Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder that causes chronically itchy, scaly, reddened skin for over 5. 5 million psoriasis sufferers in the United States alone, and for 70 to 220 million psoriasis sufferers worldwide.
Treating psoriasis isn't easy. Pharmaceutical interventions for psoriasis are usually expensive, or cause serious side effects, or just don't work. Nearly all of the commonly prescribed medications for psoriasis elevate the risk of sunburn, some elevate the risk of skin cancer, and the most commonly prescribed medication for psoriasis in the USA increases the risk of infection. Curcumin offers an answer for treating psoriasis naturally, but it is essential to use the right kind of curcumin in the right form.
Fighting Skin Inflammation with Curcumin
In the 1990's, American medical researchers started investigating curcumin treatment of psoriasis not because they were aware of the thousands of years of use of curcumin-rich turmeric-based skin creams in Ayurvedic medicine, but because curcumin had been proven to alter inflammatory processes at the molecular level. Laboratory research had proven the curcumin inhibits the production of a skin inflammation factor called nuclear factor kappa B¹, and it also reduces the activity of a kind of inflammatory skin cell known as Th1. Giving psoriasis patients curcumin supplements, researchers reasoned, might be just the thing to stop psoriasis in its tracks.
Researchers organized clinical trials at the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine² and at the Department of Dermatology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. Researchers at both institutions gave volunteers who had psoriasis daily doses of 4,500 mg of curcumin taken by mouth every day for 12 weeks. Then they assessed changes in skin health after curcumin had been discontinued for 4 weeks.
None of the volunteers in the study suffered any side effects from taking curcumin, but only 16. 7% of volunteers had clearer skin at the end of the study. (No one had worse skin after taking curcumin capsules for 12 weeks. ) The researchers were less than enthusiastic about their results. Curcumin seemed to help some people who had psoriasis, but it appeared that:
Since psoriasis is a disease that tends to remit and relapse, that is, get better and then get worse and then get better again no matter what is done to treat it, maybe 12 weeks simply was not long enough to get a fair reading of the potential of curcumin to cure psoriasis. Since the researchers only assessed the benefits of curcumin treating psoriasis 4 weeks after the volunteers stopped taking it every day, maybe the benefits of curcumin are primarily short-term, lasting just a few days if the supplement is discontinued or maybe oral curcumin supplements help some people but not others.
Or maybe the researchers were using the right supplement in the wrong way. The wisdom of 5,000 years of Ayurvedic medicine suggests that was the problem.
Modernizing Ayurvedic Medicine to Treat Psoriasis
For nearly 5,000 years practitioners of Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, have treated skin outbreaks like psoriasis with lotions made with a combination of turmeric, black pepper, and the clarified liquid butter known as ghee. These skin treatments aren't eaten. They are slathered on the skin and left overnight to bring skin inflammation under control.
You or your local Ayurvedic practitioner could make your own anti-psoriasis skin cream from curry powder or turmeric and black pepper with butter or ghee. Most people who have psoriasis, however, really don't want to spend the night smelling an Indian restaurant buffet table and they don't want to ruin their pillowcases and bed linens with the deeply orange turmeric.
Fortunately, it is easy to take the active antioxidant in turmeric, curcumin, and formulate it into a commercial skin cream. That is exactly what researchers working for the US military at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland tell us. To get the benefits of curcumin for treating diseases of the skin, it is necessary to apply curcumin directly to the skin. And like so many innovations in curcumin products, the technical know-how that enables psoriasis sufferers to get the maximum benefits of curcumin comes from Taiwan.
Effective Skin Care Products with Curcumin
Biochemical engineers at the Chung Keng University in the city of Kwei-Shan Tao-Yuan in Taiwan have discovered that getting curcumin into the skin to the cells that need it requires pretreatment. They have created a product that combines a tiny amount of eucalyptus oil, some rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), a sudsing agent known as polysorbate 80, and curcumin for direct delivery of curcumin to the skin.
When curcumin is applied to the skin in a cream, ointment, or lotion, it does not have to absorbed through the digestive tract. It doesn't have to circulate through the bloodstream to the entire body before it eventually reaches the skin. And it doesn't have to travel through the network of tiny capillaries that feed the lower levels of the skin but not the epidermis layer of the skin that is actually irritated.
Your best best for using curcumin to help get psoriasis under control is to use a product that contains both curcumin and the eucalyptus extract known as eucalyptol. If you can't find a product like this, however, then it's always best to treat psoriasis with curcumin cream rather than curcumin supplements taken by mouth. One of the best known curcumin skin care creams with special application for psoriasis is Psoria-Gold Curcumin Gel. An even more effective curcumin cream that has been shown in multiple clinical trials to be safe and effective and that does not interfere with the use of cosmetics is the slightly more expensive BSM Cream, made by the Sabinsa Corporation.
Curcumin in skin care products will not interfere with any medications your dermatologist prescribes. They will even work with odd and unproven skin care practices like applying diluted Clorox bleach to the skin. (Eliminating all skin bacteria is impossible, but controlling bacterial infections of the skin is more helpful for psoriasis sufferers who have Asian or golden skin tones than for people who have fair, brown, or black skin. )
It certainly won't hurt to take up to 4,500 mg of a curcumin supplement daily by mouth, too, although the benefits of curcumin supplements for psoriasis are unpredictable and curcumin supplements that are taken by mouth won't help everyone.
- Thangapazham RL, Sharad S. , Maheshwari RK,. Skin regenerative potentials of curcumin. Biofactors. 2013 Jan 11. doi. 10. 1002/biof. 1078. [Epub ahead of print. ]
- Kurd SK, Smith N, Van Voorhees A, Troxel AB, Badmaev V, Seykora JT, Getfand JM. Oral curcumin in the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis vulgaris: a prospective clinical trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2998 Apr; 625-31. Epub 2008 Feb 4.