Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/27/2021
A plant in the ginger family, turmeric has long been popular as a dietary supplement for treating allergies, digestive issues and infections.
It’s also occasionally recommended as a natural option for getting rid of dandruff, reducing scalp inflammation and even stimulating hair growth.
Although the science on turmeric’s hair-related effects is mixed overall, some research suggests that it may offer benefits for your hair and scalp.
Below, we’ve looked into the science on turmeric to explain what it is, how it works and the main benefits it may offer for your general health and hair.
We’ve also explained how you can safely add turmeric to your hair care routine, as well as side effects and safety issues that you should be aware of before using turmeric products.
Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family. It’s native to Southeast Asia and has a long history as an ingredient in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
You may have seen turmeric referred to as Curcuma longa, or as Indian saffron.
Historically, turmeric has been used in health tonics for joint issues and disorders that affect the skin, digestive system and upper respiratory tract.
Today, most commercial turmeric is grown in India. The rhizome, or stalk, of turmeric is typically used as a culinary spice.
It’s also used as an active ingredient in dietary supplements, including capsules, tinctures and teas.
Over the last few decades, turmeric has grown in popularity as a natural ingredient for skin and hair care.
As such, it’s increasingly found in facial creams, balms and therapeutic shampoos.
Most of turmeric’s popularity in natural health circles stems from its curcumin content. Curcumin is a natural antioxidant and the main compound in turmeric.
It provides turmeric with its strong yellow color and is known to possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric has long been treasured for its health effects. In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it’s been used as an antiseptic, as an anti-inflammatory agent, to improve digestion and for treating a variety of ailments, such as infections and arthritis.
While modern research on turmeric is limited, several studies have found that it may offer health benefits, including the following:
Reduced inflammation. Curcumin, which is one or several chemicals found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers believe that these may potentially play a role in treating and preventing diseases caused by chronic inflammation.
Antimicrobial effects. Some research suggests that turmeric may inhibit the growth of certain types of histamine-producing bacteria. It may also stop the growth of foodborne pathogens and certain types of infectious fungi.
Antioxidant properties. Curcumin also has antioxidant properties, meaning it may help to reduce or prevent the oxidative damage that can contribute to cellular damage, aging and several forms of disease.
A reduced risk of heart disease. Because of its effects on inflammation and oxidative stress, researchers believe that curcumin may help to protect the cardiovascular system and reduce people’s risk of developing heart disease.
Improvements in arthritis symptoms. Curcumin has been studied as a treatment for arthritis, possibly due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Research has found that it helps with certain arthritis symptoms, such as osteoarthritis pain.
Clearer, smoother skin. Research suggests that curcumin can help to treat some skin conditions. Studies have also found that curcuma oil, which is produced using a plant that’s related to turmeric, may treat issues such as dark spots on the skin.
It’s important to note that high quality research on turmeric is limited, meaning we don’t have a lot of data on its effects.
Many studies of turmeric and curcumin rely on tissue samples, as well as research carried out on animals rather than on humans.
Some studies also use large amounts of turmeric and curcumin, far beyond what a person will typically ingest through their diet.
As such, it’s best to think of these as potential benefits of turmeric, rather than proven ones. As more research on turmeric becomes available, we’ll find out more about what it can and cannot do within the human body.
Although research on the relationship between turmeric and hair is limited, a few studies have found that it may offer benefits for hair growth and scalp health.
Some early-stage studies also suggest that curcumin and its analogues may help to reduce the amount of testosterone and DHT in your body.
In a study published in the journal Cancer Science, researchers found that curcumin decreases testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels in prostate cancer cells.
This may be relevant for treating hair loss, as DHT is involved in both prostate growth and in the miniaturization of hair follicles that causes androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.
If you’re genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness, DHT can bind to androgen receptors located in your scalp and cause your hair follicles to stop growing new hairs.
Our guide to DHT and male hair loss explains this process in more detail.
While this study’s findings are certainly interesting, it has several limitations that mean we can’t conclude that turmeric is an effective treatment for hair loss just yet.
First, the study was performed on a combination of human cells and mouse prostate tissue in a lab setting, not on living people.
Second, the fact that curcumin reduces DHT levels in prostate tissue doesn’t necessarily mean that it will have the same effect on the scalp.
Interestingly, other studies involving plant treatments that are similar to turmeric have produced similar results.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment in 2012 found that a combination of Curcuma aeruginosa and topical minoxidil, a hair loss medication, produced hair growth in men with male pattern baldness.
However, it’s important to note that the Curcuma aeruginosa and minoxidil were also effective at producing some degree of hair growth when used on their own.
Overall, while there isn’t much research on turmeric and hair growth, the findings available from existing studies are certainly promising.
However, there isn’t yet any definitive, large-scale research that shows a link between turmeric and hair growth.
As such, it’s best to view turmeric as a maybe, rather than as a proven option for treating hair loss and stimulating hair growth.
Turmeric is generally a safe ingredient. However, like any supplement, it’s important to use it as recommended in order to avoid side effects and safety issues.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), curcumin and turmeric products are considered “probably safe” when used orally or applied to the skin in the recommended amounts.
When it’s consumed in large quantities, turmeric can cause digestive problems such as nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
When it’s applied directly to the skin, turmeric can cause contact dermatitis and/or urticaria (hives).
Reported side effects of curcumin may include headache, diarrhea, rash, yellow stool and increases in your levels of certain enzymes, including alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase.
You may be more likely to develop side effects from turmeric or curcumin if you have an existing allergy to plants of the Curcuma genus.
To reduce your risk of side effects, make sure to only take turmeric and/or curcumin products at the recommended dosage.
If you experience side effects that are persistent or severe, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider for personalized assistance and advice.
Finally, although it may not necessarily be classified as a side effect, it’s important to be aware that turmeric is quite a powerful natural dye.
This means that it can easily stain clothing. Whether you’re cooking with turmeric or applying it to your skin, make sure not to let it get on your clothes, towels or any other items that you don’t want to take on a yellow color.
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Because turmeric is widely used in cooking, it’s easy to incorporate into your diet. Turmeric and curcumin are also available as dietary supplements, usually with affordable pricing.
To get the best results from turmeric, try the following approaches:
Add turmeric to meals. Turmeric is a tasty spice that’s easy to add to curries, eggs, rice and other dishes. However, the small amount of turmeric that’s used in many dishes may not have a significant effect on your health. Lots of cooking websites have lists of healthy dishes that contain turmeric. Try searching for “turmeric recipes” to find cooking and meal prep ideas.
Use a turmeric supplement. One of the simplest ways to get extra turmeric is by taking a turmeric supplement. You can find turmeric capsules and other products online and in most health food stores.
Take turmeric with a high-fat meal. Turmeric is fat soluble, meaning it dissolves in oils and other fatty substances. Taking a turmeric supplement with a meal consisting of higher fat content may help enhance absorption.
Use a turmeric shampoo. You can find shampoos, conditioners and other hair products that use turmeric or curcumin as active ingredients. These are ideal if you’d like to make use of turmeric for its potential hair benefits without adding it to your diet.
Don’t use turmeric as a replacement for medication. Although turmeric and curcumin may offer health benefits, it’s important not to think of them as replacements for hair loss medications like finasteride or minoxidil (or other medications, for that matter). If you’re interested in turmeric for its potential hair health benefits, it’s best to view it as a complement to existing treatments, not as a replacement for them.
If you experience side effects, stop taking turmeric. Although side effects aren’t very common from turmeric, they can happen. If you experience any issues, it’s best to take a break from using turmeric or talk to your healthcare provider for assistance.
While turmeric appears promising as a possible natural treatment for hair loss, the research isn’t quite there yet.
Luckily, if you’re starting to lose your hair, there are already proven treatments that you can use to stop further shedding and stimulate growth.
Currently, the most effective options for preventing hair loss and stimulating hair growth are the medications minoxidil and finasteride.
It also improves blood flow, which may assist in providing your hair follicles with the nutrients they need to grow efficiently.
Finasteride, on the other hand, works by preventing your body from converting testosterone into DHT — the hormone that causes male pattern baldness.
Used together, minoxidil and finasteride are highly effective at preventing hair loss from getting worse and stimulating hair growth.
You can purchase both medications together in our Hair Power Pack.
Beyond minoxidil and finasteride, simple things such as using a hair loss prevention shampoo, eating a hair-friendly diet and prioritizing the vitamins that play a role in hair growth can all help you to maintain a healthy head of hair.
The turmeric plant has long been prized as a medicinal ingredient, and modern research seems to support some age-old beliefs about its effects.
However, while research on the effects of turmeric on hair growth is promising, there are no high quality studies that show that it directly stimulates hair growth or prevents hair loss.
If you have a condition such as scalp psoriasis, want to lower inflammation or believe turmeric’s antioxidant properties may improve your overall health, adding turmeric powder or a supplement containing turmeric to your daily routine could be a good option.
Worried about losing your hair? Our guide to the early signs of baldness shares what to look for if you’re starting to lose your hair, as well as the steps that you can take to stop hair loss before it’s able to take a toll on your hairline.