Spotlight On: Tamarind

Ingredients, Skin Care
English: Tamarind balls from Trinidad and Tobago
Tamarind is not only good for your skin, but it’s pretty tasty too – sweet and sour, rather tart.

by Natalie K. Bell

Tamarind is not the most visually appealing fruit on the vine — it grows in large, brown pods — not nearly as lovely the vibrant red of tomatoes peeking out from shady green leaves. But it’s got a sweet and sour taste that makes it prime for cuisines the world over. I first discovered it as a candy in Mexico — which is a mouthwatering combination of sweet, salty and spicy for the adventurous eater. In addition to its culinary uses, it’s also got medicinal properties that get used in ethnomedicine a lot and has been discovered by more than one skin care companies for it’s positive effects.

Tamarind: Background and Consumption

English: Tamarind on a place of the foundation...
Taramind has been used for centuries, dating back to Arabic medicine.

Tamarind has been used in ethnic medicine for quite some time — mentioned in Sanskrit literature and well-known by the Europeans after they received it from Arab traders (International Journal of Biology). When ingested, it’s an excellent source of calcium, phosphorous, and iron, excellent source of riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin, as well as limited amounts of vitamins A and C (Tamarind). It’s being studied as a new way of absorbing medications as well, though this means it can increase absorption of certain medications (International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science).

It’s often used in Ayurvedic medicine for gastrointestinal problems (Chemistry of Spices). This is because it increases acidic bile secretion, which stimulates digestion (Digestive stimulant action of spices: A myth or reality?). However, increased acid secretion can negatively affect people with acid reflux — so be conscious about chowing down.

Tamarind and Skin

This plant is basically a rock star in terms of what it can do for skin.  According to the book, Herbal Plants Used as a Cosmetic, “Tamarind seed has activity of radical scavenging, lipid peroxidation reducing and anti-microbial activities. Its antioxidant activity is appropriate for anti-wrinkle cosmetics”  Taramind also been shown to have very few irritating effects on skin (Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology). That’s quite a reputation to live up to!

Crested Drongo in Tamarind tree
Not a raisin in the sun here: Tamarind helps fight immunosuppression following UV exposure (Photo credit: wallygrom)

It’s quite well-known as an antioxidant and seeker of free radicals, with several studies and medical books noting its effects (Food and Science Technology, Mosby’s Dictionary of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, Journal of Biological Sciences). It’s able to stabilize free radicals and lower the melanin content in the skin to aid in hyperpigmentation. One study found that it reduced UV-radiation-caused dendritic [a type of immune] cell loss and helps to combat the immunosuppression qualities of the sun  (Letters in Drug Design and Discovery). One study demonstrated that it could inhibit tyrosinase production, and could be used for skin de-pigmentation (Journal of Biological Sciences).

In a study where tamarind extract was rubbed on rat’s wounds, researchers found that the rate of healing was significantly increased. It took 14 days for the control groups’ wounds to heal and just 11 days for the tamarind groups’ wounds to heal (Journal of Biology). Nearly all the extractions methods of tamarind — save for PBS — contained alkaloid, saponin and tannin.

The Bottom Line

Tamarind has few negative side effects and is a super food in terms of what it can do for your skin and body — something people have known for centuries. It’s finding its way into beauty products and for a few very good reasons — it’s great for seeking out and stabilizing free radicals, helps with UV protection, works to de-pigment skin, and can speed up the healing process.

Here are a few products with tamarind that you might want to try:

Clarins by Clarins: Gentle Foaming Cleanser with Tamarind ($21.46,

Recommended most for combination/oily skin types, this cleanser has its greatest effects when rubbed into the skin for a full minute before rinsing.  (As do all cleansers, really!)  Product Rating:  7.5/10


Juara Hydrating Toner-Tamarind Tea-4.75 oz ($24,

This toner is unique in that it has both hydrating and oil-removing properties.  It’s perfect for people with combination oily skin who need hydration in certain areas, but who simultaneously fear shine.  The secret?  Rice bran helps to absorb oil, while tamarind and hyaluronic acid lightly hydrate, and tea keeps the skin calm.  Is it the ultimate hydrator or oil removing?  No, but it is great at helping to balance the two for those with combination skin!  Product Rating:  8/10

BioJuvenate Engineered Skin Care Professional Spa Quality Specialty Treatment AHA Fruit-Enzyme Serum ($42,

This is Nicki’s favorite product of the set!  Though she uses retinol nightly, she really likes to switch and use alpha hydroxy acids at least one night/week.  That’s where this product comes in – glycolic acid, malic acid, and tamarind together are amazing. Glycolic acid alone will smooth the skin, quicken the rate of cell turnover, decrease the depth of small wrinkles and increase the fibroblast proliferation of collagen.  Glycolic acid was also found in the journal Dermatologic Surgery to increase the natural hyaluronic acid (moisture factor) content in the skin. Impressivo!

On the other hand, malic acid has been reported in the International Journal of Skin Science to be less effective than the alpha hydroxy acids glycolic acid and lactic acid.  Still, malic acid in combination with other AHAs has been reported in this study to have great efficacy in treating skin roughness, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.  Unlike the other AHAs, malic acid has also been demonstrated to have some level of anti-microbial activity as well, as reported in The American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.

So this is our favorite!  Please note that it is strong, so use every 2-3 days to start, and gradually work up to daily use.  Product Rating:  9/10

Simi Essentials Tamarind Day Creme, 2.0 oz. ($35,

Again, a solid product, but only for combination/oily skin types.  Simi Essentials Tamarind Day Creme is designed to help balance oil.  However, without ingredients like alumina or kaolin to absorb oil, it’s more like a mild primer to help balance oily skin without removing all of the oil completely.  It’s not a miracle product, but it is solid.  Product Rating:  7/10

Check our bestsellers!

  • Tif

    Thanks, Nicki! I’ve been on many different acne prescriptions and I’m currently using Tazorac and Clindamycin. I also use Topix GlySal 10-2 pads, but I still get a few pimples here and there. I’ve also been using the Mychelle Sun Shield you recommended in that sunscreen post. As I enter my 30’s I am starting to worry abt my skin aging, but not a lot of anti-aging products are marketed toward acne-prone skin and the ones that I’ve come across I am skeptical abt, so this has been the biggest challenge for me.

  • @Tif: That is a great idea. For oily/acne-prone skin, we like:
    *Is your skin rough or smooth? If it is rough or mottled, try a gentle scrub or clay mask. Either way, you need a cleanser with salicyclic acid.

    *You definitely need a retinoid. If you have health insurance, I highly recommend Retin-A Micro. If not, I am coming out with a Time-Release Retinol 0.5 Gel super proud of on August 16, 2012, but there are also a lot of other great concentrated retinols out there, including Green Cream Level 6 with 0.6% retinol and Skinceuticals 0.5 with 0.5% retinol.

    *Once a week, try an alpha hydroxy acid treatment in lieu of retinol. I really like Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads.

    *If your condition is particularly bad, ask your dermatologist about prescription antibiotics, such as Accutane, benzamycin or clindamycin. These are not without side effects, but they can make a world of difference in your confidence.

    *If you want an instant regimen, I recommend trying the Rodan+Fields line or the Jan Marini Transformation System. All solid products, though concentrations usually aren’t listed. I used both for a while and liked the results for the products for my skin type (normal/dry/sensitive).

    Right now, we also have these on the best sunscreens:

    And primers:

    Hope this helps!

  • Tif

    I have oily-combo acne-prone skin and I’m interested in the Juara toner you mentioned above, but you said it is not the ultimate hydrator or oil remover. I am in dire need of a good moisturizer that doesn’t break me out, is there something like this product that you think would be better? A post on best moisturizers and anti-aging products for acne-prone skin would be super helpful.

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