The A to Z of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Part 1)

You may be wondering, what does traditional Chinese medicine, aka TCM, have to do with beauty and skin care? Well, TCM isn’t actually that distant from our daily skin care and diet.

The ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine makes use of a lot of things, from herbs and minerals down to more bizarre and controversial substances like insects and animal parts. Many natural ingredients that show up in beauty and skin care products are believed to have Chinese medicinal properties. Traditional medicine is quite different from Western medication, and you may see your beauty (and food) ingredients from a different perspective once you get to know more about it.

I’ve compiled a beginner’s glossary to TCM comprising mainly of herbs and also a few major concepts. Here’s part one:

A for Aloe

Aloe has what TCM calls “bitter” (please refer to F) and “cold” properties (I’ll explain further on this in part two). Aloe drives “heat” away from the liver and can be used as a laxative. It helps treat insect bites and ulcers when applied externally.
Try: NATURE REPUBLIC – Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera 92% Soothing Gel

B for Bamboo

Shavings, sap and leaves from bamboo are “sweet” and “cool.” They help clear away heat from the lungs. Tabasheer, a hard, white substance obtained from bamboo joints, is a commonly used herb for dislodging phlegm and reducing coughing. It also soothes skin rashes.
Try: THE PLANT BASE – Nature Solution Hydrating Bamboo Water

C for Centella

Centella, which is known as “snow-accumulating grass” or “broken bowl” in Chinese, is a “bitter,” “spicy” and “cold” herb. Featuring anti-inflammatory properties, it reduces swelling and bruises by promoting blood circulation. It’s useful in quenching thirst as well as ridding dampness and heat from the body when taken orally. It also soothes ulcers and insect bites when applied externally.
Try: COSRX – Centella Blemish Cream

D for Dandelion

This “bitter,” “sweet” and “cold” plant expels heat and toxins from the body while replenishing “qi” (vitality) and blood. It also boasts antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Try: Four Elements – Herbal Tinctures – Extracts Single (Dandelion)

E for Egg

TCM considers eggs to be “sweet” and “neutral.” They’re good for the stomach and spleen. Egg white helps drain away toxins and regulate the body’s “qi,” while egg yolk nurtures the heart and blood. Egg shell powder and membrane (aka “the coat of phoenix”) is believed to foster the healing of wounds and inhibit bleeding. Egg white can also be used to treat acne.
Try: SKINFOOD – Egg White Pore Mask

F for Five Flavors

TCM classifies food into five flavors: spicy, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Spicy food promotes the circulation of “qi” and blood. Sweet food nourishes, harmonizes and replenishes. Sour food boasts absorbing and astringent functions. Bitter food dries dampness and purges toxins. Salty food softens hard nodes and promotes bowel movement.

G for Ginseng

Panax ginseng is “sweet,” “slightly bitter” and “warm.” Known as the king of herbs, it offers anti-aging benefits alongside invigorating the body’s “qi.” It also nourishes the lungs and spleen, enhances metabolism and strengthens the immune system.
Try: I’m from – Ginseng Serum

H for Houttuynia Cordata

Houttuynia Cordata is known as “fishy grass” due to its fishy smell when crushed. This “spicy” and “cool” herb serves as an astringent and helps eliminate toxins. It can be used to fight against bacteria, viruses and inflammation.
Try: ZYMOGEN – Houttuynia Cordata Ferment Serum

I for Inspection

TCM practitioners diagnose patients using four methods: inspection, listening and smelling, inquiring, and palpation. Inspection means observing the patient’s complexion, tongue and body secretions. Listening and smelling means attending to sounds and odors produced by the body. Inquiring means asking about the patient’s symptoms and medical history. Palpation means palpating the pulse and applying pressure to corresponding body parts to detect abnormalities.

J for Job’s Tears

Nicknamed Job’s tears, coix seed falls between “sweet” and “bland” and is naturally “cool.” It aids to quench thirst, purge heat from the body, and drain excess body fluids to ease swelling. It also helps brighten, smooth and hydrate skin.
Try: Naturie – Hatomugi Skin Conditioner

K for Kelp

Kelp is “salty” and “cold.” It helps drive away heat from the body, clear phlegm, soften hard nodes and reduce swelling. It can also help lower cholesterol level. Kelp is often sold in dried form across Asia.
Try: CELLBN – CELLXV Real Kelp Mask

L for Licorice

The “sweet” and “neutral” root detoxifies the body and eases sore throats and coughing. It can also be used to treat ulcers and pimples.
Try: TUNEMAKERS – Licorice Extract Serum

M for Mugwort

Being “bitter” and “neutral,” mugwort is an effective mosquito repellent thanks to its strong smell. It nourishes the womb, detoxifies and dispels dampness in the body. It also boasts anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to inhibit bleeding. Powdered mugwort is made into sticks and used in moxibustion to treat various diseases.
Try: I’m from – Mugwort Mask