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Curcuma longa L. (= Curcuma domestica Val; Amomum curcuma jacq; Stissera curcuma Raevsch.). It is
an herbaceous perennial plant, belonging to the Zingiberaceous family. It has a large oval rhizome with
sessile cylindrical tubers, orange coloured inside. Its leaves start from the rhizome, are elliptical and can
reach up to 1.2 m in length. Its flowers are yellow, between 10 to 15 cm in length and they group
together in dense spikes, which appear from the end of spring until the middle of summer. No fruits are
known for this plant.
The Curcuma genus contains around 30 species. The plant originates from India and South-East Asia. It
was introduced later in America (West Indies) and in temperate regions in Europe. It grows in rich, humid
and clayey soils. It is cultivated in the majority of tropical countries such as India, China, Pakistan, Sri
Lanka and Indonesia.

Turmeric extract is obtained from the rhizome of Curcuma longa.


Curcuminoids are between 2 and 9%. Their main components are: curcumin (60%),
desmethoxycurcumin, monodemethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, dihydrocurcumin and
cyclocurcumin. Curcumins oxidation yields vanillin.

Fig.1. Structure of the main curcuminoids of
turmeric (Alonso J., 2004). Curcumina: curcumin;
Desmetoxicurcumina: desmethoxycurcumin;
Bisdesmetoxicurcumina: bisdesmethoxycurcumin).

Exclusive NA Dist.
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em, Inc
Norwalk, CT 06850

Essential oils
They are about 1.5 and 5.5% of the composition. These essential oils consist of a 60% of the
sesquiterpene lactone turmerone. They also contain zingiberene (25%), α- and γ-atlantone, bisabolene,
guaiane, germacrene, 1,8-cineole, borneol, δ-sabinene, caprilic acid, dehydroturmerone, 1-phenyl-HO-
N-pentane, limonene, linalol, eugenol, curcumenol, curcumenone, curlone and phelandrene.

Other active principles
Turmeric extract is rich in carbohydrates, especially in starch (45-55%). It also contains arabinogalactans
(ukonans), potassium salt and resins.


In ancient times turmeric was much appreciated for its nutritional value as well as the ginger. It was
mentioned in the Atharva Veda of India and in ancient Sanskrit writings. In China it is mentioned in the
Pent-sao of the VII century and in Arab countries it is mentioned from the X century. However, its use
began to decline in the Middle Ages. Dioscorides in the year 77 called it Cyperus, although in the XVI
century it was given other names: Crocus indicus, turmerack and currently, curcuma, which is derived
from the Arabic kurkum and from the Hebrew karkom which means «yellow». The term longa refers to
the elongated shape of its rhizome. The fact that it is a domestic plant led the botanist, Valeton, to coin
the name Curcuma domestica. The English name turmeric is taken from Sanskrit and means «yellow»,
in reference to the colour which comes from the coloured substances of the rhizome, and with which the
Hindus dyed their clothes for ceremonial acts: births, marriages or deaths. The Peruvian name «palillo»
in reality is an abbreviation of palo amarillo (yellow stick), a name given to those plants, which can stain
in that colour. The Buddhist monks still use to stain their tunics with this species.

Turmeric is traditionally used a lot in the Middle East as a liver protector, a stimulant of bile duct
secretions, anti-flatulent, diuretic, for curing catarrh, aphrodisiac, anti-parasite, for the circulation, anti-
fever and anti-inflammatory. In extreme cases, it is used for healing and disinfection of wounds (even in
purulent opthalmopathies) and for rheumatism or sprains. The boiled extract of the rhizome is used for
these purposes. Some Hindu women apply or rub the turmeric rhizome on the skin to prevent or reduce
hair growth. In the north-east of Brazil they usually draw a circle around the eyes of children who
suffered from measles, to prevent them from contracting conjunctivitis. In the French West Indies the
boiled extract is used to prevent scurvy and in the island of Guadeloupe as an antidote against poisoning
by the tree, manzanillo-Hippomane mancinella. In Haiti they prepare the extract of the rhizome with salt
to treat jaundice.
Nowadays it is used as a food, being the main constituent of curry, medicine and colouring.


Turmeric extract – rich in curcuminoids – is widely known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-
microbial properties, among others.
The action mechanism of curcumin may be considered multicentric since it acts as a prostaglandin
inhibitor, stabilizer of the liposomal membranes, inhibitor of the activity of leucotrienes and thromboxane
B4 without affecting the synthesis of prostacyclins, stimulator of adrenal steroidogenesis, substance P
depletor in nerve terminals (similarly to cayenne) and antioxidant (Alonso J., 2004; Srimal RC., 1997).

Anti-inflammatory activity
Inflammation is the starting point in the skin ageing process. An inflamed area is in reality, a micro-
wound, which, stimulated by certain environmental factors (ultra-violet rays, contamination, etc.),
progresses to a wrinkle or skin imperfection. The inflammation also affects the skin pigmentation.

Several types of inflammation mediator agents, for example leukotrienes, prostaglandins, cytokines and
growth factors may accelerate melanogenesis due to their stimulant action on the proliferation and
functioning of melanocytes (Prakash L. & Majeed S., 2003).
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Curcumin showed anti-inflammatory properties in animal models by inhibiting the activity of the enzymes
cycloxygenase-2 and lipoxygenase as well as the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (Alonso J., 2004).

Curcumin showed anti-inflammatory activity in mice and rats acute, sub-acute and chronic inflammation
models. When acute oedema was induced in mice by using carrageenan, it was found that the effective
dose (ED50) of orally administered (p.o.) curcumin was 100.2 mg/kg while that of cortisone was 78
mg/kg. In rats, the ED50 was 48 mg/kg for curcumin, while it was 45 mg/kg for cortisone and 48 mg/kg for

In the cotton pellet-induced sub-acute inflammation and granuloma tests carried out with rats, a
curcumin dose range of 80-160 mg/kg p.o. inhibited the granuloma formation in 14-30% during 7-14
days. Additionally, curcumin produced no gastric irritation or effects on the cardiovascular or the central
nervous systems. Sodium curcuminate and turmeric essential oil were also effective anti-inflammatory
agents. The ED50 of intra-peritoneal (i.p.) sodium curcuminate on carrageenan-induced acute oedema
was 0.36 mg/kg. Compare with the 47.8% oedema inhibition produced by a dose of 10 mg/kg
hydrocortisone (Srimal RC., 1997).

Some studies demonstrated that the turmeric volatile oils (0.1 ml/kg per day, orally administered)
suppress acute oedema. The action of these essential oils has been attributed to their capacity to
stimulate the adrenohypophyseal axis because they were found ineffective in adrenalectomized animals.
Additionally, turmeric essential oils have been observed to inhibit the trypsin and hyaluronidase enzymes
(Ammon H. & Wahl M., 1991).

Curcumin is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. In vitro assays indicate that curcumin inhibits the
arachidonic acid-induced mouse ear oedema (Pons Ll., 2003).

A double-blind study involving 18 rheumatoid arthritis patients revealed that the administration of 1200
daily mg of curcumin resulted in anti-inflammatory effects equivalent to those observed for a group that
received 300 daily mg of phenylbutazone. It was shown that local injections in the areas affected with
arthritis were more effective than oral administration. Another similar double-blind versus placebo
experiment demonstrated that the administration of curcumin (450 mg 3 times a day) to 13 patients with
post-surgery pelvic inflammation resolved the pain and oedema symptoms in a similar way to 300 daily
mg of phenylbutazone. Among the action mechanisms, they mentioned the inhibition of lysosomal
enzymes (acid phosphatase and cathepsin D) as well as the inhibition of lipid peroxidation, a process
that Blake catalogued in 1989 as one of the ways in which rheumatoid arthritis is produced. For cases of
arthritis and tendinitis in humans, clinical studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of taking
capsules containing turmeric rhizome extracts at doses of one or two 500mg capsules three times a day
(Alonso J., 2004).

Thus, the use of turmeric extract is highly recommended when formulating a wide spectrum of cosmetic
products such as anti-ageing cosmetics, depigmenting, sun protectors, and cosmetic products aimed at
the care of sensitive and/or irritated skins.

Antioxidant activity
It is known that the damages caused by oxidation in the different cellular components are one of the
main causes of many diseases, including ageing (Osawa T., 1994).

Curcumin has a free radical scavenger activity, especially on the hydroxyl radical, which explains its
capacity to protect DNA from damage in human cell cultures exposed to radiation. In vitro studies have
demonstrated its capacity to block the activity of the cyclooxygenase and lipooxygenase enzymes.
Topical applications of curcumin on the skin of mice increase the glutathione level and the glutathione S-
transferase activity, while at the same time, inhibits lipid peroxidation in the skin tissue. The local
application of turmeric extract has a recognised antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. It is more
efficient than vitamin E as an anti-radical agent and as an inhibitor of lipid peroxidation (Prakash L. &
Majeed S., 2003).
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Local applications of curcumin may noticeably inhibit the ODC (ornithine decarboxylase) activity induced
by simultaneous UVA radiation and TPA (tetradecanoylphorbol acetate) application on mouse epidermis.
It is accepted that such activity of curcumin may be due to its capacity to scavenge free radicals or to
interrupt the activation of protein kinase C (Pons Ll., 2003).

In rats with ethanol-induced brain damage, curcumin exerted protective effects, which were mainly due
to its antioxidant activity resulting form the increased glutathione levels and decreased lipid peroxidation
in neuronal membranes. Additionally, certain curcuminoids present in the rhizome: curcumin,
demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin protected in vitro human umbilical cord endothelial cells
and rat pheochromocytome cells against the entry of beta-amyloid, a substance that induces oxidative
stress and is involved in the neuronal deterioration observed in Alzheimer. It was demonstrated that the
water and ethanol extracts of turmeric rhizomes inhibit the oxidation of erythrocyte membranes and
hepatic microsomes of rabbits undergoing an atherogenic diet (Alonso J., 2004).

Osawa T. (1994) isolated an hydrogenated derivative of curcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin. This molecule
has a strong antioxidant action because its structure includes a phenol group and a β-diketone. Prakash
L. & Majeed S., (2003) also reported the relationship between molecular structure and activity of

Fig.2. Relationship between molecular structure and
biological activity of tetrahydrocurcuminoids
(curcuminoids derivatives) (Prakash L. & Majeed S.,

Thus, the antioxidant activity of turmeric extract makes it highly recommendable when formulating
cosmetic products destined to protect the skin and hair from oxidative processes.

Photo-protector activity
This action is due to its antioxidant activity. 25% of the lipids of the surface of the skin are unsaturated,
and therefore, are easily attacked by free radicals. The ultraviolet rays of the sun penetrate the skin and
accelerate the damage caused by these radicals. Prolonged exposure to these radiations means that the
collagen and elastin fibres, responsible for the elasticity and integrity of the skin, may be degraded by
inherent enzymes, thus causing deterioration in the texture of the skin. In laboratory studies, extract of
turmeric was shown to be effective in suppressing inflammation and protecting the epidermal cells from
the damages caused by ultraviolet B radiation (Prakash L. & Majeed S., 2003).

Curcumin, in small doses, has been shown to have the capacity to protect against chromosomal damage
caused by gamma radiation. Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit the mutagenic induction effect of
UV rays (Alonso J., 2004).
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Also, a higher activation against sun exposure has been observed with curcumin, which would make it
suitable as a coadjuvant in skin diseases such as psoriasis (Alonso J., 2004).

Investigations indicate that curcumin has very diverse actions on the skin, the majority of which can be
interpreted as photo-protection. For all these reasons, the extract of turmeric has an interesting
application as protection from the damages caused by solar radiation on the human skin (Pons Ll.,

Antimicrobial activity
It has been shown that curcumin in vitro is highly toxic to Salmonella sp. but not to Escherichia coli. The
water, alcohol and ethanol extracts of turmeric rhizome have a moderate inhibitory activity on a
Staphylococcus sp. and Escherichia coli. Other in vitro studies evidenced that the essential oil has a
weak inhibitory activity on Staphylococcus aureus, S.epidermidis, Proteus vulgaris and Aspergillus
As anti-protozoa agents, curcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin showed moderate in vitro
activity against Plasmodium falciparum and Leshmania major. The water and ether extracts of turmeric
showed repellent effects on the insect species Aedes aegypti, Rhizopertha dominica, Sitophilus oryzae,
Spodeptera litura and Tribolium castaneum, antifungal effects against Helminthosporium sp., Pyricularia
oryzae, Rhizoctonia solani, Sclerotium oryzae and Sclerotium rolfsii, and nematicide effects against
Meloidogyne incognita. Turmeric essential oil showed repellent effects on the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti,
Anopheles dirus and Culex quinquefasciatus. Such repellent activity is strengthened by the addition of
5% vanillin. The hexane extract of turmeric rhizome inhibited the growth of the fungi Piedraia hortae,
Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum cannis. It also inhibited Aspergillus sp. A preliminary
study carried out in India with 814 patients with scabies demonstrated the efficacy of local applications of
a turmeric rhizome paste, which did not produce toxic or adverse effects (Alonso J., 2004).

The anti-bacterial in vitro activity of the turmeric alcohol extract, curcumin and its essential oils against
Gram-positive bacteria is well known. Significant anti-fungal activity has also been described. Turmeric
essential oils have demonstrated anti-fungal activity on being applied topically on guinea pigs and in vitro
tests against different isolated pathogens (Srimal RC., 1997).

Thus, the antimicrobial action of turmeric extract makes it a very recommendable component when
formulating cosmetic products with antiseptic activity as well as cosmetic products with an insect
repellent function.

Inhibitory activity on tyrosinase
Turmeric extract showed efficient inhibition of the enzyme tyrosinase. This enzyme initiates the
melanogenesis process. Turmeric extract showed better efficacy than the best known depigmenting
agent , the kojic acid (Prakash L. & Majeed S., 2003).

Therefore, turmeric extract should be taken into account when formulating depigmenting cosmetic

Wound healing activity
The topical administration of curcumin extracts on skin wounds on the skin of diabetic rats demonstrated
an improvement in the wound healing process. The reparation action mechanism involved an increase in
the levels of beta transforming growth factor plus an increase in the activity of the enzyme nitric oxide
synthase (Alonso J., 2004).

The wound-healing activity of turmeric has been widely studied and it has been seen that its local
application is effective. In Chinese medicine it has been used for this purpose since ancient times
(Srimal RC., 1997).

This action makes turmeric extract a good ingredient when formulating cosmetics with regeneration
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Action Active Cosmetic
Essential oils
-Sensitive/irritated skin
- Anti-ageing
Antioxidant Curcumin - Photo-protection
Essential oils
Curcumin -Depigmenting

Wound healing
Curcumin -Regeneration


The recommended dosage is between 0.5% and 5.0%.


Alonso, Jorge. Tratado de Fitofármacos y Nutracéuticos. Barcelona: Corpus, 2004; p:395-403 (633.8 ALO).
Ammon H. & Wahl M. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Med., 1991; 57: 1-7 (ref.557).
Bruneton J. Farmacognosia. Zaragoza: Ed. Acribia, 2001; p:294-96 (651*1 BRU).
Council of Europe. Natural sources of flavourings. Germany: Council of Europe Publishing, 2000; p:161-62 (633.82
Osawa T. Plant Antioxidants: Protective Role Against Oxygen Radical Species. C&T, 1994; 109 (10): 77-81
Pons Ll. Fotoprotección vegetal (II). OFFARM, 2003; 22: 163-64 (ref.6567).
Prakash L. & Majeed S. Multifunctional Ingredients: The Novel Face of Natural. C&T, 2003; 118 (11): 41-47
Ross I. Medicinal Plants of the World. Totowa (New Jersey): Humana Press, 1999; p:139-53 (633.8 ROS).
Srimal RC. Turmeric: a brief review of medicinal properties. Fitoterapia, 1997; 68 (6): 483-94 (ref.2503).


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