With new products, brands, and categories popping up every day, beauty can be a bit overwhelming. Back to Basics is our rudimentary beauty series that serves as your crash course on the science behind some of the best formulations in the game.
The skin care industry is certainly no stranger to infusing its formulas with a variety of luxurious ingredients, including precious and semi-precious metals like gold and colloidal silver, as well as gemstones most commonly used for adorning the ears, neck, and fingers, like diamonds. However, of all the metals and stones you can slather on your face, the semi-precious gem you definitely shouldn’t overlook is pearl for your skin.
Used for centuries in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda — and even rumored to have been a favorite of Cleopatra — pearls, when broken down into a powder or extract, are brimming with ingredients that not only nourish the skin but the body as a whole.
To start, they are extracted from inside of oyster and mussel shells and contain high concentrations of calcium carbonate, amino acids, and trace minerals — all of which can do wonders for the skin, which is why they’ve been lauded as a potent ingredient for improving the overall health of the skin since ancient times. “In traditional East Asian medicine, topical pearl is known to promote healing of the skin and ‘generate flesh,’ according to our herbal pharmacopeia, meaning it can help with scarring, acne, or filling in fine lines,” says Giselle Wasfie, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and founder of Remix Lifestyle. “It’s been known to stimulate the skin to produce collagen and encourage cell turnover, which leaves you fresh, bright, and rejuvenated.”
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman explains that pearl’s high levels of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are what contribute to its collagen-boosting abilities — as well as its cell-repairing and skin barrier-strengthening benefits. But the perks don’t stop there: “Packed with important minerals like magnesium and calcium, pearl supports hydration and skin regeneration, balances oil production, and improves cell turnover,” she says. “Pearl can also improve skin’s appearance by calming redness and minimizing inflammation. Further, crushed pearl gently buffs away dead skin cells and buildup to leave behind more radiant, healthy skin.”
Additionally, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung considers topical pearl an effective treatment for targeting pigmentation concerns, such as dark spots and hyperpigmentation. What’s more, she explains that the trace minerals found in pearl powder act as cofactors to antioxidants, helping to scavenge skin-damaging free radicals. Mother of pearl is also used as a topical and ingestible ingredient in both Chinese medicine and modern skin care. While it’s derived from a different part of the mollusk than pearl, Dr. Engelman notes that it still produces similar benefits, from healing the skin to supporting a healthy barrier. (Wasfie says that pearl will be clearly listed as Zhen Zhu and mother of pearl as Zhen Zhu Mu).
In short? Pearl is a jack of all trades that can address concerns with skin texture, tone, and firmness, all while helping to maintain an overall more radiant, healthy-looking complexion.
How To Use Pearl Products Effectively
Dr. Engelman first suggests identifying your skin type and particular needs and then tailoring your product selection and routine accordingly. “For example, if your skin is prone to redness, you may want to apply a calming pearl-infused mask once per week or choose a daily moisturizer that contains pearl to soothe skin and leave it brighter,” she says. “Dull skin may benefit from a gentle exfoliant that contains pearl to remove buildup and reveal luminous skin.”
As an alternative to pearl-infused skin care products, Dr. Cheung says that you can create your own pearl-powered concoction by adding an ingestible pearl powder into your existing products. “Simply mix into a facial oil to create a mask,” she says. “You’ll want to emulsify the powder, so try mixing one part powder to two parts oil and adjust accordingly. You can add pearl powder to almost any topical product, but avoid mixing with any acids because high acidity will dissolve pearls.” Another one of Dr. Cheung’s tips? Try adding a sprinkle to your favorite foundation to create a luminous finish.
While the list of pearl’s topical benefits is lengthy, it’s actually most popularly used as an ingestible supplement — and, again, has been for centuries, particularly in Chinese medicine. “Internally, pearl is known in Chinese medicine as a heart, liver, and brain tonic,” says Dr. Janine Mahon, a doctor of Chinese medicine and founder of her eponymous wellness brand. “These systems include far more than the organs themselves, but represent specific patterns in the body that play unique and interconnected roles influencing how we function as a whole.” She explains that when these systems are out of balance, you can experience headaches, insomnia, tinnitus, anxiety, and confusion. “The cooling attribute of pearl confidently moves through our body and anchors one back down into a cool, calm, and collected state of being,” she says, adding that ingestible pearl boosts the body’s overall antioxidant levels, especially the super antioxidant glutathione.
Who Is A Good Candidate For Pearl Skin Care?
In general, pearl is suitable for all skin types and tones — and can benefit them in different ways. “If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you can use pearl to balance sebum production and reduce breakouts,” says Dr. Engelman. “If you have dry or dull skin, pearl is great for removing dead cell buildup, improving hydration, and making the skin appear smoother and more luminous.” The only situation in which she recommends avoiding it, in both topical and ingestible form, is if you have a calcium allergy, as the high calcium content of pearl may trigger a reaction.
Overall, unless you have an allergy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider adding this lustrous organic material into your routine. As Wasfie says, “It’s a natural and beneficial ingredient that’s gentle and potent; calming and refreshing like the sea itself.”
Curious about trying the all-encompassing skin-improving prowess of pearl for yourself? Ahead, seven pearl-powered products to incorporate into your routine, from cleansers and moisturizers to pure powders.
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