Since both of these roots have so much to offer as internal skin protect-ants, it shouldn’t be surprising that researchers have been investigating their topical use as well. Both ginger and turmeric have a long history of being added to oil and applied topically for the promotion of healthy skin or wound repair in South Asia. Knowing what we now know about the ability of certain polyunsaturated fats to carry food-based chemicals through the skin layers via their pull-and-drag properties, there seems to have been some wisdom in using oils to massage small amounts of the mashed or powdered root into the skin.
While the key anti-inflammatory chemicals in ginger (gingerols) appear to perfuse through the skin quite well, turmeric’s principal antioxidant and UV-protecting chemical, curcumin, needs help to get through the skin. The EPA from fish oil might be just the ticket to help access the deeper skin layers.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin and the gingerols after topical application are becoming more apparent with each passing month. Recently, an extract from Asian turmeric was shown to promote collagen production and decrease collagen-destroying MMPs in a more effective manner than green-tea antioxidants. Chemicals from both roots have protected the skin against UV damage in experimental studies.
A study in the International Journal of Dermatology (2006) showed that a topical ginger extract inhibited wrinkle formation in animals exposed to chronic, yet only low-level UV radiation over three months. The researchers set it up that way on purpose so that the low-level UV rays did not cause the usual redness and acute sunburn in the animals—this to reflect the day-today UV exposure of most humans. Incredibly, the ginger extract maintained the normal elasticity of the skin and prevented wrinkles despite the chronic UV exposure. Indeed, the ginger extract inhibited the enzyme that breaks down the elastic fibres (elastase), and the natural structure of the dermal elastic fibres was maintained.
Interestingly, the same researchers also applied a synthetic topical UV sunscreen, and while it may protect against sunburn, it did not protect the elastic fibres and did not prevent wrinkling. Again, we are not saying that sunscreens are of no value. They are, yet we should not rely upon them as the sole means to stop the aging process. Doing so might set you up for disappointment.
Most studies on the topical application of ginger and turmeric are only in the experimental stages, so at the time of this writing, human data is still lacking. All we have at the moment is one human study that used a 0.1 percent curcumin formula along with other herbs. In that study, published in Phyfomedicine (2007), the combination herbal formula with curcumin improved skin firmness and elasticity after four weeks.
New ginger extracts that have some of the skin irritants removed are in the development phase and will be in commercial use shortly. This is an important development because ginger has some fat-soluble components that can irritate the skin and cause undesirable flushing.