You probably know turmeric as the bright yellow spice that gives curries their distinctive flavor and color, or that forms the core ingredient of golden milk. You might also know it as a traditional part of Ayurvedic medicine, a key component in dozens of health treatments of varying levels of efficacy. Did you know, though, that it may have the potential to lighten your skin?
Many people throughout history and around the internet today believe in the skin-lightening power of turmeric. In contrast to the yellow staining properties of the spice itself, creating a beauty treatment out of it may be able to brighten dark spots on the skin, address dark circles under the eyes, or even lighten your overall complexion.
At least, these are the claims. As with any health or beauty treatment, it's good to be a little skeptical before you invest. Can turmeric really brighten your skin? Let's take a deep dive and find out.
Looking at the Claims
First, let's look at what the benefits of turmeric are, specifically in the form of skin treatment. We'll talk about the soap specifically later; for now, let's just look at what happens if you use anything with turmeric, as far as popular wisdom is concerned. Here's what various people have claimed turmeric can do for your skin.
Remove dark circles under your eyes. The idea is that turmeric is an anti-inflammatory. Dark circles under your eyes are caused by a wide range of factors, including age, genetic predisposition, fatigue, dehydration, and sun exposure. Essentially, that area of your face doesn't have a lot of supporting structure, so the skin is prone to reacting to environmental and bodily stimuli more easily. Inflammation and increased circulation can change the skin color through both acute blood flow and chronic skin issues. Turmeric, thought to stimulate blood flow and reduce inflammation, can presumably reduce those eye circles, thereby lightening the skin in that specific place.
Reduce the incidence of skin conditions and the blotches left from flare-ups. Specifically, much research has been ongoing with regards to turmeric's ability to treat eczema and psoriasis, two of the most intractable skin conditions that aren't curable. Turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties can supposedly reduce the incidence and severity of flare-ups, help the skin heal after a flare-up, and reduce both the redness of blotches in healing skin and reduce the size and appearance of scars caused by flare-ups.
Fight off acne. Acne is an irritating skin condition that leads to itchy, painful, and swollen pustules on the skin, often predominantly on the face. Turmeric has two qualities that can help here; the anti-inflammatory properties can reduce redness and swelling, and antiseptic properties can reduce the infection levels and help fight off acne flare-ups in the first place. Together, it seems as though turmeric might be able to help fight off acne altogether, and reduce both the redness and the swelling of the resulting skin after a flare-up.
Reduce excess melanin production. Melanin is the compound found in the skin that is responsible for its darker color. People with more melanin have darker skin, regardless of their ethnic group, and ethnic groups with darker skin have more melanin than ethnic groups with lighter skin. The active chemical in turmeric, called curcumin, seems to be able to reduce the skin's production of melanin. While the melanin levels you have are typically set by your genetics, they can be influenced by outside factors ranging from environmental chemicals to sun exposure, to it makes sense that turmeric could have an effect as well.
Reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Stretch marks can be difficult to address skin because they are literally just scars. People try everything to get rid of them, calling them unsightly, usually because they're evidence of weight gain and the stigma associated with it. Unfortunately, scars aren't very easy to deal with, and the darker your skin is, the worse they stand out. The idea here is that turmeric can lighten the appearance of stretch marks, but that's not entirely accurate. What really happens – or supposedly happens – is that the skin surrounding the stretch marks lightens to more closely match the color of the stretch marks, effectively hiding them.
There are, of course, a range of other purported benefits of turmeric when used all over the body. It can, reportedly, accelerate wound healing, fight off bodily inflammation, cure dandruff, increase hair growth, fight off dry skin, prevent UV damage, and more. It's traditional medicine, it's been used for just about everything at some point in history. The question is, how much of that is true?
How Turmeric Works
Turmeric, or rather the active component curcumin, works in a few different ways.
- It's an antiseptic, meaning it can cleanse and kill off bacteria and other harmful organisms in the microflora living on your skin and in your environment.
- It's an anti-inflammatory, meaning it can reduce redness and swelling in different parts of the body, when applied topically or when consumed through diet.
- It's an antioxidant, meaning it can fight free radicals within the body when it is consumed, and reduce bodily oxidative stress.
All of these observances are true and have been proven by scientific studies. The trick is, these studies usually use a concentrated, isolated form of curcumin, rather than just the spice turmeric applied as a salve. That said, some studies have been performed into turmeric on its own.
This study, performed in 2017, studied the effects of a turmeric essential oil on 60 women, looking for two things: the ability to lighten skin, and the ability to suppress androgenic hair growth. It found both of them to be true. A turmeric essential oil could lighten skin.
The caveat here is that the skin lightening effect only lasted for about two weeks after cessation of application. In other words, it only lightens skin for as long as you're using the treatment. If you stop, your skin will gradually return to whatever your natural skin color is. Additionally, while it can noticeably brighten skin, the effects are most pronounced in women with naturally darker skin. A white woman looking to grow paler will have a much harder time getting any noticeable results than an Indian woman looking for lighter skin color.
Turmeric's effects on the skin only work when concentrated and when applied directly to the skin. Essential oil lotions and isolated curcumin compounds are usually used in testing, rather than just store-bought turmeric mixed with coconut oil or whatever other DIY lotion you want to make could be.
How does turmeric work specifically? It appears as though the curcumin, when applied topically, can suppress the production of melanin by skin cells. With less melanin, they become lighter. When turmeric is no longer applied, melanin production returns to normal, and skin darkens again.
So, how can this be applied as part of turmeric soap?
How Turmeric Soap Works
Turmeric soap is exactly what you might think it is when you read the name. It's simply a soap, usually a bar but sometimes a liquid soap, that contains turmeric in it. Organic turmeric soap contains plain turmeric, whereas some turmeric soaps contain curcumin isolated instead.
Most turmeric soaps use either isolated curcumin or Kasturi turmeric, a different but related plant that doesn't stain. After all, you're not going to have lighter skin if your soap stains your skin yellow/orange, now are you?
The idea of turmeric soap is simply to make it easy to apply turmeric to your skin during part of your regular beauty routine. You don't need to go out of your way to use specific lotions or DIY preparations or add a new item to your routine.
This is good because as we've seen from studies above, in order for turmeric to have a long-term effect on your skin, you need to use it regularly. If you stop using it, it will stop working, and your skin will change back to its original color.
The truth is, nothing you do to your skin is going to last for a long time. Your skin is naturally growing constantly, shedding as it goes, and being replaced as the outer layers are damaged and the inner layers grow out to replace them. While turmeric can lighten the color of your skin, it only lasts as long as that skin lasts, and when your skin cycle turns over, your skin will return. Regularly using turmeric soap can, presumably, continually lighten the new skin to keep a lighter shade on an ongoing basis.
As for some of the other claimed benefits and treatments, we're more inclined to think that soap is helping as much as turmeric. Turmeric has some observed benefits for actual skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne, that's true. The anti-inflammatory properties and antiseptic properties of turmeric can help with skin healing, reducing the appearance and severity of flare-ups. This keeps your skin healthier and brighter.
Care and Cautions
There are some cautions you want to take when you're using turmeric as a beauty treatment.
First and foremost, don't always immediately believe the hype, and be skeptical about what you're reading. We've even included one contradiction in this very article. Did you spot it? We'll enlighten you. Some people claim that turmeric can stimulate hair growth, while others claim turmeric suppresses it. Which is true? It's a little hard to tell. You have people of authority speaking on both sides. The only study we located showed turmeric suppressed androgenic hair growth, which typically means facial hair in women and other secondary sex characteristics.
Does that mean turmeric would suppress hair growth on the scalp? Not necessarily. It's possible that turmeric can use other properties, like anti-inflammatory qualities, to help heal scalp issues and promote a healthier, more productive scalp. More study needs to be performed to actually record such results, however.
Another concern is that turmeric may only be effective on people with naturally darker skin. It has a reputation for brightening skin in Indians because the remedy initially comes from India, where skin colors are naturally much darker than in the west. In particular, Indians tend to have skin with more golden undertones, which turmeric can accent and brighten while reducing the darker tones of skin.
This means that if you have an otherwise darker skin color in your ethnic background, turmeric is likely to do a good job at brightening your skin's appearance. If you're white or otherwise pale in complexion, turmeric may not do as much for you. After all, you have to have melanin production in the first place for melanin production to be suppressed.
Another caution is the staining properties of turmeric. Many modern turmeric beauty items don't include what we think of as traditional turmeric. They instead include Kasturi turmeric, which is a version that doesn't stain. Unfortunately, there has been very little study to see if this turmeric has the same health benefits as normal turmeric. It may not have the same curcumin content and might not actually work. You'll have to stay tuned for new studies into the differences between them or try it out for yourself to see if it works for you.
Turmeric has a wide range of health benefits when you eat it, but those don't extend to your skin beyond the basic benefits of anti-inflammatories in your diet. It won't change your skin color. You need a topical cream, soap, or other preparation for that.
The Final Verdict
Given what we know about turmeric and about how the skin works, we can say that turmeric soap can probably lighten your skin, but more likely if your skin is a bit naturally darker, to begin with. Some forms of turmeric soap may not have enough curcumin in them to have a tangible effect, so look for soaps with higher concentrations, more isolated curcumin, or essential oils worked into their recipes.
Be sure to check out our turmeric soap for all the benefits of a good turmeric soap and more!
Have you tried out turmeric soap or skin cream? Why not leave a review in the comments? We'd love to see what our followers are doing and how well it works.