Pearls as a Traditional Chinese Medicine Ingredient
Across the world, pearls are viewed as symbols of wealth and opulence. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are not just pretty treasures to wear as jewelry, but also pearls hold a deep significance to health and well-being. They have been used throughout Asia for centuries to enhance the youthful appearance of skin as well as treat wounds.
In the Chinese pharmacopoeia, pearls are known as zhen zhu (珍珠, Margarita), which are not to be confused with the mother of pearl (zhen zhu mu, 珍珠母, Concha Margaritaferae). The mother of pearl is the glittery, multi-toned, inner shell lining of a mollusk. It is what can easily be seen on the inside of an abalone shell. The smooth and round pearl develops from the mother of pearl.
Traditionally, pearls have the ability to calm the spirit, clear the liver system, benefit the eyes, benefit the stomach, promote healing, and generate flesh. Crushed pearl powder can be ingested in the form of capsules or teas. When taken internally, pearls may calm anxiety, benefit sleep, reduce dizziness and headaches, improve vision, and calm upset stomach. The powder may also be used externally in creams, washes, or face masks to heal wounds, reduce age spots, and brighten the complexion for even skin tone and texture.[2-4]
Pearls are composed of approximately 90% calcium carbonate which is readily absorbed by the human body, particularly if it is crushed into nanoparticles. Apart from internal ingestion, pearls have been shown to be an effective component in the engineering of bone tissue for implants and bone grafts, possibly due to their high calcium content.
Pearls also contain magnesium, copper, iron, as well as amino acids including leucine, methionine, alanine, glycine, glutamic acid, and aspartic acid. These minerals and amino acids are important components of cellular health and immune function which support a pearl’s ability to act as antioxidants, reduce lipofuscin (yellow-brown pigmentation) and increase superoxide dismutase, a powerful enzymatic antioxidant.[3,7]
Other areas of research provide more specific insights into the benefits of using pearls for the skin. Topical preparations containing pearls have a moisturizing effect on the skin as well as the ability to scavenge for free-radicals and reduce the activation of tyrosinase to reduce the production of the skin’s pigment molecule melanin. Supporting the traditional usage, laboratory research has shown pearls may enhance wound healing through the stimulation of fibroblasts and the support of collagen production.[2,4]
Pearls are magnificent gifts of the sea that not only look beautiful but also provide several benefits to the human body. This ingredient is often found in luxury skincare and beauty products to brighten the skin, decrease age spots, reduce hyperpigmentation, even out the skin tone, decrease inflammation, stimulate collagen production, and fight free radicals. Patients should always talk to their healthcare practitioner if they have any questions about the use of pearl powder especially regarding reputable resources since some pearl products contain fillers such as corn starch.
- Chen JK, Chen TT, Crampton L. Chinese medical herbology and pharmacology. City of Industry, Calif.: Art of Medicine Press; 2004. https://go.gale.com/ps
- Jian-Ping D, Jun C, Yu-Fei B, et al. Effects of pearl powder extract and its fractions on fibroblast function relevant to wound repair. Pharm Biol.2010;48(2):122-127; PMID: 20645827 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20645827.
- Shao DZ, Wang CK, Hwang HJ, et al. Comparison of hydration, tyrosinase resistance, and antioxidant activation in three kinds of pearl powders. J Cosmet Sci.2010;61(2):133-145; PMID: 20447365 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20447365.
- Li YC, Chen CR, Young TH. Pearl extract enhances the migratory ability of fibroblasts in a wound healing model. Pharm Biol.2013;51(3):289-297; PMID: 23043617 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23043617.
- Chen HS, Chang JH, Wu JS. Calcium bioavailability of nanonized pearl powder for adults. J Food Sci.2008;73(9):H246-251; PMID: 19021809 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19021809.
- Yang YL, Chang CH, Huang CC, et al. Osteogenic activity of nanonized pearl powder/poly (lactide-co-glycolide) composite scaffolds for bone tissue engineering. Biomed Mater Eng.2014;24(1):979-985; PMID: 24211987 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24211987.
- Huang F-l, Parker R, Cui H. Cosmetology in Chinese medicine. Di 1 ban. ed. Beijing, China: People's Medical Publishing House; 2011.http://www.besteduchina.com/chinese_medicine_cosmetology.html
- Bensky, D., Bensky, D., Clavey, S., Gamble, A., Stöger, E., & Bensky, L. L. Chinese herbal medicine: Materia medica. Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press Inc.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071750/