Working With Turmeric

Formulating With Turmeric

Turmeric is a well known and much loved spice, probably most famous for adding flavour and colour to Indian dishes. The powder we know as turmeric is obtained from the root of the plant, which is related to the ginger family. It has been used in cooking for hundreds of years and has lots of purported benefits when ingested or even drunk as a tea (beware of staining the cup though!). It imparts a rich, warm yellow hue to foods - and cosmetics! But it has lots of other cosmetic benefits too.

Turmeric’s cosmetic benefits include helping to clear up acne and problem skin, tone and even the skin, reduce redness and reduce the appearance of pigmentation. 

Turmeric is a strong antioxidant and anti inflammatory, and is rich in polyphenols such as ferulic and caffeic acid. Its primary active component is curcumin, which also gives the striking orange yellow colour.

It is an extremely potent antioxidant so it can help with the daily effects of pollution and other environmental stressors.

Turmeric can be a pH indicator, and its shade will change depending on the pH of the product. It will go a deeper orange/red in a basic/alkaline environment, and a lighter yellow in an acidic environment.



Being plant matter, turmeric power is insoluble. You can mix it with oil or water and it may be suspended for a while, but it will eventually settle out. However turmeric contains different components which are water and oil soluble, so it is possible to get the benefits of those in water and oil based products in the form of a turmeric extract - more on this later. For example, the main component in turmeric, curcumin, is oil soluble so if you want the benefits you will need to use it along with oils.


Turmeric Works Well With

Turmeric has a brightening action and works well with other brighteners. Try combining it with  niacinamide or  kojic acid, and other antioxidants such as  ferulic acidascorbic acid/Vitamin C, etc.

It works well with oils and oil based actives. Try  Co Enzyme Q10Vitamin EVitamin A, etc.

How To Use Turmeric

While you can add it directly to something like a scrub or mask, turmeric powder has a tendency to stain and be gritty so it is best to make an extract out of it and then incorporate that into your formulations. 

We stock  turmeric essential oil which is rich in curcumin and you can use a small amount of this instead of making an extract if you wish.

You can make an extract out of it with  glycerine (to extract water-soluble components) or oil (to extract the curcumin). I typically use 10% plant matter, so in this case the turmeric powder, 89% solvent and 1% preservative to give a shelf life. Allow this mixture to infuse for a few weeks, or you can speed up the process with some gentle heating. Then strain through filter paper and you have an extract ready to be used in formulations. If you would like to read more on making your own extractions,  see here.

For best results you could use both glycerine and oil based extracts in your formula, thus ensuring you get the water-soluble and fat-soluble components.

You can use the glycerite or oil maceration in your formula in place or partially place of the glycerine and oil amounts. 1-5% is the typical recommended usage rate of any kind of extract, but you’ll want to watch it with turmeric to avoid any staining. I would start with 1-2% and take it from there.

Types Of Products Using Turmeric

I have seen turmeric in everything from soap bars to face washes to creams and moisturisers. It is good for face and body products, leave on and rinse off. Once you have your extract (or use the essential oil), you can add it at cool down to pretty much any formula.

Emulsified Turmeric Scrub

Try this emulsified scrub that turns milky on contact with wet skin, and rinses off beautifully!

I like to make an emulsified base totalling 100% like a normal formula, and then mix in the exfoliant as a separate addition, because you may prefer more or less exfoliating factor then I do, so this way there is room to customise the amount.

Base Of Emulsified Scrub

Phase A

54.5%  oil of choicefractionated coconut oilalmond oilapricotgrapeseed etc are all nice

20% emulsifier:  Eco E wax or Emulsifier HP 30, or you could use something like polawax/ginowax

15%  cetyl alcohol

4%  shea butter or  other butter of choice

5% Olive M 300

Phase B

1%  Euxyl 9010

0.5%  turmeric powder


Orange peel powder, fine sugar or  jojoba beads. Amount depends on how exfoliating you want it to be.

Optional: add in essential oils such as  turmericorangefrankincenselavender etc

Weigh out all Phase A ingredients and melt thoroughly. Allow to cool slightly then add in Phase B ingredients and mix well to incorporate. Allow the mixture to solidify slightly but not fully, then whip it up by hand or with an electric beater until fluffy. Add any additional exfoliants and essential oils you wish.

Enjoy in the shower or bath by massaging all over the body then rinsing off.



About the author:

Juliette van der Meer

BSc, BScH, PGCE, Adv Dip Cosmetic Science

Cosmetic scientist