically on turmeric and eczema (4).
In a company-sponsored study in 150 people with eczema, using a turmeric- containing cream for 4 weeks resulted in nearly a 30% and 32% decrease in skin scaling and itchiness, respectively (5).
However, the cream also contained other anti-inflammatory herbs, which could have contributed to the improvements. Therefore, the study could not conclude that turmeric alone relieved eczema symptoms (5).
Moreover, a 2016 review of 18 studies found early evidence to support curcumin use, both topically and orally, for treating skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis (4, 6, 7).
Still, the researchers called for more studies to determine the dosage, efficacy, and mechanism of action.
Apart from these studies, there is little additional research on the oral, topical, or intravenous use of turmeric or curcumin for the treatment of eczema.
Research on turmeric and eczema is limited. Still, at least one study found significant improvements in eczema symptoms after using a topical cream containing the spice and other herbs. Additional studies suggest it may aid other skin conditions as well.
Safety and precautions
Although there is limited research on turmeric and eczema, some people may still choose to use it.
Turmeric is generally recognized as safe to consume by the Food and Drug Administration. However, it may also be used topically. Some people may have used turmeric intravenously, but this route has led to serious reactions, including death (8).
Food and supplements
There is extensive research on the health effects of consuming turmeric.
It’s generally recognized as safe, and curcumin has been shown to have no adverse health effects in healthy people when taken in doses of up to 12,000 mg per day (9).
Still, keep in mind that the curcumin in turmeric has low bioavailability. Therefore, consuming ground turmeric may not provide a therapeutic dose (9, 10).
While some studies report finding little to no curcumin in the bloodstream after ingestion, especially in doses below 4,000 mg, curcumin may still provide beneficial effects (10, 11).
Another study detected curcumin in the blood more easily by using an alternate testing method (12).
Adding black pepper to turmeric dishes and supplements may help as well, as this spice contains a compound known as piperine, which can increase the absorption of curcumin. Still, it’s unknown how much curcumin might reach your skin (9, 10).
Dietary fats, water-soluble carriers, volatile oils, and antioxidants may also enhance the absorption of curcumin, according to some research (12).
Finally, the side effects of excessive turmeric intake may include skin rash, headache, nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, and yellow stools (11).
Due to turmeric’s popularity, many cosmetic companies use it as an ingredient in their products.
In studies on other skin conditions, topically applying turmeric-containing products allows for adequate absorption of curcumin (4, 9).
However, these products are specifically formulated for enhanced absorption, and applying pure turmeric to your skin will not have the same effects (4, 9).
Moreover, the spice contains a strong yellow pigment shown to stain the skin, which most people likely find undesirable (4).
Although more research is needed, topical products containing the spice’s active ingredients appear to be safe for use. Speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.
Due to turmeric’s low bioavailability, there is an increasingly popular trend among natural healthcare professionals to provide it intravenously.
By bypassing digestion, the curcumin from the turmeric spice enters the blood supply more easily, providing a substantially higher dosage (13).
However, there is little research in this area, and major complications have been observed. In fact, a 2018 report found that intravenous turmeric for the treatment of eczema caused the death of a 31-year-old woman (14).
Even with small doses, this type of intravenous treatment may cause unwanted side effects, such as headache, nausea, upset stomach, constipation, and diarrhea (15).
Safety in children
Given eczema’s prevalence among children, many adults are looking for safe, natural remedies for their children.
The use of ground turmeric in food is generally recognized as safe for both adults and children (8).
However, there have been reports of lead poisoning from ground turmeric and supplements due to lead chromate, which is added to enhance the yellow color. This is most commonly associated with turmeric sourced from India and Bangladesh (16).
Furthermore, supplementing with this spice is usually studied in adults, so it’s unknown whether it’s safe for children.
Finally, it’s best to speak with a dermatologist or other healthcare professional before trying turmeric products for the treatment of eczema.
Ground, supplemental, and topical turmeric are generally recognized as safe. However, intravenous treatment with the spice has been associated with serious side effects and death and should be avoided.
The bottom line
Despite its potential health benefits, there is only early research supporting the use of turmeric or its active ingredient curcumin to treat eczema.
If you’re looking to try turmeric for eczema, avoid intravenous treatment due to serious safety concerns.
That said, ground turmeric has been used for centuries as part of herbal medicine and is safe for use. Try adding this spice or curry powder to your dishes for a kick of flavor.
Topical products containing turmeric are usually formulated to be safe for use, although you should avoid directly applying the spice to your skin to prevent staining.
Oral supplements may also be beneficial, though research has not yet determined effective doses specifically for eczema.
Always speak to a healthcare professional before taking turmeric supplements, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have a chronic condition, or intend to give it to your child.
You may also want to talk to your medical provider about other treatment options for eczema.
If your healthcare provider suggests giving turmeric a try, you can purchase supplements locally or online. Be sure to follow their dosage recommendation.
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