Ingredient Spotlight / Turmeric

3 years ago by

Beauty companies love a buzzy super food ingredient. Matcha serums? Yep, they’ve been done. Kale nail polish? That’s a real thing. It’s like there’s a secret club out there where all the chefs and beauty honchos get together to nibble on caviar croquettes, get manis and discuss the next big ingredient trends. And if not, can someone please create this heavenly place and send me an invite? Thanks!

Anyway, sometime in the last few years the ingredients Gods decided that it was turmeric’s turn to come out of the cupboard and into our faces/stomachs/lives. And so it was.

That’s not to say that turmeric hasn’t been around for years – because it has. People from India have been using it for centuries (and then some) as a key ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine because it’s known as a powerful anti-inflammatory that also heals and soothes the skin. But over here in the West we were kind of late to the party, only really getting amongst it last century. I mean, who doesn’t have at least one leftover packet of turmeric lurking in the spice cupboard from some exotic recipe you tried once… right?

Nowadays of course, turmeric is everywhere from our lattes to our vitamins and – evidently – our beauty products too. So, if Indians have been using it as a beauty aid for eons, what took us so long so catch on? Zoe Roebuck, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Dr. Roebuck’s skincare says it comes down to the research. “It’s been known over the centuries to be the anti-inflammatory ingredient, but before now, we didn’t have the clinical data around turmeric, so people were skeptical – and it was more difficult to access. We now have a body of evidence that shows benefits of turmeric for the skin. Plus, we can now access pure turmeric more easily, and the more natural, organic and unprocessed it is, the better the results.” And those “results” read like a roll call of everything your skin needs to live its best life: detoxifying; antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, sebum balancing and brightening – just to name a few.

In the mass-market world, Kiehl’s was one of the first brands to jump on the turmeric trend, releasing a mask in February 2016. Roberta Weiss, Senior Vice President of Product Innovation at Kiehl’s says the ingredient was on their chemist’s radar because of its impressive benefits and historical use in treating skin imperfections and dullness. She adds, “Turmeric, has been shown to deliver brightening benefits that address the look of dull, lackluster skin to restore a healthy glowing appearance.” So, basically it’ll give you the same glow that a couple of hours of serious highlighting skills will get you. And, it doesn’t discriminate between skin types either… though the real winners here are those with dullness or hyperpigmentation issues because that’s where it really works its magic.

So, how does this sorcery work? It’s all about the “active” molecule it contains – a little something called Curcumin. Roberta explains, “It’s been studied extensively for its ability to inhibit tyrosinase, which is a copper-containing enzyme that is involved with the biosynthesis of melanin.” Or, for those not fluent in science-speak, tyrosinase is the thing to blame for your dark spots and hyperpigmentation; so, by inhibiting it, both hyperpigmentation and brightness are improved. And, as Zoe so wisely points out, given that your skin is the most absorbent organ of the body “by applying turmeric topically you’re still going to absorb it into the bloodstream and enjoy those potentially anti-inflammatory benefits within your body.” Sold!

Now as much as I’m all over this (because let’s face it, I’ve never met a beauty trend I didn’t like) I trialed a bunch of turmeric products to see whether the hype was real. And, incidentally I’m also the perfect candidate for trial thanks to my skin’s current plane-battered, travel weary status. Here’s what I found:

The Masks:

Kiehl’s Turmeric and Cranberry Seed Energizing Radiance Mask and Dr. Roebuck’s Tama Healing Mask:

I feel like being in a facemask is really fulfilling turmeric’s life purpose. Not only does it make for a hilarious bright yellow selfie, the 10-minute mask session really allows the curcumin to penetrate into the skin and do its best work.

The Dr. Roebuck’s version suggested using every second night to start, which is a big commitment, even for a beauty tragic like me. But! It definitely gave my skin a little brightening jump-start. Another thing it gave me was stained PJs, which other than being a nice reminder that I should never wear white, should also be a cautionary tale to those with similar lack of coordination skills.

The Kiehl’s gave similar glow vibes, but what I really loved it that it had the added bonus of cranberry seeds so you can give yourself a little exfoliation when you wash off too. Also, I got a little too into The Handmaids Tale while I was masking, and left it on about five minutes too long. This rookie error made it super hard to wash off, and the boyfriend lovingly informed me I still had “yellow crap” on my face the next day.

Both masks feel a little buzzy when you apply but it’s not in a “get this off of me immediately” kind of way… it’s more refreshing, like you know it’s working. And, although I did these at night the post-mask glow was SO good, I would actually recommend a day time/morning application, or even pre-party if you really want to get wild, because it’ll totally maximize the instant luminosity.

The Serums:

Clarins Double Serum and Verso Antioxidant Turmeric Booster:

These guys aren’t as intense as their mask relatives, and don’t have the yellow hue either (which is probably a good thing for something you leave on your face). They both have Turmeric (or curcumin) as their active ingredient, and while the Clarins version is a more traditional serum, targeting anti-ageing by combining it with other firming ingredients, the Verso one pairs it with a side kick of Vitamin E. This is pretty genius because together they work to calm the skin, up your antioxidant quota, and fight off the free radicals, which attack the skin (and cause it to age faster). And, it’s quite a delight to apply too. Not an instant glow effect like the masks, but my skin did get brighter, and still managed to feel hydrated.

The Ingestible:

The Beauty Chef Sleep Inner Beauty Powder:

Full disclosure: I basically run the Beauty Chef fan club. I love her products, and I’m also a terrible sleeper, so this is totally my jam. It’s because of this, that I neglected to read the serving suggestions and went rogue drinking it with plain water, which I would not recommend unless you’re into extreme food trials. Instead, go with warm nut milk an hour before bed. And while the kudos doesn’t just go to turmeric here (because there’s a bunch of other ingredients working to ease you into sleep), it definitely did help me get into sleep mode. Plus, I like the thought of boosting my antioxidant quota from the inside – while I sleep – as well.

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Add yours
  • Absolutely love that the beauty world has adapted this super ingredient!

    Buyandpossess Blog 

  • That is one of the most beautiful images I’ve seen on your website in recent memory. So beautiful.

  • Gina, thank you so much for such a praise! It’s the most rewarding thing for us to hear the words of appreciation from our readers <3

  • When I was around seven years old, I got bit by a big fat bee on my hand and it swelled the size of a basketball. I lived in another country and my mom made a huge paste with Turmeric and water and put in on my hand right away. I had to sit there with it for an hour in the sun until it dried and then we rinsed it off. The itch, swelling, bite mark, everything was gone! The best way to get the benefits of turmeric is to make that paste as a mask or put turmeric in your food.

  • Unfortunately, clinical trials measuring the absorption of curcumin by the body (into bloodstream) show that it only happens when turmeric is ingested with three factors present: (1) when it is heated, (2) in combination with fat, and (3) in combination with black pepper, which hugely facilitates absorption. Alas, curries work great, turmeric in smoothies are pointless; masks – doubtful.

  • Indians celebrate various festivities throughout the year. One such ceremony is called ‘Haldi Kum Kum’, during this ceremony married women dressed in their festive best meet at a friend’s house and exchange small pots filled with turmeric and vermillion. Both these products are considered to be symbols of marriage and during the exchange the women wish their husbands to be blessed with long lives!! The hostess of the gathering also provides snacks and eats and gives out small favors like bangles, floral hair decorative pieces etc as the friends make merry.

  • Sarah Mink August, 9 2018, 4:25 / Reply

    It’s so easy to make your own turmeric mask with yogurt and honey!

  • I’ve been super obsessed with some turmeric beauty products lately, specifically this face wash ( and this brightening scrub ( Count me in for this trend!

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