History, Characteristics and Application of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Cosmetics

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the medicine that can be used for preventing and treating diseases, the application of which follows traditional Chinese principles and philosophies.1 It is an approach to health that treats the human body as an organic whole. It holds that although viscera and tissues in the body have individual functions and responsibilities, they also coordinate to maintain normal life activities. Furthermore, TCM considers the human body and its external natural surroundings, which are dependent upon one other as an organic whole. As a result, even body surface problems such as acne, pigmentation, abnormal complexion and dry, coarse skin are viewed as the outcome of disharmony among viscera, tissues and organs, or between the human body and the natural world.

In China, TCM has been used for thousands of years in cosmetics as an important tradition that follows this theory of skin care. Research and development of using natural herbal ingredients or TCMs in skin care has grown; Table 1 compares the number of cosmetic products incorporating such ingredients in 2007 and 2008, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database.2 However, the use of these of ingredients has been controversial. Strictly speaking, TCM cosmetics are not only based on the use of natural animal, botanical and mineral materials, which are traditional TCM ingredients, as functional components, but also the formula’s prescription and formulation theories.3 In other words, TCM cosmetics are not simply made by adding TCM ingredients into formulae; most importantly, cosmetic formulas are formulated and dispatched according to TCM theories and principles—and all TCM cosmetics on the current market should adhere to this formulation concept in order to be differentiated from other products.

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