Curcumin: A Contact Allergen

J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015 Nov;8(11):43-8.


Background: Herbal medicines are used by thousands of patients all over the world. However, they can often cause adverse effects. Turmeric, made from the root of Curcuma, longa, is a yellow spice used throughout South Asia for its flavor as well as for its medicinal properties. Curcumin is the main ingredient in turmeric. It is known for downregulating the expression of various proinflammatory cytokines and has been studied for its antiinflammatory mechanism. However, it has also been reported to cause contact dermatitis. Kumkum, a turmeric-based powder applied by Hindu women on their foreheads, has also been found as an allergen.

Objective: The authors have reviewed the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin and reports of contact dermatitis to understand the possible harmful effects of this commonly used spice, while also examining its beneficial role in dermatologic conditions. They aim to increase awareness regarding this common herb and its prevalent use not only in South Asia, but also in North America.

Methods: A thorough literature search of the PubMed database was conducted to identify studies that examined the antiinflammatory role of curcumin and its role in contact dermatitis.

Results: Eleven studies demonstrate that although curcumin does have antiinflammatory properties, it is an allergen.

Conclusion: Curcumin has many valuable properties that can be exploited to treat dermatologic conditions. However, patients and dermatologists must be keen of possible allergic reactions. Further studies are needed to completely understand this widely used herb and its efficacy in dermatology.