TCM cosmetics that pass test of time

Updated: 2010-12-22 10:24

By Cheng Anqi (China Daily)

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TCM cosmetics that pass test of time

Traditional Chinese medicine cosmetics have a history of 1,600 years but have only recently started to compete with modern international brands. Cheng Anqi delves deeper

University student Lu Jing has been battling acne for the past three years, using dozens of products to get rid of the disfiguring scars on her face - all without success. Three months ago, however, a doctor prescribed her traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine in her hometown in the Innner Mongolia autonomous region. He told her to mix a mystery powder with egg white every night and apply it to the face. Now, the 25-year-old has a clear complexion free of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and with just a few fading scars.

According to the Chamber of Beauty Culture and Cosmetics of All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, foreign companies have more than half the domestic cosmetics market and rake in 80 percent of the profits.

But people like Lu are increasingly turning to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) cosmetics to sort out their skincare problems, moving away from Western beauty products.

So, when Lu returned to Beijing, she stopped using imported skincare products and instead went to reputable domestic pharmacies to buy suitable TCM cleansing milk, creams and facial masks, such as products from the 140-year-old pharmacy, Beijing Tongrentang Group Co Ltd.

"Tongrentang promotes TCM cosmetics products and has become the market leader," says Huang Xing, the general manager of Guangzhou Yanzhuang Cosmetics Ltd.

Meanwhile, Jiang Xiaojun, director of the Tongrentang publicity department, says the company's skincare products have passed the test of time.

The company's products include medicine originally prescribed by Wang Tao, a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) doctor that uses tuckahoe, the root of red-rooted salvia, ginseng and herba leonuri to improve sallow skin and moisturize.

Many young customers come to buy the whitening-and-moisturizing facial masks, says Zhang Can, a shop assistant at Tongrentang.

"Nearly 100 boxes are sold every day," she adds.

The move away from foreign cosmetics brands to domestic versions is a slow one, as domestic consumers have grown to trust and admire foreign brands.

Huang, of Guangzhou Yanzhuang Cosmetics Ltd, recalls that in the 1990s the senior manager of an international cosmetics company said Chinese companies could not build a global brand because they were just making copycat products.

"His words were unpleasant because they labeled Chinese goods as imitations, but it was true and to the point," says Huang, who has been involved in TCM cosmetics for 17 years.

"My friends always ask me to take a large empty case every time I go abroad and bring back luxury cosmetics, because they are cheaper abroad. It upsets me a bit," Huang says.

He believes TCM cosmetics have three directions in which to develop.

One is developing traditional eco-cosmetics, such as curing chloasma with honey and tuckahoe powder, a long-standing folk remedy.

Second is developing TCM cosmetics that meet modern cosmetic and marketing requirements, such as Tongrentang's whitening-and-moisturizing facial masks.

Third, extract chemicals from traditional Chinese medicines, such as amylase, polypeptides and alkaloids, and do research on their safety and beauty treatment values.

With a history of 1,600 years, TCM cosmetics will not fade away as trends change, Huang says.

He refers to beauty products from the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618); the 81 products for facial care written by Sun Simiao, China's King of Medicine in the Tang Dynasty; and the 168 facial care products recommended in Compendium of Materia Medica by Li Shizhen in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"These facts cannot be changed by multinational companies, and it surely creates an opportunity for domestic cosmetics companies to compete with foreign brands."

World-class brands have a genetic blueprint, Huang says. If Chinese elements are built into the foundation of cosmetics, then strong brands like Tongrentang will find their place in the international market.

TCM cosmetics that pass test of time


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