CHRYSANTHEMUMS, pink pearls, jade and ginseng--these exotic plants and minerals are key ingredients in traditional Chinese skin-care products. Although some people obtain results with modern preparations that contain unpronounceable, high-tech, anti-aging chemicals, others say they are doing the same with ancient formulas composed solely of natural products.
"Chinese herbal skin care has been practiced for more than 3,000 years by the empresses and wealthy classes of China," says Ron Teeguarden, a Florida-born Chinese herbalist and owner of the trend-setting Tea Garden Herbal Emporium in Venice. His shop, which opened in 1988, sells hundreds of herbs imported from China, many of which are rare in this country. Two of them, schizandra berries and orchid stems, are widely used in herbal skin tonics.
A schizandra toner is said to increase circulation so that the face feels as if it has been massaged. This toner is made from a handful of dark, shiny, purple berries, which are native to China.
To make the tonic, Teeguarden says, make sure that the berries you use look wrinkled but are not dried out. Teeguarden sells pre-soaked berries--those that have had tannin removed--but if you use untreated schizandra, he says, soak the berries for at least an hour. Then simmer the berries for 10 minutes in three cups of spring water, soak thin cotton towels in the brew and apply the towels to the face for 15 minutes.
A handful of orchid stems, simmered in three cups of spring water for 20 minutes, makes a cleansing tonic with anti-bacterial effects that benefit all skin types, according to Teeguarden. He also offers, as the makings of a rather esoteric treatment, the ingredients for an ancient face wrap, masque and cream. The preparations contain chrysanthemum flowers, powdered deer antler and powdered pearls, among other substances. The face wrap, masque and cream are intended to relieve puffiness around the eyes, to firm the skin and to add color through improved circulation.
Vera Brown, a Bel Aire skin-care-salon owner, of Vera's Retreat in the Glen is a longtime Chinese herbal skin-care enthusiast. In addition to her own skin-care products, she sells Jewels from the Orient, products formulated by herbologist Stephen Chang. "These preparations are made with the purest herbal ingredients and are free of additives and preservatives," Brown says.
Based in San Francisco, Lisan Inc. manufactures Chang's products using unique Chinese herbal formulas. For example, Pearl Lotion, made of nutrient-rich powdered pink pearls, almond seed extract and powdered ginseng and gingko , is a superior moisturizer, Brown says. Gold Lotion--which contains 24-karat gold, royal jelly (a honey derivative), powdered ginseng and asparagus herb--is supposed to freshen and tone the pores while stimulating circulation. Brown also recommends Jade Cream, which is made of 19 herbs, including frankincense, myrrh and ground jade: "Just a pea-size amount of the cream, applied daily, helps tremendously to revitalize surface skin cells, soften keloids (scar tissue) and increase circulation."
Especially suitable for those with sensitive or simultaneously oily and dry complexions, Chinese herbal skin-care products are also beauty bargains: 30 applications' worth of schizandra berries costs about $7, and Gold Lotion, at $45 for 2 ounces, is less expensive than many prestigious skin-care lines.