Last Thursday I found myself sitting at a bar at 11 am, listening intently as a man my dad’s age gave me beauty tips. Okay, relax: At this watering hole, legendary Los Angeles health food emporium and elixir bar Dragon Herbs, the strongest thing on the menu is adaptogen-infused coffee. And its founder wasn’t critiquing my frown lines or anything—in fact, I was taking notes on what he was saying, as Ron Teeguarden is someone who’s devoted his entire adult life to studying Chinese tonic herbs. If you’ve ever been to the tonic bar at one of SoCal’s Instagram-famous Erewhon Markets, you’ve experienced his work before. All of the drinks there are made with ingredients from Dragon Herbs.
“You have to nurture beauty from the inside,” Teeguarden told me. I nodded knowingly and took a sip of my Snow Lotus Bliss tea, the drink that sparked this conversation in the first place—as I mentioned to my host, I chose it because the menu said it had “purifying and beautifying properties.” Teeguarden went on to tell me that many other Chinese tonic herbs are also known to give good skin, too, and have been used that way for centuries. In other words, Moon Juice’s Beauty Dust definitely wasn’t the first adaptogenic concoction to promise a glowier complexion, although it’s quite possibly the best-known in wellness circles.
Intrigued, I asked Teeguarden to recommend a few skin-enhancing ingredients that I could throw into my morning smoothies, or at least look out for on ingredient lists when an ingestible beauty product crosses my desk. Because honestly, I’ll take something edible over a 10-step skin care routine any day.
According to Teeguarden, schisandra is the most iconic beauty tonic ingredient in China. “It’s famous for giving great texture to the skin,” he says. How? Well, as Teeguarden puts it, this powerhouse berry is thought to help the liver bind and eliminate toxins from the body, which may be why it’s known as a longevity-promoting herb. Studies show that it also has a protective effect on our body’s mitochondria, which have been associated with skin aging. That said, more research needs to be done to confirm this. You can get it as a stand-alone powder, but it’s also present in a lot of supplement blends and beauty foods right now—Moon Juice Night Beauty ($65), for one.
2. Pearl Powder
This is another beauty booster with ancient roots—Cleopatra was rumored to have used it in her beauty routine, as did the famously glowy Empress Cixi of China. But pearl is experiencing a revival today, thanks to its purported skin health benefits. “Pearl contains a protein called conchiolin that makes your skin radiate and look super healthy,” says Teeguarden, who notes that it’s thought to promote collagen production and help reduce the appearance of dark spots. “It’s a powerful antioxidant—in China, I would say probably every actress uses pearl in some part of their regimen.” Although there haven’t been a ton of studies on pearl’s complexion-enhancing capabilities, that hasn’t stopped it from popping up in topical skin care products, like Tatcha The Rice Polish ($65) and La Mer The Cleansing Foam ($95). You can also buy ingestible pearl powder from places like Dragon Herbs ($29), which can be used to upgrade your coffee or smoothies.
3. Goji Berry
Goji berries—aka the “main longevity herb of Chinese tonic herbalism,” per Teeguarden—have been getting a lot of buzz over the last decade or so as a nutritional powerhouse. And it turns out that this might just be a win for your skin. One study found that mice who consumed goji berry juice experienced less skin inflammation after UV exposure, while further research shows broader anti-aging capabilities. That said, there’s a serious lack of rigorous human studies on goji’s supposed skin benefits. But there’s no denying that they’re super-high in antioxidants and other nutrients, including skin-care heroes such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Plus, Dragon Herbs’ “snack-grade” gojis ($13) kind of taste like candy, so I will be scarfing them down in bulk for the foreseeable future—and if my skin looks healthier as a result, all the better.
In other international beauty news, Iceland’s also got some traditions that are worth reading up on. And here are the global skin-care products that one editor is loving right now.
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