Turmeric – a traditional skin remedy to lighten skin and pigmentation
What it does: Turmeric has been found to cut the skin’s melanin production. It also helps suntanned skin return to its normal shade faster.
How to do it
You can apply turmeric topically on your skin or ingest it (or do both!). There are many ways to use turmeric on your skin — below are a few simple methods.
Do note that turmeric will stain your skin and some surfaces yellow, scroll to the bottom for some helpful tips.
1) 15-minute mask (with lemon juice). Mix turmeric powder with cucumber juice or lemon juice to make a paste. Apply to the affected area. Leave on for fifteen minutes. Rinse off. With daily use, skin pigmentation will even out.
Maria had good results in fading dark underarms in 3 weeks with turmeric, lemon and cucumber juice. She wrote, “I’ve been trying turmeric powder, lemon juice, and cucumber juice to treat underarm hyperpigmentation and its realy working! I’m amazed that in 3 weeks using it 4x a wk it has already made a significant difference…… Yay… .”
She also kindly shared her method:
“I only use it on my underarms so I don’t need a lot of the mixture.
1. 2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice
2. 2 tablespoons of Cucumber Juice
3. Less than half a teaspoon of turmeric powder.
I recommend you add turmeric powder in pinches so that you can see it becomes a very orange color. With the half a teaspoon I use, it becomes a little sandy too. I don’t mind the roughness and I do notice a tan color after I wash off, but I suppose that means it continues to work even after I wash off. But if you are light-skinned, you might want to try adding 1/4 teaspoon and then just take it from there. I leave mine on for 15 minutes at night, then I wash it off and apply coconut oil. Then I just shower in the morning and wear my deodorant. Hope this brings you great results, let me know how it works for you.”
2) Mask or cream (with natural oils). For a more penetrating and longer-lasting treatment, mix turmeric with a natural oil to form a paste and apply this paste as a mask. You can leave the mask on for as long as you are comfortable as unlike lemon juice, it will not sting. Some good natural oils you can try are extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil (castor oil is probably the best as it can penetrate more deeply into the skin). Depending on your preferences, you can either make a thick paste (more turmeric, less oil) or a very thin, diluted mixture (less turmeric, more oil).
3) Turmeric-infused oil mask. This is very easy to prepare, and as it is “pre-mixed”, it’s also more convenient to do.
Just add some turmeric powder to a natural oil of your choice in a small bottle (use a clear or see-through bottle so you can see when the mixture separates in the next step). Shake well. The oil will immediately turn an orange or a deep yellow and will look ‘cloudy’.
Leave this bottle to stand overnight. The next day, the turmeric powder would have settled at the bottom and you’ll get a beautiful, clear orange oil at the top for your use.
Take a small amount of this turmeric-infused oil and rub it into your skin or face thoroughly. Leave on for at least 30 minutes (longer if you feel comfortable) and wash off.
You can continue to use this pre-mixed oil for some time, but as natural oils will eventually go rancid, you should make a fresh batch when you need to. It will keep fresh longer if you live in a cold climate or if you keep the mixture in the fridge. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to make a fresh batch every few weeks as the older the oil, the less potent it becomes.
Remember that using natural methods such as these require patience. Give these methods consistent use for at least 1-2 months before deciding if there is any improvement or not. Keep in mind that the skin only renews itself every 30 days or so.
4) Ingest turmeric (eat it or drink it). Apart from putting it on your skin, turmeric taken internally also benefits skin. Some of the ways you can take turmeric are: 1) in food (many Asian dishes such as curries contain turmeric); 2) mixed in hot water or a drink; 3) or in supplement form. To boost turmeric’s absorption in your body, add some black pepper and fat. This can be easily done if you take turmeric at mealtimes.
Vienna Mendes kindly shared her success at fading a tan by drinking turmeric with milk. She wrote, “I had suntanned skin, one fine day I started drinking warm milk with turmeric powder in it. Guess what … my suntanned went off, my skin started glowing… everybody at my workplace started commenting. I was amazed, I couldn’t realise what had happened to me. Then I realised the milk & turmeric brought changes in me. It took just 15 to 30 days for my skin to improve. It really works.”
Why turmeric works to lighten pigmentation
A powerful component of turmeric (curcumin) inhibits the production of melanin (pigment) in human skin cells (click here to read about a study, opens a .gif). Experiments have shown that melanin content and tyrosinase activity were “significantly inhibited” by curcumin.
Turmeric also has powerful antioxidant properties, protects against environmental toxins, and has antibacterial properties.
Where to buy turmeric powder
You can find turmeric powder easily in most supermarkets nowadays. As it is used mainly in Indian dishes, you can also easily find turmeric in grocery stores that cater to this market. If you live in a large city, the local ‘Little India’ is a good place to buy turmeric cheaply.
Check the labels to make sure you’re getting only turmeric powder — this is because some pre-packaged turmeric products also contain other spices for cooking.
Yellow stains from turmeric: simple precautions and tips
When turmeric is mixed with oils like in methods 2) & 3) above, the yellow stains on the skin become much easier to wash off with soap and water afterwards. You will have to lather up a few times and be thorough, but the yellow stains will come off your skin with washing.
When turmeric is mixed with water (or water-based liquids like lemon juice) instead, it’ll leave a yellow stain on your skin for several hours and may require a few washings to fade it. As I told Sara in this comment, although this is inconvenient for most people, this yellow staining—where turmeric remains within the skin itself and not just sitting on top of it—may actually be more beneficial.
However, turmeric stains on fingernails do not wash off completely (for both oil- and water-based mixes). You’ll be able to wash most of the turmeric off, but there would usually be a yellowish tinge left on the fingernails exposed to turmeric. If this bothers you, use plastic gloves. You can also use an applicator like a facial sponge or a soft brush instead of your fingers.
Turmeric will also stain some porous surfaces such as plastic (you can remove turmeric stains on plastic by soaking them in bleach – thanks to King C for this tip!). However, turmeric washes off non-porous surfaces such as steel, glass or ceramic (e.g. most regular sinks). If you’re not sure what turmeric will do to your surfaces, lay down some old newspapers to protect them.
If you use turmeric on your skin overnight while you sleep, it will also stain your pillowcase and bed linen, so line them with towels first or use old linens that you don’t mind getting stained. For turmeric stains on cloth and linens, Pronojit recommends washing them and putting them out under the sun to dry, where the stains will fade after a few hours of sunlight. I’ve tried this myself and it really works!