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Introduction to Cosmetic Treatments with TCM

The history of cosmetic treatments with TCM dates back 2000 years. The texts on herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, qigong, and diet for cosmetic treatments can be found in the earliest surviving book of formula Wu Shi Er Bing Fang (Fifty Two Formulas).

Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shen Nong’s Herbal) lists 365 kinds of medicinal substances while over 160 kinds are indicated for cosmetic purposes. For instance, Semen Cucurbitae moschatae (Nanguazi\Baiguazi) can ‘bring luster to the complexion’ while Radix Angelicae Dahuricae (Baizhi) can ‘moisturize the skin and be made into facial lotion’.


Yu Yao Yuan Fang (Formulas for the Royal Family) in Yuan dynasty lists over 1000 formulas for royal families from the Song dynasty, through the Jin and Yuan Dynasty. In which there are about 180 cosmetic formulas, most of which offer preventative treatment, for instance, Huanghou Ximian Yao as a facial cleanser, Zhuoshou Yao as a hand lotion, Yishou Dixian Wan to slow down aging, Wuyun Gao for hair darkening and Yurong Gao for moistening the face and lips. 

Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Material Medica) gives accounts of several hundreds of cosmetic herbs, followed by their indications and usage. For instance, ‘Fructus Trichosanthis (Gualou) can remove wrinkles and bring luster to the complexion’; ‘Put blossoms of plum, pear, papaya, apricot, cherry into lotion for removing wrinkles and dark spots, bringing luster to the complexion as well’. 

Preventive cosmetic treatment has been greatly developed in the Qing dynasty. The royal family was very critical about cosmetic methods and prescription. There are a lot of such formulas for Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu. It is said that Empress Dowager Cixi still had delicate and soft skin, fine and moisture-rich hands, radiant and elastic hair, even when she reached the age of 70.


Sun Simiao, a physician of the Tang dynasty, made great contributions to the development of cosmetic treatments with Traditional Chinese medicine. To meet the needs of ordinary people, he publicized the ingredients of formulas for cosmetic treatments in his two books, Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang (Invaluable Prescription for Emergencies) and Qian Jin Yi Fang (Supplement to the Invaluable Prescriptions). The two books also provide a comprehensive account of cosmetic treatment with herbs, formula, diet, qigong and longevity. Over 300 formulas for treating facial skin problems or improving complexion, as well as other skin, hair and limb conditions are listed.

Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Sacred Remedies) records over 10,000, 980 of which offer cosmetic treatment acting on facial complexion, hair, teeth, nose, skin as well as other aspects of beauty. 

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