Uses for curcumin, the primary active component in Turmeric, are numerous and include providing protection and healing benefits to the skin. The skin is the first line of defense for the body against the external environment. Since the skin is a tissue which is rich in lipids (fatty acids), neutralizing free radicals, reducing UV damage and modulating abnormal cellular growth is essential in slowing down the aging process. Some human studies and several animal studies have already validated its efficacy for many skin benefiting uses.
Curcumin can be taken internally or applied topically to benefit the skin. It is able to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals and curb inflammation due to its ability to inhibit specific inflammatory signaling pathways that cause damage.
Laboratory studies have confirmed that curcumin possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities regarding it effect on skin health. It is a potent modulator of phase II detoxification enzymes which are essential for normal detoxification processes to occur in the body, and for protection against oxidative stress. Because curcumin is nontoxic, it is valuable in that it can be used as a chemopreventive agent. It may be used to treat skin disorders such as acne, rashes and warts and it has been extensively used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Curcumin is also chemoprotective in that it is able to help prevent diseases and cancers of the skin, and has been used to treat problematic skin conditions including psoriasis, vitilago, melanoma as well as to heal and regenerate various other types of skin wounds.
Psoriasis is known as a disease that can significantly negatively affect one’s quality of life and is associated with multiple comorbitities, a risk of increased heart related problems and mortality. Current treatments for psoriasis take time and may also create the potential for organ toxicity if they are used on a chronic basis. In both in-vitro and in-vivo studies, curcumin has demonstrated its ability to inhibit the immune pathways that are responsible for the pathophysiology of psoriasis including abnormal cellular growth and pro-inflammatory cell signaling.
Scleroderma is a connective tissue disease that involves changes in the skin, blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs. It is a type of autoimmune disorder, a condition that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. Curcumin’s antifibrotic (scar formation) effects can help to manage the condition.
Vitilago is a disease where depigmentation of the skin occurs, it has been found that in some types of the illness, curcumin can prevent the depigmentation of the skin from occurring by preventing oxidative stress in the melanocytes. These are the epidermal skin cells which are responsible for producing melanin which creates skin pigment.
Wound healing: Studies have concluded that wound healing time is reduced when curcumin was taken both internally or was applied topically. Due to inflammation and oxidative stress, tissue remodeling is inhibited by these factors. However, curcumin treatments were able to improve collagen deposition, increase the density of the vascular structure of the skin, as well as increase the number of collagen producing cells.
Irradiation: Curcumin was also effective in enhancing collagen production in irradiated wounds that were pretreated with curcumin. The pretreatment with curcumin was able to reduce the unburned skin interspaces that can also be affected in that the healthy tissue dies prematurely. In a model that was used to examine wound healing and impaired metabolism, the curcumin was able to improve the vascular networks within the skin.
Aging: In terms of anti-aging, curcumin is able to protect the surficial and deeper layers of the skin as it can decrease the normal aging related parameters, including oxidative damage to lipids, age related pigment accumulation, and it can also attenuate pathological scar formation. It is able to act similar to drugs that are used to treat abnormal scar formation without other undesirable side effects.
Skin cancer: Melanoma, being the most deadly form of skin cancer in humans and which is chemoresistant, can be benefit from curcumin treatment. Studies show that curcumin can induce the clean-up of dysfunctional cellular components when used for melanoma treatment. It can selectively inhibit the growth of melanoma cells but not the normal melanocytes; it can also block tumor progression. In vitro skin penetration studies showed that curcumin- soybean phospholipids-loaded liposome’s can significantly increase drug permeation and deposition, and also inhibited the growth of melanoma cells to a greater extent. Curcumin was able to inhibit carcinogenesis in the skin, stomach, intestines and livers of mice in in vitro studies.
A clinical trial using curcumin as a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or premalignant lesions including arsenic Bowen’s disease of the skin, urinary bladder cancer, uterine cervical intraepithelial neoplasm, intestinal metaplasia of the stomach and oral leucoplakia, demonstrated the nontoxic nature of curcumin even at higher doses.
Aside from treating skin conditions, this traditional medicine has been used for treating pain disorders, digestive diseases, menstrual difficulties, sprains, wounds, and liver disorders.
Thangapazham RL, Sharad S, Maheshwari RK. Skin regenerative potentials of curcumin. Biofactors. 2013 Jan 11. doi: 10.1002/biof.1078. [Epub ahead of print]