Eastern philosophies and approaches to health and beauty have steadily made their way into Western culture. However, unlike their Western counterparts, the emphasis in Eastern beauty rituals is upon the balance of health and wellness which in turn creates beauty. Traditional Asian herbals and botanicals used in such rituals have an increasing role in modern care of the skin, promoting natural solutions long known to our ancestors. These ingredients include familiar items such as rice, coffee, jasmine, turmeric, and rosewater. While it is reassuring to use time-tested and common remedies, it may be surprising to learn that many of these ingredients have also been scientifically proven to be efficacious. Indonesian, Chinese and Indian skin remedies illustrate this concept well.
The Indonesian tradition of natural wellness and health is called Jamu, in which medicinal herbs are used to treat all aspects of life.
The Indonesian tradition of natural wellness and health is called Jamu, in which medicinal herbs are used to treat all aspects of life. For beauty rituals, leaves, flowers, roots, and bark are blended and applied to the body for nourishment and rejuvenation. Coconut milk as hair wash, rice water as facial cleanser, sandalwood for the treatment of eczema and burns, and sweet black tea to promote health, are all such examples. Juara, a skin care line based on Indonesian herbals founded in 2004 (www.juaraskincare.com), includes an Invigorating Coffee Scrub, a Tamarind Tea Hydrating Toner, and a Turmeric Antioxidant Facial Mask. Indonesian coffee beans are used to exfoliate and cleanse the skin. Tamarind is a tropical tree with a brown, pod-shaped fruit. The extract from the fruit contains alpha-hydroxy acids, which exfoliate the skin. Turmeric, a stemless, leafy herb, grows in many tropical areas, including India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It has been repeatedly demonstrated in scientific studies to possess potent anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-microbial properties.
Traditional Chinese Medicine follows a philosophy that health and beauty are intertwined, and that a balance of yin (dark) and yang (light) will help you look and feel your best. Ancient remedies include white tea for puffy eyes, ginseng for dry skin, and chrysanthemum flowers for sensitive skin.
Dr. Jessica Wu, a dermatologist based in Los Angeles, founded her line Dr. Jessica Wu Cosmeceuticals in 2004 (www.drjessicawu.com). Dr. Wu fuses Eastern tradition with Western science by incorporating white peony flower and Scutellaria extracts in each product. White peony, found in China and Japan, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Scutellaria, also known as skullcap, is an important Chinese remedy for inflammation and dermatitis, and has also been demonstrated scientifically to have anti-oxidant properties. The line includes a Dew Cream, with hyaluronic acid to soften skin lines; the White Peony Eye Contour, with Imperata extract, an astringent; and the Anti-Aging Brightening Complex. The Anti-Aging Brightening Complex contains emblica extract and kojic acid, two natural skin brightening agents which have been scientifically demonstrated to even skin tone and reduce pigmentation. Both ingredients are natural skin brightening agents which provide an excellent alternative to hydroquinone, a harsher skin lightening agent which has recently come under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration.
Indian beauty rituals are based on the ancient system of Ayurveda, which translates as “the science of life”.
Indian beauty rituals are based on the ancient system of Ayurveda, which translates as “the science of life”. Similar to both the Indonesian and Chinese philosophies, this is a system of medicine which incorporates the use of herbals and plants to balance the three forces, or doshas – “ vata (wind), kapha (earth), and pitta (fire). When the three are brought into balance, beauty and health follow. Anokha Skin Care, launched by this writer in 2008, uses traditional Indian and South Asian remedies for the treatment of common skin ailments (www.anokhaskincare.com). The line includes a Jasmine Serum, which contains jasmine, almond and sandalwood oils in addition to hyaluronic acid to moisturize and replenish the skin. Sandalwood oil is prized in South Asia as a perfume, but has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, and moisturizing effects. The Lotus Flower and Rosewater Toner contains extracts of the lotus flower, rose, burdock root, and gotu kola plants. Gotu kola, referred to as Centella asiatica in the scientific literature, rejuvenates the skin by stimulating collagen synthesis and increasing the tensile strength of skin. The Red Sandalwood and Neem Clarifying Masque contains red sandalwood, neem, turmeric, tulsi (holy basil), and rose petal powder. Neem, a tree which grows throughout India, has significant antimicrobial properties. Its leaves and bark have traditionally been used to cleanse the skin and teeth.
As we turn towards gentle, time-honored and environmentally-friendly products to care for our face and body, it is important to examine the active ingredients within even the most natural of products. Fortunately, recent lines have melded the best of the East with the best of the West, and emphasized the use of traditional ingredients that do not neglect the need for efficacy. Indeed, scientific studies support the use of many of these ingredients consistent with their claims. Regardless of your choice of skin care regimen, the central concept of balance — of diet, exercise, and personal care — will allow you to achieve healthy, glowing skin that reflects your inner beauty.
Medicinal Plants of the World, Ben-Erik van Wyk, Michael Wink. Timber Press, Inc., 2004.
Passport to Beauty: Secrets and Tips from Around the World for Becoming a Global Goddess, Shalini Vadhera. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.
Nina S. Naidu, M.D. is a board-certified plastic surgeon practicing in New York City. Dr. Naidu received her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College and completed her general surgery and plastic surgery training at New York Hospital – “ Cornell Medical Center. She has authored numerous papers in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Although Dr. Naidu has sampled hundreds of medical-grade skin care products in the course of her practice, she received multiple requests from her patients for natural skin care products which would address common complaints without the use of harsh chemicals. In 2006, she formulated several products based on active ingredients drawn from her South Asian heritage. These were the simplest of cleansers and moisturizers, and were made from such ingredients as milk, turmeric, jasmine oil, and rosewater. The benefits of using natural, gentle, and fragrant products were readily apparent. After repeated demands for additional products, the concept of Anokha Skin Care was born. Her skin care line fuses traditional wisdom within a modern delivery system to successfully create a unique offering.
Dr. Naidu is an active member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the New York Regional Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Medical Society of the State of New York and the New York County Medical Society. She maintains privileges at Lenox Hill Hospital, Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital and the Center for Specialty Care.