Curcumin: A Novel Treatment for Skin-Related Disorders

October 2013 | Volume 12 | Issue 10 | Original Article | 1131 | Copyright © October 2013

Tuyet A. Nguyen BA BS and Adam J. Friedman MD

Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY
Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY

Curcumin, or diferuloylmethane, is a crystalline compound which gives the East Asian spice turmeric its bright yellow color. The medicinal properties of this spice have been referenced in numerous countries and cultures throughout the world. Today, there is growing scientific evidence suggesting curcumin’s utility in the treatment of chronic pain, inflammatory dermatoses, acceleration of wound closure, skin infections, as well as cosmetic ailments such as dyspigmentation. In addition, curcumin may have a protective role against various pollutants and cytotoxic agents, indicating that it may be beneficial in a mitigational or prophylaxis role. Although turmeric has been used for thousands of years in alternative medicine, curcumin has yet to emerge as a component of our mainstream dermatologic therapeutic armamentarium. Interestingly, curcumin provides an ideal alternative to current therapies because of its relative safety profile even at high doses. Although the advantageous properties of curcumin in medicine are well established, its therapeutic potential thus far has been limited because of its poor oral bioavailablity. Topical administration of curcumin can directly deliver it to the affected tissue making it useful in treating skin-related disorders. However, limitations still exist such as the cosmetically unpleasing bright yellow-orange color, its poor solubility, and its poor stability at a high pH. Here the current literature detailing the potential and current use of curcumin in dermatology is reviewed.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2013;12(10):1131-1137.


Turmeric is a spice derived from the plant Curcuma Longa, used for centuries in food coloring, cooking, cosmetics, and as a medicinal remedy in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. Today, it is still commonly used in India and other Asian countries in food preparation and religious ceremonies.In addition, it is utilized to manage superfluous hair, to improve skin tone and tan, as a skin lightening product, and as an anti-aging remedy.1
Curcumin, which confers the strong yellow pigment to turmeric,was first isolated in 1910 and has been shown to exhibit antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer activities, suggesting its broad potential in the management of various malignant, inflammatory, and chronic illnesses. Curcumin is thought to be the compound responsible for many of the therapeutic effects attributed to turmeric. It is a hydrophobic compound that is soluble in DMSO, acetone, ethanol, and oils. It is usually a characteristic golden yellow color, but becomes deep red when exposed to acidic conditions.1 The current preparations of curcumin contain approximately 77% diferuloylmethane, 18% demethoxycurcumin, and 5% bisdemethoxycurcumin.2 It is unclear whether all three analogues demonstrate the same activity, but it is known that curcumin has properties that can modulate several different processes in the body through transcription factor and cytokine regulation.2 Despite its many uses, few side effects have been reported in humans with doses of curcumin taken up to 12 g/day taken continuously.3
There is a great deal of recent interest in the use of curcumin in Western medicine. Studies in culture and in animal models demonstrate the potential applicability of curcumin in human diseases, and these have paved the way for several clinical trials. It is postulated that curcumin can ultimately be useful in the dermatological setting for treating cutaneous disorders. The available literature on the role of curcumin as an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-neoplastic agent will be reviewed.

Curcumin as an Antimicrobial Agent

There are a broad range of skin and soft tissue infections caused by bacteria and fungi/yeast. Bullous impetigo, cellulitis, staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome, folliculitis, gram negative toe web infection, and necrotizing fasciitis are just a few examples. Similarly, dermatophytes, dimorphic fungi, and yeasts such as Candida albicans can also provide a broad range of clinical disease ranging from intertrigo to onychomycosis. Turmeric is often used in the treatment of bacterial and fungal disorders such as these, and the use of curcumin in treating skin disorders is promising.
Today, treatment regimens for bacterial skin infections consist of a combination of oral and topical antibiotics. However, due to the increasing incidence of multi-drug resistant bacteria, our therapeutic options are becoming somewhat limited. Curcumin displays antibacterial properties against several bacteria species.