Eczema or dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. Generally it is a symptom of some underlying condition.
It is characterised by redness, scaling, crusting, swelling and itching of skin. It can occur as a result of infection, allergic reaction, and inappropriate immune responses or even due to non-specific reasons.
Treatment includes steroids, immunosuppressants and topical creams. One can expect limited relief with these but there are chances of side effects. Despite of the fact that eczema can be managed and not cured, we can venture into alternative medicine with regular treatment as there is no harm as such.
This article will help you understand how turmeric can help in treating and managing eczema.
How does turmeric help with eczema and skin irritation?
A lot of research has been done with regards to use of turmeric in treating skin related disorders. No study as such which focuses on turmeric’s effect on reducing itching but eczema is a symptom of almost all skin conditions and turmeric has a number of pharmacological properties to reduce it.
Turmeric is a herb, spice or now one of the best nutraceuticals. This is due to its bioactive component, curcumin. Turmeric oil also has therapeutic property.
1. Turmeric aids in treating skin diseases
Earlier one of the primary uses of turmeric was to treat the skin as a cosmetic or medication. There are several reasons why it was used for this purpose:
- It reduces skin infection.
- It reduces inflammation.
- It combats skin infection.
- It reduces dyspigmentation.
- It protects skin from pollutants and chemicals.
- It has anti-allergic activity.
One of the best properties of turmeric with reference to dermatology, is its skin regenerating potential. As an antioxidant it prevents damage caused by the reactive oxygen species and it downregulates the activity of the vital proteins behind the inflammation.
UCLA researchers state that curcumin gel rapidly heals burns or photo damaged skin with little or no side effects.
Plaque psoriasis is a condition characterised by reddening and scaling of skin. Turmeric gel is found to be efficient in reducing the inflammation causing psoriasis without causing side effects and it is recommended as an add-on to conventional therapy. (Read Turmeric for psoriasis)
Formulations containing turmeric have been found to be helpful in reducing itching and other symptoms in eczema patients. Topical application of nanocurcumin formulations are also being investigated for treatment of skin disorders.
What does this mean?
Turmeric, as well as curcumin, have multiple modes of acting against skin diseases and clinical studies have investigated its role in treating scleroderma, psoriasis etc.Topical formulations of curcumin are being devised to help in treatment of skin inflammation.
2. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory agent
Most of you who have read our previous articles, will find this one as a common point mentioned with respect to most health conditions. So curcumin is a strong anti-inflammatory agent and it does so by downregulating activity of inflammatory chemicals and immune cells.
Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity is comparable to that of regular painkillers and steroids. (Read Why Turmeric Beats Many Steroidal Medications Hands Down)
Researchers at Rutgers University studied the effect of curcumin on inhibiting experimental conditions for tumor formation on the skin. An interesting finding reported in this study was that topical application of curcumin inhibited the activity of enzymes involved in inflammation of the skin.
End stage kidney disease patients suffer a number of complications one of them being uremic pruritis. This is sort of a rash which develops on the skin and can be acute or chronic. Treatment with turmeric in such patients is found to reduce such irritation and reduce inflammatory biomarkers responsible for this condition.
Curcumin (1g per day) is found to reduce chemical exposure induced skin irritation by virtue of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
What does this mean?
Eczema is skin inflammation and curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. It helps in controlling itching and rashes even if the cause of inflammation is due to some other health condition or chemical exposure.
3. It has anti-allergen activity
Mast cells are a type of immune cells that are involved in allergic or hypersensitivity response. When an allergen or foreign body attaches to our antibodies, these mast cells are activated and in order to fight this allergen the mast cells release inflammatory chemicals. One such chemical is histamine which mediates allergic response.
An animal study was conducted where the effect of curcumin on such an allergic reaction in the skin was assessed. Curcumin significantly reduced mast cell activation and histamine release thereby demonstrating anti-allergic activity.
Lee et al have also confirmed this activity and found it to be useful in treating atopic dermatitis and allergic conditions.
C.aromatica, a related species of turmeric (C.longa) is proven to have anti-allergic effect. Curcumin, among the curcuminoids, is the most potent in reducing allergic activity and reduces scratching and itching that occurs in such cases.
However a few researchers have noted down cases where curcumin itself has resulted in allergic reaction.
What does this mean?
Turmeric helps in reducing allergic responses which could cause skin rashes.
4. It has anti-microbial activity
Turmeric has broad spectrum anti-microbial property. This could be of use in curbing any infection that is causing the eczema or skin rash.
Turmeric creams containing turmeric oil have anti-fungal activity as strong as that of ketoconazole, a common anti-fungal medication.
What does this mean?
Bacterial and fungal infections can cause eczema. Turmeric powder and oil have excellent anti-microbial activity.
5. It can help with cancer related dermatitis
Radiation dermatitis or radiation induced skin inflammation is a common side effect of radiotherapy. A study was conducted wherein breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy were given curcumin to reduce the severity of radiation dermatitis.
They were given either 2g of curcumin thrice a day or placebo throughout their course of radiotherapy. At the end of the treatment, curcumin showed significant reduction in radiation dermatitis compared to placebo and fewer patients in the curcumin group experienced peeling off of upper layer of skin.
A cream containing turmeric and sandalwood oil is found to significantly reduce radiodermatitis within 7 weeks of treatment.
Kuttan et al reported that alcoholic extract of turmeric or curcumin ointment when applied topically reduced itching in almost all cases of skin cancer. Lesion size and pain was reduced in patients and these therapeutic effects lasted for over several months.
What does this mean?
Curcumin therapy is proven to be effective in treating radiotherapy induced skin inflammation and also helpful as an add-on therapy in skin cancer.
Dosage & Use
Turmeric is a spice and flavouring agent, so one easy way is to include it in your diet. But for a more therapeutic effect, 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder with a pinch of black pepper and some fat (cooking oil) should help.
If opting for supplements, the dosage is about 400-600mg thrice a day of standardized curcumin. Preferably taken with meals, as the fats help in absorption of curcumin. For more details on the dosage read Ideal Turmeric Dosage.
Turmeric based creams are also available which could be applied topically for relief. A paste of ground turmeric roots and neem paste can be applied to lesions and rashes. Ayurveda supports the efficacy of this duo in treating skin conditions.
For practical applications of turmeric in relation to eczema read Turmeric For Eczema And Itching.
Turmeric in food is safe but either in case of supplements or dietary turmeric you might face initial gastric discomfort if you have never tried it previously.
It is advisable to consult a doctor before taking curcumin supplements to avoid chances of allergic reactions or drug interactions. Also supplements are not advisable on long term.
A few conditions in which turmeric supplements should be avoided are:
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Prior to surgery
- Anti-diabetic medications
- If suffering from gall bladder problems
- Stomach acid reducing medications and blood thinning agents
Cases of turmeric topical application allergy have also been reported. It could happen that the turmeric powder you are using has additives. You might want to do a patch test in that case.
In case you would like some help with finding good brands, you can have a look at this.
Turmeric’s therapeutic efficacy in eczema and related skin conditions is well proven by research. I haven’t used turmeric for skin as such except for turmeric based plasters and the wound healing rate was exceptional.
But I have heard a couple of testimonials from friends with respect to turmeric for skin and they are pretty promising.
In case you have tried, please do share your experience for everyone’s benefit.