Turmeric Essential Oil

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Turmeric essential oil is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory and potent antioxidant essential oils out there. In the realm of aromatherapy and skin care, it has a whole range of applications, many of which are now being backed by modern research. Now, it is also being found to be applicable in some diseases and conditions like arthritis, for which the turmeric has been used traditionally. We shall evaluate the therapeutic benefits of turmeric essential oil (TEO), how it complements ground turmeric, and how to use it for skin care and aromatherapy.  

Source

Turmeric essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the turmeric rhizome. A rhizome is a rootstalk that usually grows horizontally out of the buds near the base of the stem. Turmeric (known biologically as Curcuma longa) belongs to the same family as ginger. This family is called Zingiberaceae and thus they share some therapeutic properties. Turmeric is native to South East Asia and hence it finds mention in the traditional medicinal systems of India, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka etc. Ayurveda uses it in many of the formulations. It is also the quintessential ingredient of Indian curries.  

Turmeric Essential Oil
Turmeric Essential Oil (Image:Shutterstock)

Turmeric is known in medicinal research for a special compound called curcumin, which is also extracted and sold separately as a supplement. It has numerous proven health benefits. But, we shall see that there are many other phytonutrients and essential oils in turmeric that distil out from its vapour and provide a gamut of complementary health benefits.  

Color and Aroma

The essential oil is a dull, dirty white in color with a brilliant yellow layer at the meniscus. Its aroma has spicy notes but it has faint notes of citrus and lavender. On a deeper appreciation, one can also distinguish some woody and herbaceous smells. Experts in perfumery also report faint percentage of a vanilla aroma as well. [1] 

Therapeutic Properties

For most of the essential oils, we know about their therapeutic benefits through empirical observations based on what aromatherpists and herbalists have noted over the years. Only a few of these effects are proven by science. But, for turmeric essential oil, thankfully, we know many of the medicinal effects have been proven.  

  • Anti-Inflammatory – It is quite potent at reducing inflammation which is often the main effect that we want to achieve by using this oil. Essential oils in turmeric, like Ar-turmerone complement the already powerful anti-inflammatory effect of curcuminoids in turmeric. A study has found that is specifically useful in reducing inflammation caused by colitis, that is inflammation of the colon. This can have important consequences for developing naturopathic products and food supplements containing a small amount of turmeric essential oil (called TEO in short) for improving bowel health.  [2] 
  • Anti-oxidant – A wide range of terpene compounds (naturally aromatic compounds present in most plants) lend a powerful free radical scavenging capability to TEO. Turmeric oils have been found to limit peroxidation of lipids (a kind of free radical damage to the oily membranes of our cells) which leads to tissue damage and may even lead to cancerous products in the body.  [3] 
  • Anti-nociceptive – It is a natural pain reliever. Its anti-inflammatory effect coupled with pain relieving ability is best made use of in reducing arthritic pain. [3] 
  • Anti-fungal and anti-dermatophytic – Ar-turmerone in turmeric essential oil is potent at killing fungi that attack the skin. Such fungi are called dermatophytes, and there are many of them. People from hot and humid climates are most affected by such microbes. They cause diseases like ringworm and also affect nails, scalp and hair. For example, ringworm of the scalp is caused by a dermatophyte like Trichophyton, against which turmeric oil is effective. [4]   
  • Anti-arthritic – Turmeric has been used since ages to reduce the joint pain and swelling caused by the various types of arthritis. Its essential oil can also be used to reduce joint inflammation and thus lower the pain by applying it topically as a massage. A study conducted on rats found that internal consumption of turmeric oils was effective in reducing joint inflammation to a mild extent. [5] 
  • Mosquitocidal – The hallowed compound whose name has come up a few times crops up once again. Ar-turmerone is effective at killing Aedes egypti mosquito. This mosquito is the one that carries dengue and chikungunya in its saliva and transmits the disease when it bites. [5] 
  • Anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic – Turmeric essential oil prevents mutation of cells which prevents genesis of cancer in our body by inactivating certain enzymes responsible for activation of some carcinogens, as noted by this study. [6] 
  • Gastroprotective – It is noted to reduce ulcers of the stomach when taken internally. [7] 

Health Benefits and Uses

Now that we know about the possible effects that turmeric essential oil can render, it is time to put them to work.  

Turmeric Oil based Salve for Arthritis

There is an easy and effective way to apply turmeric oil onto the painful joints. It is a little cumbersome but can be done at home if proper precautions are taken.  

Ingredients 

1)Turmeric essential oil
2)Paraffin wax 

How to Make the Salve?
Put 250 gm of paraffin wax into the beaker. Take a deep pan and fill it with water. Put the pan on the stove so that the water starts heating up but do not bring it to boil. Hold an edge of the beaker with a tong and place the beaker on top of the water and let it absorb heat slowly. Paraffin wax begins to melt at around 37° C but this can differ from place to place because of changes in atmospheric pressure. When the wax is melted, add 25 drops of turmeric essential oil. Be sure to wear lab grade gloves and glasses while pouring the drops. Hold the beaker again with tongs and shake it slowly in circular motion. Slowly, the paraffin will solidify and with that, it will solidify the essential oil. This prepares the soothing salve for use on joints.  

Apply appropriate amount of this salve on the painful joint. This salve has a longer lasting effect and is beneficial for reducing inflammation from the outside.  

We could also have used beeswax instead of the paraffin wax but beeswax has a higher melting point (around 65° C) and at this temperature, there is a risk of turmeric aromatic compounds undergoing chemical change.  

Turmeric Essential oil For Skincare

Turmeric has long been used for reducing blemishes and obtaining an even toned skin. It is used in various formulations to improve the health of skin cells. The essential oil can be applied on the skin by appropriately diluting it in a suitable carrier oil. One can add about 1 drop of turmeric essential oil to 3oz (roughly 100ml) of argan oil for using it on skin. This way, the oil is sufficiently diluted but still effective at reducing inflammation and accompanying redness. It is ideal for use after an acne breakout has subsided and there is residual redness and some scars.  

There are some people who use turmeric essential oil for active acne. There is not much evidence, either in traditional medicine or in modern herbology to support this usage. In fact, powdered organic turmeric used as a face mask using non-comedogenic and cooling ingredients may be a more suitable option.  

Secondly, for people who want to achieve a lightened skin tone, they should go for turmeric powder instead of turmeric essential oil. The active ingredient which has some skin lightening property is curcumin [8], which is found in much higher quantity in the powder than in the essential oil. Ar-turmerone may also have some skin lightening effect (by slowing melanin production) but it is not as easy to use as the powder.  

Turmeric Essential for A Healthier Scalp and Hair

It can be used in a formulation to reduce scalp irritation, redness and fungal infection caused by dermatophytes. It should be used in conjunction with turmeric powder as the essential oils complement the role of curcumin.  

Ingredients 

1)Turmeric essential oil
2)Turmeric powder (organic)
3)Coconut oil 

How to make?
Take about 2 oz of coconut oil which is not cold pressed. It should be a coconut hair oil, which is lighter and less viscous than the cold pressed oil. Take 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder and add 2 drops of essential oil to it within the spoon. Wear gloves and knead the essential oil into the powder. Add this powder into the coconut oil and mix very well. Apply this as a hair and scalp massage for about 15 minutes. Then wash it off with copious amounts of water. The essential oils are delivered into the skin right at the scalp and they begin the task of combating any fungi present. This way, it helps to improve scalp health and in turn, improving the hair. However, this treatment should be used sparingly because essential oils are quite harsh. Moreover, a patch test on the forearm must be done to know whether turmeric essential oil suits you or not. The skin of the scalp is very sensitive and if the oil doesn’t sit well, it may actually increase the inflammation. So, there is a word of caution.  

For those on whom it does work, this treatment helps to reduce dandruff, modulate sebum production (this is due to the curcumin in turmeric powder), treat fungal infections and nourish the hair (mainly because of coconut oil).  

Also, turmeric is a natural dye, so you may notice hair turning slightly brownish. It may even alter the dye that you have previously applied on the hair. So, you may end up with a freakishly unknown color that you may not have expected.  

Aromatherapy

TEO aroma is diffused in open, ventilated areas so as to achieve a stead concentration. Its aroma is a pleasing, woody and spicy mix. Its essential oils get absorbed into the bloodstream after we inhale it. These constituents provide inflammation reducing potency which is beneficial in a lot of conditions. But, we should not go overboard and use it every single day. TEO has an element of toxicity to it, which means it can harm the body when used at higher concentrations.  

It blends well with the essential oils of ginger and ylang ylang. Blending it with citrus essential oils also gives a queer but pleasing aroma, which is soothing and invigorating.  

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Much is known about the important chemical constituents of turmeric, chief among them being curcumin. But, the active volatile compounds in turmeric’s aroma are also worth studying. Turmeric essential oil sourced from Kerala, India displayed the following major constituents on a GC/MS analysis (gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy).  

Volatile constituent  Percentage 
Ar-turmerone  61% 
Curlone  12% 
Ar-curcumene  6% 
Zingiberene  3% 
Phenol  3.5% 

Source: 3 

Most of the essential oil is made up of sesquiterpenoids. These are a sub-class of terpenes and have been developed by plants as a defense mechanism against insects and pests. These act as natural pheromones and are therefore aromatic. Many of these compounds are now being found to be useful as bio-pesticides, useful at killing larvae of mosquitoes and combating agricultural fungal diseases. They are also being studied for their efficacy in developing new medicines for cancer, arthritis, tuberculosis and fungal infections. They are also powerful antioxidants.  

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues

All essential oils can be hazardous at strong enough concentrations. Before using it for skin care and hair care, always perform a patch test to check for sensitivity. Some people may also be allergic to the compounds in the essential oil. It should not be ingested without the advice of a doctor or a registered nutritionist. There have been some studies where rats were fed turmeric essential oil by mixing it with other ingredients to study how it helps to lower pain and inflammation. Although it is used in certain food products as a flavoring agent, but these are kept to very small amounts and strictly adhere to quality control. It has a flash point of 87 °C so it should be kept away from heat of the stoves. Otherwise, it can tolerate room temperatures of around 25 °C. At its flash point, the essential oil automatically catches fire and burns with acrid fumes, which is unpleasant and dangerous.  

Buying and Storage

Steam distillation is a costly and technically involved process. Choose a manufacturer with a reputation for producing best quality essential oil using only the cleanest and good quality organic produce is the best option. A lot of the final quality of the oil depends on the produce itself. Turmeric essential oil should be kept refrigerated at 4 ° C and it lasts around 12 months so it is best to opt for smaller sized vial.  

References

  1. Turmeric Essential oil – Perfumers World. 
  2. Essential turmeric oils enhance anti-inflammatory efficacy of curcumin in dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis. Shushuke Toden et al. Scientific Reports.  
  3. An evaluation of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antinociceptive activities of essential oil from Curcuma longa. L. Vjayastelter B.Liju et al. Indian Journal of Pharmacology.  
  4. Antidermatophytic Properties of Ar-Turmerone, Turmeric Oil, and Curcuma longa Preparations. ISRN Dermatology, Mukda Jankasem et al.  
  5. Anti-Arthritic Effects and Toxicity of the Essential Oils of Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.). Janet L. Funk et al. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. 
  6. Chemopreventive activity of turmeric essential oil and possible mechanisms of action.Liiu V.B. et al. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention.  
  7. Gastroprotective activity of essential oils from turmeric and ginger. Liuu V.B. Journal of basic and clinical physiology and pharmacology.  
  8. Curcumin inhibits melanogenesis in human melanocytes. Tu CX et al. Phyto-therapy research.

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