Pearl has been a skincare and medicinal staple in Chinese culture for more than 2000 years. Royal members of the Chinese imperial palace employed pearl powder for a myriad of skin benefits like brightening, wrinkle prevention, and sun protection. It's even featured in the Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat palpitations, convulsions, insomnia, epilepsy, and ulcers. Despite its longstanding residency in Chinese society, Soko Glam co-founder Charlotte Cho recently tells us that pearl's found a major uptick in popularity among skincare mavens in Korea as of late.
"Pearls have a long history of being beneficial for the skin because they are rich in minerals, over 15 amino acids and calcium, and known for their ability to be moisturizing and brightening," says Cho. "It's also a power antioxidant and has been an ingredient trending in Korea lately as a key ingredient for dry and sensitive skin types."
She continues, "As a result of aging, our skin loses the ability to retain moisture, which is why skin can become dry and dull. Water soluble pearl powders have been proven in studies to help nourish dry skin by enhancing the water-holding capacity of the skin. Retaining moisture in the skin is just as important as hydrating the skin. Water soluble pearl powders are naturally rich in nutrients, from amino acids to conchiolin. They are also rich in antioxidants, which help neutralize any free radicals, and prevent premature aging."
Cho says the reason this ancient ingredient is resurfacing in a big way as of late is because Korean women are "obsessed with any natural-based skincare ingredients that can help them achieve 'honey skin,'" or skin that looks bright, hydrated and supple. She explains that pearl is thought to be the answer to optimal hydration because of its ability to prevent trans-epidermal water loss, which is why more brands are utilizing it and more women are buying it.
The Western Take
Despite the regality of applying literal crushed pearls to your skin, dermatologists are wary of the magnitude of its proven benefits. Says Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group, "Because they're made up of calcium, amino acids, and magnesium, they might offer some benefit for skincare, although formal studies and clinical trials are lacking." While its below-the-surface gains may be questionable, it's got surface benefactors. "Crushed pearls act as a physical exfoliator, gently resurfacing skin and essentially polishing the top layer to remove dead skin cells. With continued use skin reflects light better and looks smoother."
She continues, "Pearls also contain a substance called conchiolin. Although many products claim it can stimulate collagen production, there isn't much evidence that supports this. Conchiolin is a complex protein present in the outer shell of the pearl and helps give pearls their strength and toughness. Some independents studies also found pearls to help with evening out skin tone—but again, formal studies are still lacking, which makes support of the pearl trend by the medical community more challenging."
Terrence Higgins, co-creator of FixMD, shares similar hesitancies. "Pearls contain over 30 trace minerals, mainly high in calcium, [which makes] up 50% to 80% of minerals found in pearls. Some uses for crushed pearls are for oral supplementation as a natural detoxifier and anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, there's very limited scientific research to prove the claims. It's not been tested by the FDA," he notes.
While studies are limited, some clinical evidence does exist. And given it's been used for over 2000 years, it couldn't hurt to give it a try—literally. Says Nazarian, "There's absolutely no safety issue with using pearls in skincare—in fact, it can be used daily without issue."
Want to be the judge for yourself? Try some of the below popular pearl products.
This exfoliating mask combines pearl and fruit enzymes to dissolve dead skin and reveal a brighter, smoother complexion. Apply it to wet skin and rinse off after 10 to 15 minutes to see the magic in action.
For just $2, you can reap the brightening, smoothing benefits of this cellular sheet mask, which has better staying power than your typical sheet (aka no slippage involved).
Since pearl goes to work internally as well, try blending cult-fave Beauty Dust into your smoothie or mixing it into an almond milk latte for an antioxidant kick start to your day. Bonus: It has a slightly sweet taste, so you can forgo your Splenda.
This powder-to-foam cleanser just needs a bit of water to transform into a creamy, exfoliating lather to smooth your complexion sans abrasion.
Up next, read up on the skincare ingredient Korean women rarely use.