Not all traditional herbal medicines are plant based. Many animal and mineral substances have been used over the centuries as medicine. Some of them are well known like tiger bone and rhino horn because of the endangered status of those animals. One popular ingredient in Asian products is the pearl. Pearls have been used for centuries in various herbal formulas for beautifying the skin. Ground pearls (or more often ground oyster shells) are added to face creams and herbal pills with the promise of beautiful skin as smooth and lustrous as a pearl.
It would be easy to dismiss this use of pearls as fancy marketing. However there are well established herbal principles that back up the use of pearls as medicine. Many skin conditions like acne, rosacea, rashes, and infections of the skin are classified as "hot" in nature. All these conditions add red color to the face which in classic herbal principles is an indication of heat in the skin. There are many herbs that help treat infection, but for fast control of heat, especially heat that is rising up into the face, substances that contain a lot of calcium are classic. Various rocks and shells that contain large amounts of calcium carbonate were traditionally used. The heavy dense nature of these substances tend to sedate the heat and anchor the emotions that also tend to be unstable under heat conditions. The self conscious situation that often accompanies skin conditions, adds emotional heat to the situation. Adding heavy anchoring rocks and minerals helps control the emotions making it easier to treat the problems in the skin.
Powdered pearls are rarely used alone. Often they are mixed with herbs with known antibiotic properties. Most herbalists also look to the diet of the patient. Some cases of "rising heat into the face" is partially a result of excess heat in the digestive system. Altering the types of food a patient eats can significantly help the herbs to clear the redness from the skin. Dietary changes also can be helpful in keeping the skin condition under control over long periods of time, so that the pearl based formulas are only needed if the condition would flair up again.
The pearl continues to be used as medicine for two important reasons. It works from a herbal perspective and it works from a marketing one. There are currently at least 8 different companies that make pearl based acne pills for the U.S. market. All these formulas use a mix of cooling anti infection type herbs with pearls to help heal the skin. These types of formulas are effective because they are not surface treatments. They target the dynamics in the body that allow the the rising heat to continue to create skin heat. Pearls are more than just an expensive pretty jewel, and the marketing people would tell you that your skin is worth it.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066