Beauty, like a pearl, is formed in layers caressed by time and the elements. Pearls suggest enduring loveliness. It takes the oyster three years to make a pearl. When a grain of sand penetrates a mollusk shell, cells located inside the shell mantle secrete concentric layers of mother of pearl around the particle, finally creating the pearl. Pearls culled from depths of 48 to 120 feet are found in waters of the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mannar near Sri Lanka, Indonesia, islands in the South Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi River. In China, pearling was known before 1000 BC. Powdered pearl, ingested as an anti-inflammatory herbal medicine or applied to the skin as a beauty treatment was preferred by CiXi, the last Empress of China, during the Qing Dynasty. Her flawless complexion was renowned. In Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic film, The Last Emperor, a giant black pearl was placed in the Empress’ mouth the moment she died–in homage to her as a precious jewel.
In China traditional herbalists and medical research doctors work together in clinics and hospitals. If you take a calcium supplement, Dr. Raymond Chang, a New York oncologist, recommends vitamin D3 to improve absorption of calcium and to help prevent cancer. Vitamin D3 breaks down cancer cells. Most people do not get enough vitamin D in their diet or from exposure to sunshine. They therefore cannot absorb calcium adequately. Avoiding the sun, they more frequently develop breast and uterine cancers, while trying to reduce their chances of skin cancer. Pearl may be one way to get your calcium and trace minerals. My favorite way to take pearl powder internally is to blend one tiny tube of pearl powder with a tablespoon of yogurt at bedtime.
Pearl is also a complexion treatment for acne and tired skin. The chief ingredient of powdered pearl, calcium carbonate (CaCO3), can be absorbed through the skin. Pearl powder, a powerful exfoliant, applied externally speeds the skin’s natural process of shedding dead cells and replacing them with new cells. Exfoliating treatments refine the skin’s appearance. Pearl powder, used externally and also taken internally, both prevents and treats acne and other skin disorders, helping to heal blemishes and reduce redness. Pearl powder is sprinkled into wounds in Chinese hospitals because its antiseptic action speeds healing. Pearl powder also absorbs excess oil and moisture, and it is used in surgeon’s gloves to keep their hands dry during operations.
In China and Japan there is considerable ongoing scientific research into the properties of pearl and other traditional herbal remedies. Only some of the results are available in articles published in English, usually on the Internet. Current research does verify the pearl’s health and beauty benefits. Pearl’s nacre (mother of pearl) is made of aragonite (CaCO3) and a small amount of conchiolin, an organic albuminoid substance found in the mollusk’s outer shell. While, in the Western view, calcium carbonate is the sole active ingredient in pearl, natural products should be used whole whenever possible because of the benefits of their trace ingredients.
PEARL FACIAL TREATMENTS
Pearl is a class ingredient found in expensive complexion creams. If you are a smart shopper, you will pay much less for the same quality. The simplest Chinese pearl creams contain lanolin, mineral oil, and beeswax along with pearl powder. They may feel heavy and waxy, but I like to smooth some around my eyes at night to hold in natural moisture. It softens wrinkles. Some of the Chinese pearl creams contain ginseng, sheep placenta used as a moisturizer, or an herbal combination called Pien Tse Huang, which helps fight blemishes. Chinese made Beanne Extra Pearl creams, one to remove wrinkles and one to lighten freckles, are yellow-colored resurfacing creams with ingredients such as apple pectin for refining the skin. They can be irritating to delicate complexions and should be used sparingly and with care.
At Latin botanicas or anywhere products from Mexico and Spain are sold (including most Rite Aid pharmacies), you will find fine quality soaps and creams made with mother of pearl. The pearl’s inner shell (the nacre) contains the same excellent source of minerals as the pearl. In southern California I discovered Concha Nacar De Perlop day cream distributed by Perlop Cosmetics in Santa Monica. Its main ingredients include water, glycerine, cetyl alcohol, castor oil, oyster shell powder, beeswax, lanolin, cocoa butter, natural color and fragrance. I find it a bit sticky-sweet.
I prefer Mother of Pearl Cream with Concha Nacar made in Mexico by Grisi, which is light-weight and has a mild fragrance. In addition to mother of pearl, it contains zinc, magnesium, ascorbic acid, and calcium carbonate; mineral oil and beeswax are used as a base. Apply it as a velvety moisturizer for the whole body. Grisi also makes a Mother of Pearl soap (Jabon Madre Perla) that is very reasonably priced for a beauty bar. Aside from mother of pearl, it contains neutral soap, cold cream, lanolin and a fresh fragrance.
Chinese herbalists believe that a pearl powder facial mask tones the skin, while adding vitality to the complexion. Pearl powder has cooling, disinfectant, and balancing properties for the skin. The pack should be applied to clean, dry skin and allowed to penetrate for about ten minutes, then washed off with warm water. Do this once weekly to help refine your complexion. A convenient time may be right after a shower. The pearl powder mask will tingle and feel warm as it removes dead cells. Lie down and elevate your feet to enjoy the full benefits of facial stimulation.
To make a pearl mask:
Mix one teaspoon of pure Chinese pearl powder with the juice of one lemon, one beaten egg white, and one teaspoon of raw honey–this will nourish and moisturize aging skin.
Or, mix one teaspoon of pearl powder with sufficient extra virgin olive oil to make a paste–this will revitalize dry, dull skin.
Or, mix one teaspoon of pearl powder with sufficient whole milk to make a paste. This is also anti-aging and is said to reduce large skin pores.
I prefer not to wear makeup immediately after using a pearl mask. The skin may feel irritated or warm for a few minutes after removing the mask. Let your skin breathe for as long as possible.
If you spend much time in the sun, mix one teaspoon of pearl powder in an atomizer containing freshly brewed and strained green tea. Add a drop or two of witch hazel extract and keep the liquid in the refrigerator to preserve its freshness. This spray helps prevent sun damage because of the green tea’s high antioxidant content.
PEARL POWDER REDUCES STRESS, BLEMISHES AND ODORS
To clear and brighten complexion, Chinese herbalists recommend pills for internal use, such as “Margarite Acne Pills,” which are made of 24% pearl powder combined with antiseptic herbs such as dandelion and honeysuckle flowers. I often recommend a dandelion and honeysuckle flower tea (blood-cleansing and antibiotic) for eczema. It is made by simmering one handful of each herb in a quart of spring water for twenty minutes. One or two cups daily works as a laxative. The addition of pearl, in the form of the above pills, is cooling to the skin and quieting to nerves.
Chinese herbalists believe that taken internally on a regular basis pearl powder can quiet nervousness and reduce fear or restlessness, improve vision, and reduce a variety of inflammatory illnesses, including insomnia and hyperactivity. Pearl powder is said to “cool the blood.” That means that pearl’s anti-inflammatory action counters excess acid conditions. For treating anything from eczema and boils to high blood pressure, no traditional Chinese home would be without it.
Pearl has a remarkable range of uses. The pure powder, when taken internally along with a cleansing diet of fruits and vegetables, will help to clear and sooth irritated skin and scalp. Pearl is said to calm strong emotions and reduce unpleasant body odors. You can use it as a powder to brush your teeth, and it is safe enough to swallow. Or sprinkle the powder into shoes to absorb odor and moisture. Dosage for internal use: Mix one tiny tube of pearl powder to a dab of yogurt at bedtime.
PEARL CALCIUM AND YOUR BONES
Scientific studies from Japan, China, Denmark and the United States show that calcium carbonate from oyster shell and mother of pearl are effective in preventing and repairing bone loss. One study published by the Calcium Research Institute of Osaka, Japan (April, 1958) was a randomized, double-blind test carried out to compare the effects of oyster shell seaweed calcium (AAA Ca) and calcium carbonate versus a placebo in 58 elderly, hospitalized women. Lumbar spine and radial bone mineral density were measured at three-month intervals. The results were that oyster shell calcium appears to be effective for increasing bone mineral density in elderly subjects.
According to one study published in the December, 1988 issue of the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, titled “The Anti-aging Effect of Pearl Oyster Shell Powder,” a combination of powdered sea pearl, mother of-pearl and freshwater pearl has been shown to have tonic and anti-aging actions. Based on Chinese pharmacological studies, the positive effects of the sea pearl and mother-of-pearl powder is higher than that of freshwater pearl powder. This would indicate that the best quality of pearl powder for health and beauty originates from Japan and China, where they are highly prized.
Pearl calcium (CaCO3) is absorbed in the large intestine. Absorption is enhanced by taking vitamin D3 at the same time. Women need to consume additional calcium before and during the menstrual period, and both men and women need more of it when under stress. According to one study done in Maine, the body uses more calcium during winter’s cold, dark months. Reduced calcium can result in weakness, poor muscle tone and heart irregularities. We might feel nervous and drawn. Winter is a good time to drink orange juice (for absorption) with a dash of pearl powder. And remember, a sunny disposition makes for a beautiful person.
The traditional uses of pearl demonstrate how health and beauty are intertwined, and how body, mind, and spirit harmoniously create beauty. Improve your complexion with pearl and you will feel like smiling. Another gift of pearl, that gem born as an irritant, which takes the oyster years to create, is the knowledge that we also are precious and rare. Pearls bring the calm assurance of the sea and the gentle flow of tides.
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