Chinese Herbs for Beauty from the Inside OutCurtis James June 1, 2011
No matter your age, numerous herbal super-tonics can help you fight the aging process – and transform your skin, complexion, hair, nails, and overall glow.
Typically, Western anti-aging approaches focus on wrinkles and other aging signs that are already present. But Chinese herbs are used to help your body’s self-healing capacity correct the conditions that cause the wrinkles in the first place. That’s one reason why it is crucial to consult a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner or herbalist who can select the right herbal blends to boost your overall beauty from within. Your TCM consultant will need to consider your whole complex of individual symptoms to select the best balance of herbal blends. Beauty-enhancing herbs come in capsules, tinctures, teas, and topical products – and you need an expert to advise you on the best product types, dosages, and interactions.
IT’S A MATTER OF TASTE
TCM practitioners have known for some time that the taste of an herb tells a lot about how it will act inside the body. As a general guide, sweet-tasting herbs nourish your skin and rectify deficiency conditions that cause drying or wrinkles. To clear up blockages that cause skin rashes and dark spots, experts use pungent-tasting herbs to help energy and blood circulation. Bitter-tasting herbs clear heat and toxins from the body and skin, which treats skin rashes and acne. To stop the excessive secretion of sweat and oil in the skin, practitioners use herbs with sour and astringent tastes. Herbs with a bland taste are recommended to stop water retention, which helps clear puffiness and eye bags. Also, salty-tasting herbs dissipate nodules and are used in herbal formulas for acne conditions.
Skin, hair, nails, and oil glands are part of your body’s largest organ system, the integumentary system, which excretes waste, protects the body against sunburn, and stores fat, glucose, water, and vitamin D. Herbs that work well to promote the integumentary system are called adaptogens, which help an unbalanced body return to a balanced state.
Boost your Beauty With Specific Herbs
FOR YOUNGER SKIN
The many skin-rejuvenating herbal blends include some strange-seeming names, such as 8 Immortal Drops, the ultimate example of an adaptogenic herbal supplement. The herbs in this concentrated tincture include wild Chinese and American Ginseng roots and the primary anti-aging, adaptogenic herbs of China including Duanwood Reishi, Wild Mountain Reishi, and Tibetan Cordyceps. This blend stimulates and repairs skin cells and assists in the production of collagen, the substance that gives your skin its elasticity.
- Horsetail, also known as shavegrass, promotes collagen production. Rich in silica, it minimizes acne and helps prevent scars.
- Golden Air, primarily known for improving lung function, is a formulation that also benefits your skin, helping it to become smooth, radiant and clear.
- Pearl Powder, another skin transformer, is a finely-milled powder made from pearls which enhances the appearance of skin. A typical dose is one gram mixed into water or tea, twice weekly.
- Magu’s Secret, Magu’s Treasure, and Magu’s Beauty Tea Elixir herbal trio all include a different herbal mix with many exotic names, such as Cynomorium, Guilin Sweetfruit, Tibetan Rhodiola, and Snow Lotus. All three blends are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which nurture skin and hair and are said to brighten the eyes.
- Holy basil contains ursolic acid and is one of the cosmetic industry’s latest favourites because it improves the skin’s elasticity and combats wrinkles. It also shows benefits for preventing skin cancer, along with having antifungal and antibacterial actions.
- Gotu Kola has natural restorative properties that can help rejuvenate the skin.
- Bupleurum, one of the most important herbs in Chinese herbalism, along with Rehmannia, a common anti-aging herb both aide a clear complexion.
- Schizandra, also known as Five Taste Fruit, has been used for centuries to make the skin soft, moist, and radiant. It also protects the skin from sun and wind.
- Agaricus, shown to have powerful skin-enhancing benefits, is a 42-species mushroom family that includes the two most common cultivated mushrooms found in North America: the common button mushroom and the field mushroom.
- Aloe vera juice may be taken internally to promote skin health.
- Longan, A delicious tonic-fruit, is used by the Chinese to add lustre and glow to the skin.
Some herbs treat specific skin problems. For example, acne can be addressed with Bupleurum, Rehmannia, Schizandra, or Lycium Drops. You may know Lycium Drops – one of the premier anti-aging herbs of Asian herbalism – as Goji berries. They contain beneficial polysaccharides and are packed with beta-carotene and other antioxidants.
- Wrinkles and blemishes can be prevented with Pearl Powder and Magu’s Treasure.
- Used topically, licorice boosts natural steroid hormones to treat eczema, psoriasis, allergic dermatitis, and herpes.
- Hives, eczema, and allergy-induced skin conditions can be treated with Schizandra.
- Astragalus treats burns and even skin tumours, while Shatavari leaves can be infused in ghee and applied to boils and other skin sores.
- Used as a hair tonic, Amla strengthens the roots of each hair, promotes hair growth, and helps maintain pigmentation and lustre.
- Horsetail – which comes in pill form, in liquid form, and as a dried herb for herbal tea infusions – can be steeped in boiling water and added to your favourite herbal shampoo to strengthen hair and keep it looking shiny.
- Nettles, also called Stinging Nettles, contain an abundance of silica, which makes hair strong.
- The formulation known as He Shou Wu, or Polygonum, has been used for centuries to retain youthful hair colour, promote hair growth, and reduce hair loss in both men and women.
- Several other herbs help prevent the loss of hair. The adaptogen Ginseng allows the body to adapt to stress, a common cause of hair loss. Massaged into the scalp, Lavender draws blood to the surface, discouraging the loss of hair. Angelica, known as Dong Quai in Chinese medicine, contains a testosterone stimulant called phyto-testosterone, which is important for preventing hair loss.
- Several herbs are event purported to re-grow hair. Drinking a juice made from Thorn Apple, also known as Jimsonweed, has been shown to help grow new hair. But high doses can cause irregular heartbeat, and even coma, stressing the need to consult an herb specialist before launching your beautification program.
- Also, massaged into the scalp, Aloe Vera gel restores the pH balance, which can help re-grow hair. Burdock is another powerful herb that stimulates hair root circulation and helps renew hair cells.
(Ed. note: To read a report on Bhringaraj for preventing grey hair, use the search engine on Vitality’s website.)
Available in pills, liquid, and tea infusions, kelp can help strengthen brittle nails and prevent chipping and splitting, as can Magu’s Treasure. You can also apply Burdock oil directly to your nails to harden them. Horsetail, taken internally, helps the body absorb calcium and thus makes nails stronger; also, it can be mixed into boiling water to make a nail soak. Nettles also make nails strong.
For nail beauty, you’ll want to avoid any toenail fungus, which can make nails thick, crumbly, and discoloured. Rosemary has antifungal and antibacterial properties and can deter fungal growth when rubbed into the nails, while providing the nail bed with moisture and nourishment. Also, Tea Tree Oil is a natural antiseptic and rubbing a few drops into toenails daily can eliminate fungus; mixing Lavender with the Tea Tree Oil can make it even more potent. Another option is to mix two drops of oregano oil (see page 40) into a teaspoon of olive oil and smear it onto toenails. Or rub liquefied, raw garlic on nails three times a day to treat fungus.
For a beauty-boosting snack, try Hermit’s Mix – a delicious herbal trail mix comprised of Lycium Berries, Longan Fruit, walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts – or Lycium Berries or Longan Fruit alone.
A Clinical Guide to Chinese Herbs and Formulae; Chen Song Yu and Li Fei [translation by Jin Hui De]; Churchill Livingstone, 1993.
Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief; David Winston and Steven Maimes: Healing Arts Press, 2007.
Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica; Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble, ed.; Eastland Press, Seattle, 1986.
Handbook of Chinese Herbal Formulas, vol. 1 [materia medica] and vol. 2 [formulas]; Yeung, Him-che; 1983.
Traditional Chinese Herbal Science: volume 1, The Language and Patterns of Life (5th edition); Roger Wicke; Roger Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute, 1994.
Traditional Chinese Herbal Science: volume 2, Herbs, Strategies and Case Studies (4th edition); Roger Wicke; Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute, 1994.