Ten traditional Chinese beauty lifesavers

Head to your local Chinese supermarket for some old-fashioned health and beauty essentials

Traditional Chinese Medicine can divide opinion, but for the times when you're not on death's door and just want a quick, old school pick-me-up, these classic Chinese tonics will have you looking and feeling rosy in no time. Head to your local supermarket, pharmacy or online to stock up on these tried and trusted Chinese remedies.
Bawang shampoo
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Bawang shampoo

Founded in 1928, the Jackie Chang-fronted Bawang has weathered recent product safety woes – a 2010 report exposed traces of a carcinogenic chemical in its anti-hair loss product (later cleared as 'safe amounts' by the state food and drug administration) – to remain a bestseller in China. This anti-dandruff shampoo, with TCM extracts including honey locust, hairy euphorbia and lemongrass is like a gentler herbal version of Head & Shoulders. 17.30RMB. Walmart.

Bee & Flower soap
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Bee & Flower soap

Made by an old Shanghai cosmetic brand that has since branched out into haircare, these cute little soaps are so popular they’ve crossed the globe to America and South Africa. Much of the appeal is down to the old-school patterned packaging and nostalgic scents (rose, ginseng, jasmine and sandalwood) but its allergen-free formula also makes it good for sensitive skin. The overall effect can be a touch drying, so it’s best kept for the hands. 4.90RMB. Most supermarkets.

Dragon & Tiger balm
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Dragon & Tiger balm

The Chinese equivalent of Tiger Balm boasts a fifty-year pedigree and comes in 'cold' white and 'hot' red varieties, which differ in their proportions of sinus-blasting oils including menthol, camphor, peppermint, eucalyptus, clove and camphor. The former is especially good as a headache cure if you massage a bit on your temples (keep it away from your eyes) but both are touted as magical cure-alls for seasickness, lethargy, insect bites and blocked noses. 10RMB. Local pharmacies.

Friendship vanishing cream
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Friendship vanishing cream

Nigh-on impossible to find in physical stores around town, Friendship’s vanishing cream is like the Nivea Crème of Beijing. Though out of fashion with the younger generation, we love its light, natural scent, non-greasy texture, and lack of whitening agents. It’s meant for the face, but at this price you can slather it over your whole body. The retro ceramic pot looks great on the shelf, while they also do a version in a metal tin for on-the-go moisturising. 9.90RMB. bit.ly/friendshipcream

Golden Throat lozenges
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Golden Throat lozenges

Despite the dodgy logo of a middle-aged Chinese man sporting an impressive comb-over, these fruit-and-herb cough drops are actually pretty palatable compared to most noxious-tasting TCM preparations. Unlike Western brands such as Strepsils they don’t contain any local anaesthetic so can’t completely kill the pain of a sore throat, but are nonetheless soothing for tickly, irritating coughs arising from a cold or pollution. 9.90RMB. Most pharmacies and convenience stores.

King Drink hangover cure
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King Drink hangover cure

Kudzu vine extract, which offers 'protective effects against chemical-induced liver injury' is the wonder ingredient in this perennially popular hangover cure. Two pills taken in advance of a boozing session (with two to follow a particularly heavy night on the tiles) is supposed to ward off a fuzzy head and prevent pesky blackouts. Local pharmacists will often recommend combining it with 800mg of vitamin B complex for optimum results. 49.80RMB. Local pharmacies.

Liu Shen flower water
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Liu Shen flower water

Walk into most Beijing supermarkets during the summer months and you’ll find rows of 'Six Gods' floral water in its distinctive green glass bottle. Exactly what goes into the mix is a closely guarded secret, but key ingredients include honeysuckle, menthol and musk. Having started life in the 1900s as a luxury eau de toilette, it’s morphed into a multipurpose summer stalwart: use as a cooling skin tonic, deodorant, insect repellent and a bite reliever or add a slug to your washing machine cycle to freshen up clothes. 9.90RMB. Most supermarkets.

Ma Pai 'Horse Oil' salve
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Ma Pai 'Horse Oil' salve

This dirt-cheap, multi-purpose salve is credited to a German chemist based in 1930s Qingdao, where it’s still produced. The solid white cream comes in a handy Chapstick-sized tube and is billed as a year-round saviour, tackling dry hands and chapped lips in the winter while acting as a sunblock of sorts during the hotter months. Despite the name and logo, there’s thankfully no mention of any equine derivative in the ingredients list, only natural mineral oils and marine extracts. 1RMB. bit.ly/horseoilcream

Red Flower oil
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Red Flower oil

With an ingredients list that reads like something from Game of Thrones – 'dragon’s blood' (actually a tree resin) and 'oil of wintergreen' – this bright red tincture is particularly good for minor sports injuries when combined with a shoulder or foot rub (your local massage place should have a bottle on hand). It works like a smellier version of Deep Heat thanks to the addition of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chillies their burn. 11.80RMB. Local pharmacies.

Xiefuchun 'Duck Egg' face powder
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Xiefuchun 'Duck Egg' face powder

One of China’s oldest beauty brands, Xiefuchun’s 180-year history stretches all the way back to the Qing dynasty, yet the trio of products on which the brand made its name – face powder, hair oil and solid incense perfume – aren’t just for grannies. Taking its name from the ovoid shape rather than any duck-derived ingredients, this delicately scented face powder is worth buying for the gorgeous packaging alone. 78RMB. www.aliexpress.com

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