Abstract It is found that the fluorescence of curcumin is greatly enhanced by yttrium(III) (Y 3+) in the presence of sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate. Based on this, a sensitive fluorimetric method for the determination of curcumin in aqueous solution is proposed. In the potassium hydrogen phthalate (KHP) buffer, the fluorescence intensity of curcumin is proportional to the concentration of curcumin in the range of 7.37×10 −4–0.18, 0.18–2.95 μg mL −1 and the detection limit is 0.1583 ng mL −1. The actual samples are satisfactorily determined. In addition, the interaction mechanism is also studied.