Old Meets New: Facial Mapping and TCM to Reach Booming Markets


The beauty of modern facial skin mapping is its ability to produce a visual representation of the results that most any technology can deliver. For example, in a 2018 launch, DSM explored mapping consumer skin conditions in China and found that Chinese facial skin is generally dehydrated. The visual images that the facial mapping produced enabled researchers to see the complexity of facial skin hydration by measuring skin capacitance on pre-defined sites; interpolating between each measured value; and superimposing the values on digital images.

Seasonal and climate changes also play a role in skin hydration, so it is important to note this research was conducted during spring in urban Beijing and focused on the facial skin of women in their mid-30s in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Based on the results, the company’s new saccharide isomeratea technology was developed and reportedly has shown both short and long-term, dose-dependent effects when applied twice daily.

Market Opportunity

China is an aspirational market, set to become the world’s largest cosmetics market in 2018, overtaking the United States for the first time.1 As such, it holds great potential for skin care brands. In relation, new research specific to the Chinese microbiome offers product developers a target to balance skin microflora and boost overall skin health and beauty—hydration being one essential aspect.

TCM Ingredient Efficacy

Although Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners may not have had facial mapping tools or known the specifics of the facial skin microbiome, TCM plants were used for their skin hydration benefits. In fact, several folklore examples of TCM ingredient use are now gaining support from modern science.

Purple gromwell: The dried root of Lithospermum erythrorhizon—commonly called purple gromwell, or zicao (紫草) in Chinese—has been valued for various antiviral and biological activities. Recent research has shown that this known TCM herb contains strong antioxidants—e.g., shikonin derivatives, b-sitosterol and caffeic acid esters—and the plant demonstrates antioxidant and skin-soothing properties.2

Using non-invasive techniques, the moisturizing efficacy and skin barrier repair properties of Lithospermum erythrorhizon were examined in 30 Asian females, ages 20–30, with healthy skin. The participants used an emulsion with active ingredients twice daily for a period of 28 days. Results confirmed what the ancient tradition recognized for centuries: the plant extract has barrier protective and moisturizing effects for skin.

Studying how products are used by consumers could help to improve both their evenness of application and efficacy.

Fish mint: Another Chinese plant, Houttuynia cordata, also known as fish mint or Chinese lizard tail, is commonly used as a fresh herbal garnish. In TCM, it has been used to treat dermal sores and abscesses with swollen pain. Modern research implicates its potential to treat chronic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis.3

Malva nut: Malva nut, or Scaphium scaphigerum, has a long tradition in TCM for removing heat from the lungs, curing sore throats, counteracting toxicity and hydrating the bowels. Malva nut polysaccharides, obtained by macerating malva nuts, also were examined for skin hydrating properties.

In a randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, the malva nut polysaccharides demonstrated superior hydrating capacity, compared with the control, without skin irritation. They hold the potential to replace current benchmarks—e.g., tamarind and algae polysaccharide gels—in personal care.4

Future Facial Mapping

Additional facial mapping to examine non-invasive parameters in different populations worldwide could be used to identify correlations with clinical signs of aging. These findings, of course, could provide additional targets for product developers that address specific regional needs.

For example, research across Asia has compared the severity of facial wrinkling in 100 Chinese women living in Shanghai with other Asian ethnicities. Facial wrinkles of the forehead, glabella, upper eyelids, crow’s feet area, lower eyelids, cheeks, nasolabial grooves and mouth corners were evaluated using validated photo-scales. This research revealed Chinese women had significantly more severe wrinkles in the areas around their eyes compared to Japanese women, but less wrinkles on the lower halves of their faces compared to Thai women.5 Whether this is a function of facial structure around the eyes, climate or facial expressions remains to be seen.

Furthermore, the beauty care routines and habits of Chinese women likely contribute to the overall picture.6 Leave-on anti-aging skin care products are popular in China, so studying how these products are used could help to improve their evenness of application and efficacy—perhaps by modifying the application method.

Indeed, one survey demonstrated that Chinese women mainly focused on the forehead, malar region, cheek, mouth corners and chin whilst applying products in the mirror, while the mouth corners, corners of the eye area and lateral cheeks were often overlooked. Correcting this could enhance the efficacy of anti-aging cosmetics; it also demonstrates the value of education in skin care.


Skin care adoption and efficacy have many contributing factors, including ethnic skin biology, new and traditional technologies, and sensory and cultural preferences. As such, formulating for a single market poses challenges. However, in terms of a booming market such as China, it could be both a scientifically and commercially sound strategy.


All websites accessed on Aug. 6, 2018.

  1. morganstanley.com/ideas/china-beauty-market-consumer-boom
  2. link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00403-008-0867-9
  3. tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/03639045.2013.819883?journalCode=iddi20
  4. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28689602
  5. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17499481
  6. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ics.12187
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