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TCM in Skin Whitening and Lightening: The Eternal Pursuit in East Asia
By: Huiliang Li, Jahwa Cosmetics
Posted: December 10, 2012, from the February 2013 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries.
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The application procedure is: grind the Tingzi with tepid rice water, i.e., the water drained after rinsing the rice, until pulp juice is obtained. Following facial cleansing each night, apply the juice onto the face before sleep. It is noteworthy that the proportions of each TCM ingredient in Chinese classic prescriptions are not unchangeable. The fact is that in ancient China, where cosmetics were not yet industrially produced on a large scale and their commercialization rates were extremely low, prescriptions were individualized based on doctors’ judgments most of the time. Factors taken into consideration included the individual’s health condition and lifestyle, and seasons as well as the natural environment when and where the preparation is applied. The increase or decrease in dose differs from individual to individual. In this sense, the so-called formulae recorded in Chinese medical classics such as the Qi Bai Fang can only be considered as the basis for general types of prescriptions.
Records show that in ancient China, rice water was used directly to wash the face so as to moisten and whiten the skin.6 It is important to note that Angelica dahurica, which was commonly used for skin whitening by the ancient Chinese, is prohibited today from use in cosmetics due to its potential to cause photosensitivity that may result in phototoxic dermatitis.7 Also, Aconitum coreanum (Levl.) Raipaics is prohibited due to the hypaconitine it contains.8
For thousands of years, white and fair skin has been considered symbols of beauty by East Asian women and today, skin whitening cosmetics continue to grow in popularity. Among the prescriptions for beautification purposes recorded in historic medical references, more than 25% are for skin-whitening and skin-lightening benefits. Through the analysis of the most well-known formula Qi Bai Fang, this article provides an introduction of the properties of TCM ingredients with skin-whitening efficacy, their prescription rationale and their various forms.
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1. X Zhang, A lighter shade of pale, China Daily, available at www.chinadaily.com.cn/usa/weekly/2011-09/23/content_13775846.htm (Accessed Aug 16, 2012
2. XP Ren, Establishment of the database on ancient TCM beauty prescriptions and analysis, J Traditional Chinese Medicine Literature 25(2) (2007)
3. JL Xu, Exploration on the application of Qu Gan Zeng Fang, Shaanxi Traditional Chinese Medicine 24(1)(2003)
4. XW Zou and ZS Jiang, Advances in studies on botanical inhibitors of tyrosinase, Traditional Chinese Medicine 35(6) (2004)
5. GZ Xu, Yu yuan yao fang (prescriptions of royal drug museum) [1271-1368 A.D.], Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House (1992)
6.Y Li, ed, Ancient Chinese make-up formulations, Beijing: China Press of Traditional Chinese Medicine (2008)
7. LK Zhang, J Zhu and WZ Shi, Analysis on skin allergy caused by topical traditional Chinese medicine, Heibei Traditional Chinese Medicine 33 (11)1736-1739 (2011)
8. FY Wang et al, eds, A practical Chinese-English dictionary of traditional Chinese material medica, Hunan: Hunan Science and Technology Press (2005)
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