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Using Turmeric for Acne
Turmeric is a root and food ingredient that many believe is valuable to skin health. We review the research on turmeric as an acne treatment.
Acne is a common problem affecting millions of men and women across the United States and abroad.
While most people deal with some degree of acne in their youth, others live with moderate to severe acne both in their teenage and adult years, and many people find that their acne hurts their self-confidence.
Traditionally, acne is treated with medications. But many of the leading medications (mostly antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide) have risks. In addition, the bacteria that causes acne often becomes immune to antibiotic treatments, leading those with severe acne to seek out alternative solutions.
One proposed solution is turmeric.
Turmeric is most commonly known as a popular curry spice. It is most popular in India and Thailand, though it can be found in cuisines throughout the world.
Turmeric comes from a similar plant as ginger. Its roots are harvested, then boiled, dried, and ground into a yellow or orange powder. While it is primarily known for its flavor (somewhat spicy), turmeric is also used as a food coloring and as an additive to many popular cuisines around the world.
But while turmeric is more widely known as a spice, according to natural health experts turmeric is also a popular choice for various health conditions as well.
According to those that believe in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has been used for centuries as a medicinal tool, thanks primarily to a nutrient inside turmeric known as curcumin.
A Wall Street Journal article published in 2005:
"An increasing body of scholarly research indicates that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, could be used to prevent a range of illnesses, from cancer to skin disorders. Faced with a number of promising laboratory studies and animal trials, scientists are rushing to test curcumin's effectiveness in humans."
Most of these theories are based on disease rates in India and other developing countries that depend on turmeric as part of their daily diet. For example, India has a lower cancer rate per capita than the United States despite presumably living in less desirable conditions.
However, it should be noted that many of these researchers are finding causation out of correlation, which can be misleading. There are countless millions of differences between India and the United States that could explain these differences, not the least of which being technological differences and radiation, access to medical care (cancer rates tend to increase with age, and India has a much lower life expectancy than the US), racial differences, and more.
Still, turmeric supporters continue to claim that turmeric may have active health benefits that can be extracted and turned into a type of natural medicine. One common use of turmeric is for acne, as many people use turmeric as a type of acne treatment.
Acne is generally caused by bacteria, which grows beneath the skin to cause inflammation. One of the issues with most medicines is that while they're effective at reducing bacteria, these bacteria tend to adapt to the antibiotics until ultimately the antibiotics lose their effectiveness and the acne comes back.
Interestingly, turmeric is not believed to have antibiotic properties. Rather, it is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. This would indicate that turmeric is not fighting bacteria, but instead simply preventing the bacteria from causing visible acne blemishes. Although there is some support for the idea that other nutrients within turmeric may have antibacterial properties, presumably improving the effects of turmeric as an acne treatment.
The question, of course, is whether or not turmeric works.
As of this writing, there are currently no clinical trials in progress in the United States examining turmeric as an acne treatment. Most reports of turmeric for acne come from Ayurvedic medicine supporters.
A study published in 1982 claims that a series of tests on rats appears to indicate that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies since have also indicated anti-inflammatory activities, confirming that turmeric may be safe and effective for human use as well.
In 2003, Dr. Nita Chainani-Wu from the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) performed a systematic review of all available published studies available on turmeric for both its safety and efficacy as an anti-inflammatory agent.
First, she identified that even in large doses turmeric appeared to be safe. No studies in her research indicated that there were any side effects of turmeric use, although it should be noted that she herself did not perform the research, but rather relied on the previously published studies to come to this conclusion.
As far as its effects on inflammation, Dr. Chainani-Wu states that curcumin does appear to have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity, however, this was limited to only six studies, and some of those studies may have been inadequately performed.
For example, one study only used 25 subjects, which is generally far too small a sample to draw adequate conclusions. It's questionable whether the studies included in this research were adequate enough to claim Turmeric was useful.
Another study was looking for anti-bacteria properties of turmeric. If turmeric showed any success as an antibacterial/antibiotic, then presumably it would be even more effective as an acne treatment. The researchers tested turmeric essential oils to other oil extracts, including cinnamon extract and clove.
The research found that turmeric oil had no antibacterial properties, at least on the two bacteria it was tested against.
This is no definitive by any means. There were problems with the study, including:
Considerably more testing would be needed to rule out any antibacterial properties of turmeric, but according to this study, the results are not indicative of an acne cleanser.
Another study completed in India questioned nurses and hospital workers on their turmeric use, and then compared that use to their acne. They also found that there was no significant difference between those using turmeric and those that were not.
However, this study was also questionable. Hospital workers were not given turmeric in a double blind study and compared against placebo. Instead, the workers were simply questioned on their turmeric and acne treatment use, and then their acne examined.
Essentially, research into turmeric and acne simply hasn't been completed adequately. While there are several studies testing the theory that turmeric has anti-inflammation and anti-bacterial properties, none have been completed in a way that can provide any definitive reference for whether turmeric does or does not improve acne appearance.
All the studies have in common is that turmeric appears to be safe, as currently no known side effects appear to exist.
However, it's unlikely – based on current research – that turmeric has any effect on acne. More, better studies need to be completed before its effect on acne can be known.
Because there is little research into how to use turmeric for acne, there are also no "proven" ways to create a turmeric acne treatment.
Yet most Ayurveda supporters claim that eating turmeric is not necessarily the way to treat acne. They claim that the best thing to do is turn turmeric into some type of mask or cream. While there are a variety of turmeric skin cream recipes, one of the simplest is simply:
Mix together until it becomes a paste, and gently place the paste on your skin as evenly as possible. Wait for about 15 minutes, then wash off with cold water and gently dry to avoid creating any excess irritation.
Other recipes involve adding sandalwood, or using other types of cream. Many experts recommend avoiding too much turmeric as it tends to irritate the skin.
It's unclear whether or not turmeric has any effect on acne, or whether it's possible to control acne buildup using any type of turmeric powder or cream.
Those that use turmeric tend to swear by it – with many reporting that some types of turmeric masks (including those available premade) are extremely effective at relieving acne.
But research has yet to support this theory – or any theory – with regards to turmeric.
Because there are no studies either supporting or refuting the benefits of turmeric, it's generally up to those suffering from acne to decide if they want to try a turmeric acne treatment. Research does appear to indicate that using turmeric is safe, so there is no harm in attempting some type of turmeric for acne. Just be sure to consider other options as well in the event the turmeric doesn't work as planned.
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