21 Hidden Beauty Gems You Can Find In Chinatown

Decoding Asia's cult-beauty obsessions has become a major American pastime as of late. The makeup and skin-care tips, tricks, and secrets uncovered in Japan, South Korea, and China have often become the next big thing here. And, while it may seem like we are diametrically opposite in terms of our own beauty regimens, if you’ve found yourself spending some extra time on your skin in recent years, it’s likely because of what’s happening overseas. In those countries, a traditional regimen of as many as 10 products at once is not considered a luxury — it's more of a right, and a fun one at that!

Sure, our minds (and makeup cases) might already be filled with K-beauty sheet masks and Shiseido cleansing oils, but they're probably lacking in Chinese products, the hidden gems of the Asian beauty market. Even though they haven't garnered as much buzz as their Korean and Japanese counterparts, Chinese goods are equally effective and totally satisfying.

With tons of research and sleuthing (and a little help from NYC-based Chinese beauty entrepreneurs Ling Chan and Wei Young Brian), we uncovered our very own Eastern beauty mecca just off Canal Street. So, what better than to provide you with a roadmap to discovery — one that gives the skinny on the best Chinatown beauty spots to shop at, and exactly what items to buy at each.

Forget your favorite French pharmacy. The Chinese version is now where it's at.
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Photo: Courtesy of Herborist.
This second-floor beauty cave on Mott Street is a best-kept secret for editors in the know who load up from its cleverly curated shelves.

There’s Chinese brand Herborist, which hits all the right notes with its medicinal-grade products. Try the Balancing Facial Wash, which gives good lather (among the goals of Chinese skin-care products, foaming is paramount) and is rich in prized, anti-aging lily extract.

In what we know may be a counterintuitive move for summer, we’ve been using the White Pearl creams, facial moisturizers made of fine pearl powder that apparently makes skin smoother than a baby’s and brightens it. Or, try the deliciously named Watermelon Frost, the best attack on pimples and cold sores ever. We promise you’ll never leave this place empty-handed.

oo35mm, 81 Mott Street (between Canal and Bayard streets); 718-496-8163.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tiger Balm.
Kamwo Meridian Herbs
This Grand Street mainstay is Chinese-drugstore heaven. Want Vogue modeling stalwart Fei Fei Sun’s glowing complexion? Then plunder the shelves for red dried dates (Da Zhao) — which reportedly increase blood circulation and iron levels by helping to produce more red blood cells — and goji berries (Gou Qi Zi), little sweet-tasting red fruits that can be added to your breakfast bowl or cup of tea; they're skin-perfecting miracle workers filled with carotenoids, which can help prevent fine lines and wrinkles.

The best news about Kamwo is that many of the products are inexpensive. There’s the cult Tiger Balm, a topical ointment for joint and muscle pain (if you’re like us, though, you’re partial to just inhaling the vaporous camphor, menthol, clove, and cajeput oil aromas). We’ve been told it’s brilliant at alleviating the itch from mosquito bites, too. Along the same lines, stock up on White Flower Oil, a clever remedy for clearing sinus infections, headaches, and pesky insect bites. You may even be able to find crushed peach blossoms (if they’re in season) to paint on nails, as they do in China for the New Year. Summer, we’re ready for ya!

Kamwo Meridian Herbs, 211 Grand Street (between Mott and Elizabeth streets); 212-966-6370.
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Photo: Courtesy of New Kam Man.
New Kam Man
Most people go to this multilevel Chinatown mart (it's a bedrock of New York’s Chinese expat community) for the dim sum, fish, and fresh fruits, but in recent years, the basement of New Kam Man has become a real-life version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and a beauty junkie’s heaven.

Stock up on Pu’erh, premium loose-leaf teas produced in the Yunnan province that you can drink to cleanse and detoxify the body as well as use topically as a facial toner; My Beauty Diary's Natto black-and-white, pearl-infused sheet masks; and a real Chinese delicacy, a Bird’s Nest Face Mask. The nests are constructed using swallows' spit, which is reportedly high in protein and believed to strengthen the skin's elasticity and relieve dryness.

New Kam Man, 200 Canal Street (between Mulberry and Mott streets); 212-571-0330.
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Photo: Courtesy of Wei.
Wei Beauty
Wei Young Brian, founder of Wei Beauty, a skin-care line influenced by Chinese medicine, has been devoting herself to bringing you products you didn't know you needed.

“Asian beauty is traditionally focused on skin care, which is deeply rooted in Chinese culture," says Wei. "For over 5,000 years, Chinese herbalists have used special tinctures, tonics, and elixirs that were prepared specifically using the approach of inner health for outer beauty. I think culturally, here in the West, we are seeing a conscious shift in the way we treat our skin."

Take her cult Multi Mask Multi Task Collection, for example, which includes a mud mask infused with powerful golden root extract, a Chinese clay base, and angelica sinensis to not just stimulate the skin’s healing mechanism but also move qi around.

There’s also a decidedly Chinese gadget, the Cool2Hot Sonic Beautifier, a nifty device with two hot and cold settings that will liquify your serums and creams for better penetration.

“This is the way it has always been in the East, and I think as women in America are becoming more educated on skin health, we will continue to see more influence like this in our everyday skin routines,” she says. We can’t wait.

Wei Beauty, available at Space.NK.Apothecary, 504 Broadway (between Broome and Spring streets); 212-729-5144.
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Photo: Courtesy of Swanson.
Lin Sister Herb Shop
Don’t let the name fool you. Yes, you can stock up on herbs and some interesting roots like Head Black (Ho-Shou-Wu), which, like it sounds, is meant to keep black hair black, or Lonicera japonica, which can relieve acne. But, we’ve found this shop is also a great place to come for a quick tuning. Get your pulses, eyes, and tongue checked, and within ten minutes you’ve got an accurate picture of what’s ailing you. Then, you'll be given a prescription of Chinese herbs for a tea you'll make and drink for the next ten days.

FYI: Ask for Patrick. His English is impeccable, he’ll school you on precious medicinal herbs like Cordyceps (which companies like L'Oréal have used in skin serums), and he’ll help you navigate the complexities of herb brewing.

Lin Sister Herb Shop, 4 Bowery (between Doyers and Pell streets); 212-962-5417.
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Photo: Courtesy of Pearl River Mart.
Pearl River Mart
The Chinese-American department store became an instant success when it opened its doors in New York City 25 years ago. Back then, there was no direct trade between China and the U.S. due to tense Cold War politics, and Peal River brought a little slice of the Eastern world to downtown Manhattan.

Step into the magical, sprawling Broadway location to find some serious goodies, like Shanghai Sulfur Soap, meant to clear pores and combat acne; Beijing Royal Jelly, a natural supplement that increases collagen production (and is fed to the queen of the bees); and Mermaid Brand Talcum Powder, the secret to the softest skin, ever. Bonus: Martha Stewart recommends using the leftover talcum-powder tin as a vintage-inspired vase.

Head fast to this old New York staple, though: Last month, the owner announced that the original location will be closing (although no concrete date has been set). Promises for a continued e-commerce site and another NYC store have been made — thank goodness!

Pearl River Mart, 477 Broadway (between Broome and Grand streets); 800-878-2466.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ling Skincare.
Ling Skincare
We know that many Asian women don’t like to tan, but surely, staying out of the sun can’t be the only reason for such smooth, even-toned complexions.

"Chinese women are taught from a young age how to take care of their skin properly with monthly facials," says Ling Chan, Chinese-skin-care specialist, celebrity facialist, and founder of the self-titled Ling Skincare line. "Every 28 days, women will have pore-to-pore extractions, which is the key to having products penetrate into the skin to treat concerns. They’re an Asian beauty ritual."

How can we re-create the magic here in New York? Treat skin ailments before they arise. Chan’s latest product range, Sol Collection, takes this approach. The feeLING Beautiful Rice Soap, a color-changing soap made from ground red rice, takes the guesswork out of routine washing, and the formula (which includes an extra dose of rice oil) sloughs away everyday impurities before they build up.

If you're coming to Ling for a facial or body treatment, you'll receive a pre-regimen cup of ginseng tea, "a traditional Chinese medicine at the root of health in Asian cultures,” she explains. It's also used for increasing qi, the life force that travels through our bodies, and can best be described as a sort of energy superhighway.

Looking to chase away some "bad" qi? Buy a jade roller, made of the prized stone revered in Chinese dynastical culture since 4,700 BCE. According to Chan, "The polished, smooth jade gives a cool, soothing effect, increases blood circulation, and diminishes the appearance of fine lines."

Editor's note: You'll need to travel north of Chinatown to score Ling's products. Trust us; it's worth the walk.

Ling Skincare At Union Square, 12 East 16th Street; 212-989-8833.

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