When it comes to skincare, we’re smart enough now to know that we should look to the East for all the latest innovations (see essences, cushion compacts, snail creams, etc.). But sometimes, looking to the past can yield even more solutions than the present. After all, a Chinese empress may have had poreless porcelain skin thousands of years before serums were invented, and a Japanese geisha may have known how to cleanse her glowing complexion without the help of modern foaming cleansers.
With this in mind, we tapped Wei Brian and asked her to share her favorite beauty secrets from ancient China. From jade rollers to herbal teas, keep scrolling for five traditional Chinese beauty rituals for better skin!
Meet the Expert
Wei Brian is a beauty guru and the mastermind behind Wei Beauty—a skincare line based on 5000 years of Chinese herbal medicine. She favors a holistic and scientific approach to beauty.
Chinese medicine is largely based on knowing which herbs and roots can treat certain conditions—skincare included. Thus, it should come as no surprise that women in ancient China relied largely on herbs to keep their skin looking radiant. “Bei Qi, Huang Qi, and Goji are three herbs often used in traditional Chinese medicine for skincare,” Brian explains. “These herbs can be used topically—Bei Qi is known for improving skin clarity; Huang Qi is great for revitalizing tired, aging skin; and Goji is known to defend skin against aging.” To know exactly which ones to choose and how to use them topically, Brian recommends going to an herbal clinic or Chinese pharmacy. “The ratio may vary for your skin type, concern, age, and other factors,” she says.
Drink the Right Tea
In that same vein, Brian says you can also steep these herbs in hot water and make an herbal tea. They might not taste the best (this editor can attest to that, having grown up in a traditional Chinese household), but the fact that they’ve been used for thousands of years for glowing skin and a stronger immune system is a testament to that fact that they work. “There are many herbal teas and ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine,” she says. “These herbal remedies are prescribed depending on many factors, including the season and your symptoms. For example, Goji and Ju Hua [chrysanthemum] are used to help detox and boost your defense system, but these are more commonly used in summer, when the herbs are most potent.” For beginners, Goji tea might be the easiest—simply soak the berries in a cup of hot or cold water with another tea bag, and allow the tea to steep. Afterward, you can drink the tea and eat the Goji berries, which will have plumped up and gotten juicy. They’re full of antioxidants, minerals, amino acids, vitamin C, and carotenoids—i.e., a cocktail of ingredients for a clear, luminous complexion.
Try a Jade Roller
Using a jade roller or stone on your face is believed to work the same way as dry brushing your body—by getting your circulation going and helping to detoxify. “In ancient times, there were two basic devices: a jade roller to target acupuncture points and a special flat stone made of jade, which was used to open up the meridian blockage, allowing your Qi [Chi] and blood circulation to flow better,” Brian says. “These devices were used to help the body and skin heal itself.” Nowadays, you can buy a jade roller easily and re-create this ancient ritual at home. First, Brian says to start with a detoxifying mask, like her line’s Goldenroot Purifying Mud Mask ($42). After deep-cleaning your skin with a mask, use a gentle cleanser, then apply a serum or moisturizer. Next, grab the jade roller and slowly roll it upward and outward from the center of your face. For flat stones, Brian says, you can “rest” on the stones after moisturizing by placing them on your face for five to 10 minutes. Jade has been used for centuries by Chinese royalty to rid the body of bad Qi, and using a smooth, polished roller on your face is believed to soothe, de-puff, and can even supposedly decrease wrinkles.
Know the Power of Mung Beans
Turns out Chinese empresses enjoyed a DIY face mask as much as the rest of us. Their ingredient of choice? Mung beans, which were ground to a paste and thought to be good for healing acne and de-puffing, Brian says. Don’t enjoy the thought of putting mashed beans on your face? Try buying powdered mung beans (you can pick this up at your local Asian market or order some on Amazon) and mixing it with Greek yogurt for a potentially skin-brightening mask that’s less messy. Brian also says Wei is launching a Mung Bean Sprout Stress-Relieving Soothing Mask in the fall, featuring a sheet mask that floats in “the essence of mung bean pressed at the point of germination.” Stay tuned!
DIY a Turmeric Mask
Turmeric is the DIY mask ingredient of choice for many brides in the Middle East, and it turns out Chinese women feel the same about this potent orange root; Brian says women in ancient China would make turmeric masks to help reduce wrinkles and even their skin tone. “Mix one tablespoon of almond milk, one teaspoon of honey, and one teaspoon of turmeric,” she instructs. “If you want the consistency of your mask to be thicker, you can use yogurt or add a drop more honey, but I like using almond milk because it contains vitamin E and antioxidants.” She uses a face brush to apply the mixture to her face (“turmeric can be messy!”) and leaves it on for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing off. The result? Skin worthy of an empress.
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Ma ZF, Zhang H, Teh SS, et al. Goji berries as a potential natural antioxidant medicine: an insight into their molecular mechanisms of action. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2019;2019:2437397. doi:10.1155/2019/2437397