Asia Travel

The Incident With the Chinese Beauty Cream

Well, the title says it all, really.

When I’m abroad, the things I love most of all to bring home with me are ordinary, everyday products that look different and tempt me with their exotic labels and brands I’ve never heard of. Often it’s cosmetics.

So one of the times I went to China for the weekend, I ended up bringing home a girly beauty cream. It was supposed to be a firming body lotion, that much was written in English. I was younger then, and used to believe in the promises of those firming products, though in retrospect, I didn’t really need them back then. Who does in their twenties, really?

Other than the most basic product information, this is a firming body lotion, most of the text and the list of ingredients were beautifully indecipherable in Chinese letters. Again, my young self didn’t really care about lists of ingredients quite yet (I would learn my lesson!) and this actually shocks my current self, who scrutinizes mercilessly every single label when buying cosmetics, groceries and clothes.

The packaging was cute indeed: a girly pastel color, maybe pink, with a drawing of a girl sitting on a chair, one high-heeled leg over the other, spreading the lotion on her arms luxuriously, smile accentuated by her red lips. The font of the English text suited the picture.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I was at home, at the time single and living alone. It was a quiet Easter Sunday, one of the few days of the year that the town had closed its doors to business and most people were enjoying Easter dinners at home and with family.

As a student with a full time job, I was planning on just relaxing during the much needed Easter break. And so it seemed the perfect time to try on my new lotion and pamper myself a bit! It had a nice scent and I rubbed it all over my thighs and legs. Luxuriously, just like the girl in the drawing.

Five minutes later, I noticed something weird. My skin was burning! The sensation kept getting stronger and stronger, until it felt like my skin was burning from the inside out. Panic crept upon me! I took a shower and tried to wash off the lotion, but it didn’t help.

I rubbed on some unscented, basic lotion which I keep in store for those winter days when my skin gets really dry from the cold and the wind. It didn’t help either. I took another shower to wash that lotion off, too.

I pondered my options, heart beating as fast as the Chinese lotion’s effects were getting stronger. All I could think of was to go to a pharmacy, the personnel would be able to give me some advice. But it was a holiday, and I knew the only pharmacy that was open was a long tram ride away. And the trams didn’t operate that often during Easter. But I had no choice.

When I finally made it to the tram, my thighs were burning like they were on fire as I tried to sit calmly in my seat. Legs on fire! Try to look normal!

In the pharmacy, the only staff member on duty was, of course, male. He didn’t seem to understand at all why I would use a suspicious lotion with ingredients that I couldn’t identify and that might be banned in the EU for toxins.

He was being quite dramatic, really. I couldn’t bring myself to add that the packaging was really cute – and that it was, in fact, a firming lotion, not just a regular body lotion. (Maybe it was burning away fat from the inside? Possible, right?) I let him do his lecturing and concentrated on breathing.

He finally showed me which tube of cortisone to select and I was on my way.

But this is a story with a happy ending: the cortisone helped, I’m still alive, and I never bought souvenirs again with ingredients, instructions for use, or effects that I didn’t understand. Exotic is nice, but now I have some limits. Lesson learned – the hard way!

61 replies on “The Incident With the Chinese Beauty Cream”

I almost feel worse that you had to take that long tram ride on a holiday and on your day off than I do about your burning legs! (But of course I feel bad about both.) I just hate it when I do something dumb and then it eats up my whole day trying to fix it! Very good warning for others.

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So sorry for you! A friend of mine who is working in the beauty industry said some Chinese beauty product is really harmful. Unknown ingredients and there is no one hold the liability. For example, a Chinese whitening cream can make your skin perfect white instantly (well… you know, Asian women prefer an alabaster skin). But it was, in fact, high-concentrated acid. It simply peels your skin layers off! A few girls are even more obsessed with this white skin, they even inject such chemical into their body 😦

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In my 20s, I was visiting friends and made the comment that my hostess’s skin was luminous. She offered to let me try her cream. Two hours later, my face was inflamed. It stayed like that for weeks. Horrible. Cortisone helped how it felt, but not how it looked. That took time.
What were we thinking?!?

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Oh dear, glad you had no long lasting effects. I had a similar burning sensation once as well with Arnica cream that I’d bought from Boots chemist in the UK. My fault though, I hadn’t read the instructions and applied too much to a bruise at bed time and then I woke up with that same burning sensation, its was scary. Like you I had a shower and tried to rub it off. I haven’t ever used it since.

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Ooooh, this sucks so much! And he chose to lecture you before shooting you up with cortisone! 😦 I’m glad it helped. It reminded me of the time when I was stung by a wasp twice on a deserted beach in Kefalonia, about 7 km from the nearest town and we were on foot. The ugly feeling started to spread up up up and it luckily stopped before reaching my throat. And I was never allergic to anything before. I think those were some mean lonely wasps. I had some red spots all over for a while but didn’t need any help and was able to walk back after getting some rest.

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Oh, that sounds very scary!! Lucky you weren’t so badly allergic that it would’ve made your throat swell up! :O And of course you were on foot…!!! Did one of the stings hit you on the foot too? Luckily these days most areas have cell phone coverage… except the mountains and stuff… I’ve always wondered what would happen on a mountain hike if you sprained your ankle so bad you couldn’t walk?

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Both stings were to my upper thigh. I sat on the wasp, and I think it was the same stupid wasp that doesn’t know how to get out of the way both times. 😀 For some reason my first reaction was to go into the sea and rub a rock on the spot of the sting. It might have made it worse. I was not stung by anything after this (it was about 10 years ago). (Knock on wood. Knock on wood. Knock on wood.)

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I never did find out what it was and I don’t have a photo of the bottle or anything to go by. I don’t think it was a bleaching cream but maybe it could’ve been – with a bad English translation on it? Those whitening creams are scary, by the way!

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Ooh, as it is funny, it is also sad. Good it is an old story! I like getting exotic things too, but never those I put on my skin! Very critical about it. I like a little mirror or a box I will use that can remind me of a place. Or a beauty product from a famous brand, and the one I usually use – just that I buy it in Spain and that adds sweet memories 🙂

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Oh No! this one is messy.
I wouldn’t try anything on my skin that I am not totally aware of. It’s always tempting especially if it comes with an affordable price.The market nowadays is full of fake and imitations for the branded ones which totally compromises the quality.
Glad that you’ve been quick to get rid of it.

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Noooooo how terrible, how good though that you could finally get rid of the burning sensation! (with all the fat inside, please!!! ahahaha)
anyway, nowadays, I know you check everything twice rather than go through this again, but eventually, you’ll even love more making your OWN body lotion! and it happens that I have a delicious recipe (given freely by Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers – my mentor when it comes to zero waste living):

hope you like it when you make it and try it on! 😉

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Wow, sorry to hear this – that’s a very scary experience – you were very lucky it wasn’t more serious. The same thing can happen at home with trusted products ( like when I tried an aloe vera lotion and had a burning reaction).

Similar things have happened to people buying unknown herbs/teas and food ingredients abroad that have turned out to be toxic to human health, sometimes fatal.

Thank goodness the pharmacist was able to offer something – I guess going to casualty would also be a good idea for anyone else finding themselves in this situation in future.

Thanks for sharing this, it’s a a good reminder to us all to be wary and cautious.

Cherryl 💛

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Did you ever get to know what was inside that lotion?
We had a similar-ish situation some time ago, when my missus and I went to Japan. She was hunting down matcha tea, and bought s bagful of small sachets that seemed matcha, for they were green (yeah, brilliant thinking). So, once home she tried it, found it not to be matcha at all, and left them. I started growing fond of it, for it tasted like a soup, and kept having them at lunch.
One day I found a Japanese guy at my office (working for another company) and asked him to translate what this mysterious thing was. Turned out To be Kombu algae, which apparently is quite a thing in Hokkaido. The only problem was that, it’s very healthy under every point of view but salt intake; by having six a week I was chugging down about 300% of my salt requirement…

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Hahah! Sorry but I had to laugh! It does sound sort of similar. I feel like saying you were brave for going ahead and using it, but then I did the exact same thing and only feel stupid about it 😉😄 Well, at least you know now… and you probably can’t get hooked on them if they aren’t easy to find at home… and think of the other health benefits you gained, minus the salt… ! ☺

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Yikes! I have to be very careful too with those types of products. A few years ago I broke out in tiny blisters which started on my feet and went all the way up to my knees. They itched like crazy, so that I ended up having to take prednisone. The blisters lasted for about two weeks, and even the doctor couldn’t figure out what caused them. Fortunately those blisters never returned. But I still would love to know what caused the reaction.
Good thing your Chinese Beauty Story had a happy ending! 😊

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Hahah, yes luckily there was a happy ending! Your blisters sound miserable, too, luckily they didn’t come back! The blisters could have been an allergic reaction to almost anything, I guess… in food, clothes, washing powder… or a combination… it must’ve been impossible to narrow down

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Omg what a situation you had! That must have been really painful at the time, especially with it being on a holiday. I wonder what the ingredient was that it caused such pain and whether the Chinese women really use such thing! 😀 Anyway, I am sure you learned a good lesson 🙂 My most favorite souvenirs from abroad are fridge magnets and sometimes accessories.

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