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Superfood For Skincare: The Brightening & Restorative Turmeric

By Guan Tan

 
Felicia Yap
 

In her own time, Cissy Chen, the founder of local skincare label Frank Skincare whips up mask concoctions for herself. Years ago, she had a bout of hyper-sensitive skin, rejected drugstore skincare products, and started experimenting with natural yet potent skincare ingredients for herself. One of them was turmeric. 

Although the ingredient is more commonly known for its presence in curries, giving them a distinctive yellow hue, the turmeric has always had a place in beauty regimes. Chen explains that the turmeric belongs to the ginger family — and it looks strikingly like a ginger root. More often than not, these bulbous roots are dried, ground and sold in bags of powdered turmeric. "In traditional Indian culture, brides also use it all over the body for a month so it gives a radiant and brightened skin during the wedding," Chen continues. 

When consumed as a superfood, turmeric reportedly boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Yet, when applied on the skin, it supposedly helps to address skin tone issues — be it brightening dull skin, or evening out hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tones.

"I started using it about five to six years ago," Chen says. "It has got an instant brightening effect and makes the marks on my skin less visible after a few uses." For herself, she mixes turmeric powder with Kaoline — a clay mineral, calendula, camelia oil, and carrot extracts, before dropping dollops of organic raw honey and yoghurt. It is a delicate equilibrium of complementary ingredients. "The proportions of mixing with other ingredients is also very important," Chen stresses. She has since christened her own all-natural formulation "Dirty Yellow Mask" and sold them in ready-made sachets.

Felicia YapA sachet of Singapore-based Frank Skincare's Dirty Yellow turmeric mask.
A sachet of Singapore-based Frank Skincare's Dirty Yellow turmeric mask.

DIY masks aside, turmeric is found in the ingredients list of numerous skincare and cosmetic products — ranging from NARS' tinted moisturisers,  First Aid Beauty's ginger and turmeric mask, KORA Organics and Volition Beauty's exfoliating scrubs, Clinique, Herbivore, Dr. Jart, This Works, Origins, IT Cosmetics, and Clarins' famed double serum. 

Clarins' double serum was first launched in 1985, and there was never turmeric in its formulation — not until last year. "Turmeric was used for the first time in the eighth edition of the Clarins double serum," explains Leona Low, the Singapore-based training manager of the French luxury skincare brand, Clarins. 

The decision to incorporate turmeric into one of the brand's most significant products was based off findings from the brand's research laboratories, located in the northwest suburban precincts of Pontoise in Paris.

ClarinsThe 2017 reformulation of Clarins' double serum comes in two sizes — from left, a 30ml and 50ml bottle. It is recommended for women of all skin types, aged 25 and above.
The 2017 reformulation of Clarins' double serum comes in two sizes — from left, a 30ml and 50ml bottle. It is recommended for women of all skin types, aged 25 and above.

The Clarins research team paired up with a cell biology researcher, Professor Yves Poumay, also the Dean of Medicine at the Belgian Universite de Namur. Together, they found that active molecules called tumerone, extracted from turmeric, were capable of "protecting and reinforcing the cellular listening system," Low continues. By cellular listening system, Low is referring to the receptors, or channels of communications, embedded within the cell walls. They basically convey external happenings to the internal landscape. 

For instance, "when the skin is exposed to UV rays, melanocytes receive the message from the environment and respond to it by producing melanin to protect the skin," the 39-year-old explains. When the skin is exposed to environmental pollutants, the cells should be sending a signal to induce the production of defence molecules. 

"By improving the listening system, cells hear the needs of the skin better and can respond better," says Low. This way, Low explains that the needs of the skin's cells are communicated properly, and all five vital functions of the skin will benefit — regeneration, oxygenation, nutrition, hydration and protection. 

ClarinsIngredients in the Clarins double serum. From top left clockwise: turmeric reinforces cell communication; avocado purifies and softens the skin; oat prevents skin dryness and alleviates irritated, sensitive skin; banana promotes collagen synthesis; the Madagascan Leaf of life hydrates; Edelweiss boasts anti-aging properties; Mary's Thistle seeds' oils are rich in fatty acids; while the Beautyberry promotes microcirculation in the skin.
Ingredients in the Clarins double serum. From top left clockwise: turmeric reinforces cell communication; avocado purifies and softens the skin; oat prevents skin dryness and alleviates irritated, sensitive skin; banana promotes collagen synthesis; the Madagascan Leaf of life hydrates; Edelweiss boasts anti-aging properties; Mary's Thistle seeds' oils are rich in fatty acids; while the Beautyberry promotes microcirculation in the skin.

However, she does not seem to believe in the benefits of straightforward DIY masks. "Contrary to common belief that DIY plant-based masks — mixing turmeric with yoghurt etc — will give you effective results, the truth is that there is a lot of science involved in the formulation of a skincare product," Low explains. "The turmeric in the double serum was titrated to 65 percent in tumerone — which means we would have chopped many kilograms of turmeric in order to achieve the same results." 

Yet, to be fair, Low admits that she has not tried any DIY turmeric masks or products — not until this Clarins launch. She seems like one who believes in the hard and fast empirical results of scientific skincare. "In a scientific formulation, we extract and concentrate the effective molecules from each plant's ingredients in order to [obtain] desired results." 

The DIY turmeric mask has been around since history — the Hindus use it in the sacred rituals, the Chinese have it in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in the past decade, beauty aficionados have always exchanged turmeric mask recipes on online forums. The scientific beauty fans may turn their noses up at these recipes, but it seems like they are just beginning to discover the benefits of the good old turmeric.