Curcumin (turmeric) and its evolving role in skin health

Part of the Human Health Handbooks no. 1 book series (HHH, volume 2)


Turmeric is a spice that has been used for centuries by the Middle East and Asian cultures. The primary active constituent of turmeric is derived from the rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa L from the genus Zingiberaceae (Ginger family). This tropical plant is widely cultivated in the South Asia region, especially India, where it has been used for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Its uses range from being a condiment in the famous curry sauce, a coloring agent, as well as to cure many diseases and conditions in traditional medicine. Extensive research within the last century with this tropical root have demonstrated that its medical powers are linked to curcumin, the main and most active constituent of the root. Curcumin effects are mediated through the regulation of various transcription factors, growth factors, inflammatory cytokines, and other enzymes. It has an unprecedented number of molecular targets giving it a unique power to control many molecular pathways that could lead to diseases. Its effects on these pathways are particularly well documented in the scientific literature. These targets include nuclear factor kappa beta (NF-kB) and its associated protein kinases, AP-1, lipooxigenases, plasminogen activator, cyclooxygenase-2, tumor growth factor beta (TGF-ß) and many others. It is by blocking or promoting these molecular targets that curcumin is being studied as a potential anti-carcinogenic, anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory and chemo preventive agent. In dermatology, curcumin has been utilized in diseases such as: skin cancers, psoriasis, and acne, wound healing and keloids. By affecting different but related pathways, curcumin has shown great potential not only for the treatment of skin diseases but also for their prevention. The main objective for this chapter is to describe the different molecular pathways targeted by curcumin and explain, by reviewing the scientific literature, how these are potential remedies for skin diseases.


tumeric curry cancer psoriasis acne wound healing keloids AP-1 NF-kROS antioxidant 



Activator protein 1


Adenosine triphosphate


Cyclic adenosine monophosphate




Epidermal growth factor


Endothelial growth factor


Jun N-terminal kinase


Keloid fibroblasts


Mitogen-activated protein kinase


Matrix metalloproteinase


Nuclear factor kappa beta


Plasminogen activator inhibitor


Phophorylase kinase enzyme


Receptors protein kinases


Reactive oxygen species


Tumor growth factor beta


Tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinase


Tumor necrosis factor-alpha


Tumor necrosis factor receptor


Tissue plasminogen activator


12- O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate


Urokinase plasminogen activator




  1. Aggarwal, B.B., Bhatt, I.D., Ichikawa, H., Ahn, K.S., Sethi, G., Sandur, S.K., Natarajan, C., Seeram, S. and Shishodia, S., 2006. Curcumin biological and medicinal properties. In: Ravindran, P.N., Nirmal babu, K. and Sivaraman, K. (eds.), Turmeric: The genus Curcuma; Medicinal and aromatic plant: industrial profiles. CRC Press, New York, NY, USA, pp. 297–368.Google Scholar
  2. Aggarwal, B.B., Sundaram, C., Malani, N. and Ichikawa, H., 2007. Curcumin the Indian solid gold. Advances in experimental medicine and biology 595, 1–75.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aggrawal, R. and Kaur, I.P., 2010. Inhibitory effect of encapsulated curcumin on ultraviolet- induced photoaging in mice. Rejuvenation Research 2010; 13(4), 397–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balasubramanian, S. and Eckert, R.L., 2007. Keratinocyte proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis: differential mechanisms of regulation by curcumin, EGCG and apigenin. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 224, 214–219.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barthelemy, S., Vergens, L., Moyneir, M., Guyot, D., Labidalle, S. and Bahraoui, E., 1998. Curcumin and curcumin derivatives inhibit Tat-mediated transactivation of Type 1 human immunodeficiency virus long terminal repeat. Research in Virology 149, 43–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bhagavathula, N., Warner, R.L., DaSilva, M., McClintock, S.D., Barron, A., Aslam, M., Johnson, K.J. and Varani, J., 2009. A combination of curcumin and ginger extract improves abrasion wound healing in corticosteroid-impaired hairless rat skin. Wound Repair and Regeneration 17, 360–336.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chike-Obi, C.J., Cole, P.D. and Brissett, A.E., 2009. Keloids: pathogenesis, clinical features, and management. Seminars in Plastic Surgery 23, 178–184.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Choi, Y.H., Yan, G.H., Chai, O.H. and Song, C.H., 2010. Inhibitory effects of curcumin on passive cutaneous anaphylactoid response and compound 48/80- induced mast cell activation. Anatomy and Cell Biology 43, 36–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cooper, S.J. and Bowden, G.T., 2007. Ultraviolet B regulation of transcription factor families: roles of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB) and activator protein-1 (AP-1) in UVB induced skin carcinogenesis. Currrent Cancer Drug Targets 4, 325–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Daian, T., Ohtsuru, A., Rogounovitch, T., Ishihara, H., Hirano, A., Akiyama-Uchida, Y., Saenko, V., Fujii, T. and Yamashita, S., 2010. Insulin-like growth factor-I enhances transforming growth factor-b-induced extracellular matrix protein production through the P38/activating transcription factor-2 signaling pathway in keloid fibroblasts. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology 120, 956–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grange, P.A, Chereau, C., Raingeaud, J., Nicco, C., Weill, B., Dupin, N. and Batteux, F., 2009. Production of superoxide anions by keratinocytes initiates P. acnes-induced inflammation of the skin. PLoS Pathogens 5: e1000527.Google Scholar
  12. He, S., Liu, X., Yang, Y., Huang, W., Xu, S., Zhang, X. and Roberts, M.S., 2010. Mechanisms of transforming growth factor beta (1)/Smad signalling mediated by mitogen-activated protein kinases in keloid fibroblasts. Brithish Journal of Dermatology 162, 538–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heng, M.C, 2010. Curcumin targeted signaling pathways: basis for anti-photoaging and anti-carcinogenic therapy. International Journal of Dermartology 49, 608–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heng, M.C., Song, M.K., Harker, J. and Heng, M.K., 2000 Drug-induced suppression of phosphorylase kinase activity correlates with resolution of psoriasis as assessed by clinical, histological and immunohistochemical parameters. The British Journal of Dermatology 143, 937–949.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heng, M.C., Song, M.K. and Heng, M.K., 1994. Elevated phosphorylase kinase activity in psoriatic epidermis: correlation with increased phosphorylation and psoriatic activity. The British Journal of Dermatology 130, 298–306.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hopper, B., Przybyszewski, J., Chen, H.W., Hammer, K. and Birt, D.F., 2009. Effect of ultraviolet B radiation on activator protein-1 constituent proteins and modulation by dietary energy restriction in SKH-1 mouse skin. Molecular Carcinogenesis 48, 843–852.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hsu, Y.C., Chen, M.J., Yu, Y.M., Ko, S.Y. and Chang, C.C., 2010. Suppression of TGF-ß1/SMAD pathway and extracellular matrix production in primary keloid fibroblasts by curcuminoids: its potential therapeutic use in the chemoprevention of keloid. Archived of Dermatological Research 302, 717–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huang, M.T., Ma, W., Yen, P., Xie, J.G., Han, J., Frenkel, K., Grunberger, D. and Conney, A.H., 1997. Inhibitory effects of topical application of low doses of curcumin on 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13- acetate-induced tumor promotion and oxidized DNA bases in mouse epidermis. Carcinogenesis 18, 83–88.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jain, A. and Bsal, E., 2003. Inhibition of Propionibacterium acnes-induced mediators of inflammation by Indian herbs. Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology 10, 34–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kerr, C., 2002. Curry ingredient protects skin against radiation. Lancet Oncology 3, 713.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marin, Y.E., Wallas, B., Wanga, S., Namkoonga, J., Martino, J., Suh, J., Lee, H.J., Rabson, A., Yang, C., Chen, S. and Ryu, J.H., 2007 Curcumin downregulates the constitutive activity of nf-kB and induces apoptosis in novel mouse melanoma cells. Melanoma Research 17, 274–283.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Park, K. and Lee, J.H., 2010. Photosensitizer effect of curcumin on UVB-irradiated HaCaT cells through activation of caspase pathways. Oncology reports 17, 537–540.Google Scholar
  23. Madhyastha, R., Madhyastha, H., Nakajima, Y., Omura, S. and Maruyama, S., 2010. Curcumin facilitates fibrinolysis and cellular migration during wound healing by modulating urokinase plasminogen activator expression. Pathophysiology of Haemostasis and Thrombosis 37, 59–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Menter, A., Chair, Korman, N.J., Elmets, C.A., Feldman, S.R., Gelfand, J.M., Gordon, K.B., Gottlieb, A., Koo, J.Y., Lebwohl, M., Lim, H.W., Van Voorhees, A., Beutner, K.R. and Bhushan, R., 2009. Guideline of care for the management of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 62, 114–135.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Morris, L., Wuepper, K.D., Stastny, P., Menter, A. and Bowcock, A., 1994. Gene for familial psoriasis susceptibility mapped to the distal end of human chromosome 17q. Science 264, 1141–1145.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nochols, J.A. and Katiyar, S.K., 2010. Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. Archieves of Dermatological Research 302, 71–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Panchatcharam, M., Miriyala, S., Gayathri, V.S. and Suguna, L., 2006 Curcumin improves wound healing by modulating collagen and decreasing reactive oxygen species. Molecuar and Cellular Biochemistry 290, 87–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Papakonstantinou, E., Aletras, A.J., Glass, E., Tsogas, P., Dionyssopoulos, A., Adjaye, J., Fimmel, S., Gouvousis, P., Herwig, R., Lehrach, H., Zouboulis, C.C. and Karakiulakis, G., 2005. Matrix metalloproteinases of epithelial origin in facial sebumof patients with acne and their regulation by isotretinoin. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology 125, 673–684.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reddy, S. and Aggarwal, B., 1994. Curcumin is a non-selective inhibitor of phorphorilase kinase. Federation of European Biochemical Societies Journal 341, 19–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Singltary, K., 2010. Turmeric: An overview of potential health benefits. Nutrition Today 45, 216–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Szliszka, E. and Krol, W., 2010. The role of dietary polyphenols in tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis for cancer chemoprevention. European Journal of cancer Prevention 20, 63–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tomfohrde, J., Silverman, A., Barnes, R., Fernandez-Vina, M.A., Young, M., Lory, D., Lund L.R., Romer, J., Bugge T.H., Nielsen, B.S., Frandsen, T.L., Degen, J.L., Stephens, R.W. and Dano, K., 1999. Functional overlap between two classes of matrix-degrading proteases in wound healing. European Molecular Biology Organization Journal 18, 4645–4656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tuan, T.L., Wu, H., Huang, E.Y., Chong, S.S., Laug, W., Messadi, D., Kelly, P. and Le, A., 2003. Increased plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 in keloid fibroblasts may account for their elevated collagen accumulation in fibrin gel cultures. The American Journal of Pathology 162, 1579–1589.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Zhang, C., Li, B., Zhang, X., Hazarika, P., Aggarwal, B.B. and Duvic, M., 2010. Curcumin selectively induces apoptosis in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma cell lines and patients’ PBMCs: potential role for STAT-3 and NF- kappaB signaling. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology 130, 2110–2119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Wageningen Academic Publishers 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Puerto Rico, School of MedicineSan JuanUSA
  2. 2.University of Chicago, Section of DermatologyChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations