Top 10 weirdest Chinese beauty tips to spruce up your New Year: The SinoFile

A few lessons on grooming from the 1.3 billion people-strong charm school that is the People's Republic.

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4. Guilingao and black sesame – for raven-black locks

Guilingao (龟苓膏)is a black Chinese jello made of herbs and powdered turtle shell. Sometimes it's sweetened, but I've also had it bitter, drenched in syrup.

Efficacy: Friends swear by this. I haven't eaten enough guilingao or black sesame to know. My instinct is to call it bs. 

Still, this tip illustrates how black hair and white skin are part of a long-running Chinese ideal of beauty – definitely manifest in Audrey Hepburn, the Western exception. 

Which brings me to:

5. Skin whitening creams

When I first arrived in China, I bought a new face wash, and magically turned a whiter shade of pale. The skin whitening agents weren't advertised on the bottle, as if to say, who wouldn't want to look like this?

Not I, said the ghost.

Chinese girly girls often like to carry umbrellas or parasols in sunny weather. I have never tanned, but I learned to stay out of the sun and feel less conscious of my pallor than I had in my youth in Los Angeles.

6. For the gents: Rogaine isn't just for the top of the head.

Of the hand full of men I met with full, kinky beards in Beijing, most confessed to spreading a little Rogaine on a few non-traditional spots (on their faces). These men invariably said facial hair is 男人 (nanren, manly).

Disclaimer: Don't know how harmful this may be to your skin and overall health. Consult another know-it-all.

7. Eat less

First of all, don't do this unless you want to. Second of all, obesity in China is on the rise.

A lot of people told me to eat less. I can still feel the embarrassment of those moments. But I learned to enjoy that too. I learned to feel that people were telling me to eat less, because they understood that thin people are more successful in Chinese society – that they are taken more seriously. That's of course, true not only for Chinese people.

It came from a place of caring. Mostly.

In short, I was hungry and insecure in China – a lot. I still am. For me, China happened like a terminal eating disorder.

8. Pearl powder-based acne medication

I was a pizza face through high school and into my college/ grad school days. Then I started taking pearl powder-based Chinese medication. 

I felt I had tried every over-the-counter acne face wash. I went to a dermatologist. I tried antibiotic ointments. I was on antibiotic pills for years. Nothing worked.

And it was a painful kind of acne.

These pills were helpful for me and my skin type. Talk to your doctor and look at consumer reports before you chose a pill – various Chinese medicines are called off the market for traces of lead. I realize I'm taking a gamble to maintain the kind of vanity I learned in China.

9. Chinese women age well because of... Royal jelly

Royal jelly is a bitter secretion fed to the queens of bee colonies. 

My friends drink it in their tea in the morning to prevent their skin from aging, as do their mothers. One friend says it helps her poop (see 8).

Beware: Some people have bad allergic reactions. Consult a doctor. 

BUT my friend's mother lived through food shortages and the Cultural Revolution and still looks decades younger than she really is, and she swears by this stuff. Although she's definitely not above cosmetic surgery.

10. Pooping and sleeping

A recurring theme of these beauty tips: Pooping and sleeping. The various ways our bodies get rid of toxins.

These two principles inform a lifestyle many of my Chinese friends adopt in everything they do – from orienting their social schedules to the kind of vegetables they consume at the dinner table.


Pick and choose from these tips to make this Chinese New Year a beautiful one.

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