As a herb, tumeric has been used for centuries for seasoning, but through a series of complex extraction and isolation processes, it will soon be given further potential as a substance to support the medical as well as the cosmetics industries.
Possessing the bio-active compound known as curcuminoids, the herb is also said to have medical properties to treat diseases including indigestion and inflammation.
"Actually, it is not only curcuminoids that made us interested in the herb. It is the other active compounds called tetrahydrocurcuminoids (THC) since their properties fit perfectly with the cosmetics industry," Supachai Lorlowhakarn, director of the National Innovation Agency (NIA) in Thailand told the Nation newspaper.
THC is derived from curcuminoids. The compound is colourless, unlike the yellow curcuminoids, which would allow it to be used in colour-free products that now employ conventional synthetic antioxidants. As well as skin lightening and antioxidant applications, THC could also be used as a cosmetic remedy for inflammatory skin conditions.
After the success of another project known as Plaitanoid, the brand-named medicine and cosmetics products derived from the herb called Plai, NIA plans to encourage the production of the two bio-active compounds. In parallel, it has worked to set up a collaboration cluster among academics and manufacturers to produce commercial products made from curcuminoids and full-cycle THC.
At this stage, the agency has been working with the Natural Products and Organic Synthesis Research Unit at Kasetsart University's Science Faculty to work on the extraction of THC.
According to the Nation report curcuminoids cost about THB 3,000 (€57) to THB 4,000 per to be extracted locally. When imported, the compound costs about THB 20,000 to THB 25,000, which is why an unnamed international company has already patented the process for skin lightening, antioxidant and UV protection purposes.
"We use different substances from those that have been patented abroad as a catalyst to create THC. The substance is vital since it can create more value for our cosmetics industry where the skin-care market alone has a total value of Bt5 billion a year. THC will be the upstream product," he said.
Having Kasetsart University working on research and development, NIA says it has talked to drug as well as cosmetics manufacturers, including Pan Cosmetics and S C Artiftry, to use the bio-active compounds in their commercial products.
Pan Cosmetics says it sees a possibility to produce new whitening products from the substance.