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China using traditional herbal remedies as cosmetics ingredients.

GLOSSY GANODERMA is a crusty, yellowish brown fungus, the size of a football. It's been used for centuries in China as a traditional medicine to cure everything from deafness to hemorrhoids. Ancient texts call it the "elixir of life". That may be a bit over the top, but these lumpy bracket fungi are now a valuable ingredient in beauty aids, particularly aimed at Asian customers. It is one of the latest moves in an increasingly popular trend to use traditional Chinese medicines as ingredients in cosmetics products. China Nu Skin, for instance, uses ganoderma in a variety of products designed at boosting energy levels while scores of Chinese companies sell anti-aging capsules with extracts of the mushroom as their main ingredient. US cosmetics firm GreatSkin uses ganoderma in its Night-time Renewal Cream, an anti-ageing treatment. There's even a Malaysian company called Gano Excel Enterprise, which grows the fungus to make skin creams, soaps and toothpaste. Jacky Shi, public relations assistant manager for Nu Skin's China northern regional office told Soap, Perfumery & Cosmetics: "A lot of our products are made from plant extracts and they're very popular with our Chinese customers. One of our best selling products are our dietary supplements which contain glossy ganoderma ... they're really popular." And it's not just mushrooms. China has a long history of using traditional medicines, and Chinese consumers are increasingly happy to spend more on cosmetics and skin care products if they incorporate herbs. "More and more Chinese like to use cosmetics with natural ingredients," said Ma Yu, former China consultant to Sisley. "They are often more expensive than those without such additives, but it seems price is not their first priority. They think herbal cosmetics are better quality, have a better effect on their skin, and they will pay for this."

Consumers seem to agree. Take this expert: "I like my cosmetics to have natural ingredients, to be organic and made from herbs," said 30-year-old Elaine Yang, former editor of Vogue China. "People are beginning to realise that too many chemicals is bad for the skin. They are looking for more natural remedies. Even my mother, she makes her own cosmetics with fruit and plant extracts."

According to some analysts, the presence of natural herbs in cosmetics may be more attractive than laboratory-tested treatments. "China has a tradition of using natural ingredients derived from herbs such as pearl, polygonum multiflorum, and aloe, which are believed to be good for your health," said Kim Li, the manager of business development at industry consultants Frost & Sullivan China. "Thus, cosmetics products integrated with these ingredients will appeal to consumers who believe in this. And as many Chinese believe in this tradition, you can see many customers rejecting chemical based cosmetics. Therefore, there is a big chance for naturally-made cosmetics to increase their market share in the Chinese market."

One of China's best selling cosmetic brands is Herborist, owned by Shanghai Jahwa. The company, which has its own stores and sells itself as the Chinese Body Shop, makes over 100 beauty products whose main ingredients are processed local herb and plant derivatives. Gingko and seaweed are the key ingredients for a body firming lotion, while the Herborist "All-day Arousing & Moisturizing Lotion" contains two purple flowering plants--Leonuri (or Motherwort) and Rhizoma Bletillae.

It's not simply a case of add some herbs to boost sales. The Chinese consumer tends to trust local companies over overseas ones when buying products with traditional medicine derivatives.

Frost's Li said: "Herborist is well received by Chinese consumers and because Shanghai Jahwa is a local company with a deep understanding of Chinese traditions it is easy for them to gain consumer trust."

Frost's "Chinese Cosmetic Market Overview", published this November, singled out Jahwa as being one of the only domestic cosmetic companies that could compete successfully against overseas firms in China.

"There are a few local companies surviving the competition and growing stronger," the report runs. "The leading domestic cosmetic company Shanghai Jahwa United Co., who has realised steady growth in recent years, is considered to be the only local cosmetic company that can compete with multinationals."

Despite their dominant presence, however, multinationals are increasingly looking at ways to get a foot in the market of herbal cosmetics. For example, industry behemoth L'Oreal has just opened a research laboratory in Pudong, outside Shanghai, to develop products especially designed for Asian skin and hair. This will include research into Chinese medicine derivatives. Other companies are looking at sourcing Chinese ingredients to make cosmetics for worldwide sales.

Take Freeport, New York-based skin care research group AGI Dermatics. It has developed a topical anti-inflammatory called Evodiox, from fruit extract evodia rutaecarpa, which has long been used in Chinese traditional medicine as a pain reliever.

Meanwhile, Aveda the natural cosmetics company based in Blaine, Minnesota, has added green tea or the herb amellia sinensis to a line of moisturisers and hair products, such as its Full Spectrum Protective Permanent Creme Hair Color because of its anti-oxidative qualities. The tea has been used as a tonic for nearly 5,000 years, says Aveda, after the leaves fell into a Chinese emperor's cup.

Also, California-based Avalon Organics uses the tropical cananga tree to extract ylang ylang oil from its flowers for hair care products.

Widely used in China, ylang ylang contains soothing properties known to aid in healing skin problems while boosting energy levels.

In the UK, handmade cosmetics company Lush, based in Dorset, uses another China-staple, Jasmine oil from the flower of the evergreen shrub in their bath products and body creams. It is used to reduce the appearance of stretch marks and as a relaxation aid.

And American cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, incorporates Chinese medicinal products such as the rare Reishi Mushroom or 'lucky fungus', that grows wild on decaying logs in the coastal provinces of China, into skin care products; it is known for its antioxiditve properties promoting good complexion. The Chinese Wolfberry, fruit for also an antioxidant is an ingredient in the company's anti-aging creams, boosting natural collagen levels.

Given such western interest it is not surprising the Frost report adds: "Chinese herbal medicine cosmetics are considered to be the most promising in the future Chinese cosmetic market," the Frost report adds. And it's a big market with a lot of promise. According to the report China is Asia's second biggest cosmetic market, and the eighth largest in the world. In 2005, sales volume in China reached around US$12 billion, up 13% from a year earlier.

International brands make up about 80% of the market. There are more than 4,000 companies 58% of which are private local firms, 32% are multinationals and 10% are state-owned enterprises. From these figures, it seems that despite a trend towards herbal treatments, the big name cosmetic firms can rest on their reputation - at least for a while.

"Many Chinese people like to use cosmetics of an international quality," said Frost's Li. "We Chinese think international companies offer better quality than local companies do. This pursuit of a fashionable life is the main driver behind the sales of international brands in China."

And while you probably won't be seeing a new L'Oreal face cream made from a hemorrhoid-curing fungus any time soon, ancient herbs may prove to be its best remedy for keeping a hold on the Chinese market. Two thousand years of history can't be wrong.

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Author:Gardner, Dinah; Dobie, Monica; Nuthall, Keith
Publication:International News
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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