Cultured Youth – The Use of Pearls in Cosmetics

by Cara Woudenberd – © Colored Stone – 2005

For centuries, mankind has been devising ways to improve upon beauty – to extend the benefits of youth and suspend the evidence of time.

Recent efforts to do this have focused on cosmetic surgery, injections, laser treatments, implants, and other medical procedures. But for those who want to avoid “the knife” or expensive treatments, the cosmetics industry is constantly developing more sophisticated age-defying creams and potions.

There are many different varieties of creams and lotions available. Some use all-natural ingredients, like fruit and plant extracts or even mud. Many combine antioxidants, acids, and oils in an attempt to offer wrinkle relief that mimics Botox injections. Now, cosmetics companies are seeking the fountain of youth in an unexpected source – pearl.

The nacre of a pearl-producing oyster, whether found in pearls themselves or in the oyster’s shell, contains the same essential amino acids that heal and maintain cells in the human body. Deficiency of any one of these key amino acids can cause skin to look coarse and wrinkled. Researchers who have worked to develop skin creams based on nacre claim that various components of pearl can stimulate the metabolic activities of the genetic material in a cell – the DNA and RNA – and thus can promote and accelerate cell renewal.

Independently, two different companies in the gem and jewelry industry have entered the cosmetics market with high-end skin care products using mother-of-pearl as an active ingredient.

Mother-of-pearl – also called nacre – is produced by certain species of oyster to line the inside of their shells, preventing irritation from the rough outer shell and helping to protect against parasites. It is so named because when an irritant gets inside of a shell, the oyster protects itself by coating the irritant with the same material as its lining, creating a pearl.

Mother-of-pearl is composed of alternating layers of conchiolin and calcium carbonate crystals in the form of aragonite. Conchiolin is one of a category of proteins called keratin; other types of keratin are major components of hair, skin, and horn of all vertebrates.

Robert Wan Tahiti , the largest single producer of Tahitian cultured pearls, markets an anti-aging skin care line called Marutea (originally marketed as Aqua Perla), made from mother-of-pearl taken from the species of oyster that produces black pearls, Pinctada margaritifera .

The main ingredient of the Marutea skin care line is a mixture of active proteins found in nacre. Like human tissue, nacre stores in its mineral-based organic structure a variety of bioactive molecules. These molecules contain proteins that have been proven to have beneficial effects on the skin: reduce wrinkles and firm, tone, and illuminate.

The technology used in the Marutea line – their method of extracting proteins from mother-of-pearl – is patented through the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) and the National Natural History Museum (MNHN). The process was developed based on experience gained from research into joint and bone therapy by Evelyne Lopez, a professor at the MNHN in France.

“I did research along these lines before, [for] other cosmetics lines,” says Lopez. For more than 10 years, she has been studying mother-of-pearl and its effects on skin, bones, joints, and cartilage. During this research, she discovered molecules in the mother-of-pearl that act to rejuvenate the skin, and the Marutea line was born.

Although still in the early stages, the research continues on mother-of-pearl and its possible medical applications.

“We are definitely continuing the research applied to repair bones and joints. The first outcomes should arrive within a couple of years,” says Emmanuéle Notari of the cosmetics division of Robert Wan Tahiti. In the meantime, the collaboration between Lopez and Robert Wan Tahiti to advance skin care continues. “We are now working on additional skin care lines, still using the mother-of-pearl, but in different forms. . . . The first, to be released in early 2006, will be a spa line,” adds Notari.

A second anti-aging skin cream, based on similar principles, was introduced jointly by pearl giant Golay and Helena Rubinstein , an international cosmetics and skin care brand that is part of the L’Oréal group.

The inspiration for the product, Life Pearl, was the science behind pearl farming: the process of creating a pearl. Life Pearl’s catalyst is micronized pearl powder – that is, nacre crushed to powder only a few microns wide, small enough to be absorbed directly into a cell. Representatives for Helena Rubinstein claim that the pearl powder strengthens the internal structure of the cells responsible for skin nutrition and density.

Like Lopez, researchers at Helena Rubinstein have found that the unique biological properties of nacre are also compatible with complex tissues such as tooth and bone, which can be useful in surgery, bone grafts, and bone repair.

Although at one time offered in North America, the Helena Rubinstein brand is currently marketed in Asia, Europe, and South America, with plans to return to the North American market in the future.

Likewise, the Marutea line is currently marketed in several European countries, as well as Hong Kong and French Polynesia. The company is in the prospective phase for additional European, Middle Eastern, and Pacific countries, and expects to market Marutea in North America by the second half of 2006.

While these pearl products are relatively new to the gem industry, using pearls in skin care is not a new idea. Many modern cosmetics already include mother-of-pearl powder – also known as conchiolin powder – as an ingredient.

For centuries, Asian women have used powder made from crushed freshwater pearls in an effort to maintain their youthful appearance. Royal inhabitants of the Chinese Imperial Palace swore by the miraculous rejuvenating effects of pearl powder, which they used for healing, skin brightening, wrinkle prevention, and sun protection. The last Empress Dowager of China during the Qing Dynasty not only used pearl powder on her face, but she ingested it daily. She and other women of the time found that it improved their complexion, softened their skin, and gave them a more youthful appearance. The Empress Dowager was famous for her beauty and her childlike skin even at the age of 74.

Pearl powder is recorded as a medicine in the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China, a national code of standards for the quality of drugs that serves as a regulatory basis in drug production, distribution, application, and management. It has been widely used by doctors and herbalists who practice traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). According to the July 2000 issue of Nutrition Science News , “Doctors who practice TCM believe the calcium and other valuable minerals and amino acids from pearl powder can also be absorbed through the skin. They have found pearl powder, applied externally, speeds the skin’s natural metabolism to tone and rejuvenate complexion, heal blemishes, minimize large pores and reduce redness. A pearl facial pack is said to rejuvenate dry, dull skin.”

In studies conducted at the Institute of Endocrinology at Zhejing Medical University in China, powdered sea pearl, mother-of-pearl, and freshwater pearl demonstrated systemic anti-aging and tonic actions. Other clinical studies in Japan and France have shown pearl powder to increase bone density and even aid in bone formation.

Although natural pearls were traditionally used in making pearl powder, the lack of supply and the high cost of natural pearls resulted in the need for an alternative. Cultured pearls are not considered to be of the same medicinal quality as natural pearls, so Chinese technicians began to hydrolyze pearls – that is, to break their protein molecules down into their component parts. Users say the resulting amino acids are easier for cells to absorb and therefore more effective.

Modern skin care companies – many of which specialize in herbal remedies – combine hydrolyzed pearl powder with herbal ingredients like green tea, gingko, and other extracts, as well as vitamins A, C, and E. This combination is used in creams and brightening lotions intended to rejuvenate dull, dry skin; reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles; smooth and firm skin; regulate discoloration and scarring; and even reduce blemishes.

Does it work? Despite the mountains of anecdotal evidence – and the long history behind it – there’s no proof that such cosmetics have anything other than a temporary effect. Nacre may contain some of the same proteins as human skin, but the two cannot bond, so any benefits that may come from adding it to the skin, such as firming of the cellular structure or stimulation of new growth, are likely to stop as soon as the cream is no longer used. None of this will stop the $100-billion-plus global cosmetics industry from trying. And who knows? Maybe one day pearls really will help you look younger, too.

courtesy of Ganoskin

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Macao Jewelry, Watch Sales +33% in 2009

Macao’s retail sales rose 16 percent to $2.8 billion during 2009. Notable increases were recorded in department store sales, which were up 41 percent, while watch, clock and jewelry sales rose 33 percent and adults’ clothing jumped 25 percent. The sale of fuel for household and automotive use decreased by 24 percent and 22 percent, respectively, according to the government.

courtesy of Rapaport TradeWire

China’s Spring Festival Sales +17%

China’s retail sales rose 17.2 percent to $49.8 billion during the country’s annual Golden Week, while jewelry sales rose 19.1 percent for the period. The weeklong Spring Festival holiday, which commenced on February 13, 2010, is China’s closest equivalent to the Christmas shopping season.

courtesy of Rapaport TradeWire

Diamond News Broadcast

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Zale’s second-fiscal-quarter results were in line with the double-digit drops reported during the Christmas sales cycle. The retailer’s revenue declined 14 percent to $582.3 million, while its cost of sales fell by 23 percent to $292.5 million, which helped it achieve a quarterly profit of $6.7 million, compared with a loss of $32 million one year ago. In this week’s broadcast, see how Zale’s figures have changed in the past five years. In other news, The Knot released the results of its annual wedding expense survey and while the average budget fell by 5 percent in 2009, planned spending on engagement rings remained consistent with the results of past surveys.

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DTC’s Feb. Sight Estimated at $525M

The Diamond Trading Company’s (DTC) February sight achieved an estimated value of $525 million. While the DTC, De Beers marketing and sales unit, had announced a price increase in the high single digits prior to the sight, the company also changed its assortment of goods to enable sightholders to profit on their boxes. Sight participants noted higher increases in the cheaper Indian goods, as well. Nonetheless, their comments were mixed, with some observers suggesting that De Beers left room for sightholders to profit and others saying that premiums were still inflated.

In February, when premiums were softer, buyers were willing to pay based on the existing scarcities in rough, one sightholder noted. Others disagreed, assuming that the large quantities of rough coming to the market reflected DTC’s commitments under sightholder’s intentions to offer (ITOs), rather than strong demand. Sightholders submitted their ITOs in 2009 at the height of the downturn, so DTC filled a large portion of their orders early in the contract period, according to a market participant. The March sight will comprise the final sale of the current ITOs.

courtesy of Rapaport TradeWire

Endive, chocolate among Pantone’s top fall hues

Carlstadt, N.J.–To coincide with New York Fashion Week, the color experts at Pantone have released their Fall 2010 Fashion Color Report, offering up a palette of vivid hues like Lipstick Red and soft neutrals such as Oyster Gray.

Many of the latest hues build on the tones that appeared this past spring.

“Mindful of consumers’ need for practicality, plus their desire for newness, designers offer many options for women to extend and embellish their wardrobes for fall,” Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said in the report.

According to Pantone, the top colors for fall 2010 are: Endive, Chocolate Truffle, Golden Glow, Lagoon, Lipstick Red, Living Coral, Oyster Gray, Purple Orchid, Rose Dust and Woodbine.

“Oyster Gray” and “Rose Dust” make up the two most neutral options for the season. The former is what the report calls a “classic neutral.” It is a lighter take on the traditional fall gray and is intended to be a hue that will be carried through to spring 2011. Rose Dust, meanwhile, is meant to be a sort of “new ivory,” the report says. It’s an ethereal, romantic tone between light pink and beige.

The most typically “fall” colors featured in the report are “Golden Glow,” an earthy, deepened shade of yellow; “Chocolate Truffle,” a rich brown with plum undertones; “Woodbine,” a solid grounding green and “Lipstick Red,” a deep, dramatic crimson.

Meanwhile, brighter, more spring-like tones for the colder months include “Lagoon,” a turquoise that will infuse fall and winter with a tropical splash; “Purple Orchid,” a hue leaning toward fuchsia; “Living Coral,” an orange with a hint of pink undertones; and “Endive,” a yellow-green that will add a sense of freshness to fall looks.

“Building on the color palette from spring, this season’s offerings include innovative takes on fundamental basics, as well as transporting, lively colors that conjure images of travel and adventure, whether real or aspirational,” Eiseman said.

To see jewelry designs featuring gemstones that fit with the hues mentioned above, jump to our 10X blog.

courtesy of National Jeweler

Red, pink coral protection gains more ground

Geneva–In another show of support for protecting the precious red and pink coral used in jewelry, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) secretariat has recommended that countries support increased trade protection for the animals.

The recommendation was announced Friday, according to SeaWeb’s Too Precious to Wear campaign, which, along with the World Wildlife Fund, is among the organizations that has been pressing for the protection of precious red and pink coral through an Appendix II CITES listing through which the international trade community would agree that protection is needed. A decision on whether or not to give coral the listing will be voted on at the next CITES Conference of Parties, to be held March 13-25, 2010, in Qatar.

The secretariat noted that, based on the available population data for these species, the trade of pink and red coral is having an adverse impact on the animals’ ability to maintain healthy populations and to reproduce.

An Appendix II CITES listing for red and pink coral would not prohibit trade, but would ensure that international trade in coral is carefully monitored through a system of export permits, which would help to reduce trade in illegally fished coral. Countries wishing to export red and pink coral would be required to produce a scientific finding that proves trade is not detrimental to the survival of these species.

This past fall, the European Union (EU) agreed with a U.S. initiative to seek international trade protection for red and pink coral, which is used in fine jewelry as well as home decor and has been the subject of a campaign by conservation groups that believe over-harvesting has imperiled the slow-growing species. The European Commission indicated that EU member states–including Italy, a major producer of coral jewelry–were in favor of a request from the United States to co-sponsor a proposal to list red and pink coral under Appendix II at the upcoming conference in Qatar.

SeaWeb’s Too Precious to Wear campaign says the United States and the EU have placed significant pressure on these animals, citing statistics that the United States imported more than 26 million pieces of coral from 2001 to 2006. More than 2,000 species of coral are currently afforded CITES protection, including precious black coral, also used for jewelry. But while the global black-coral trade is estimated at five metric tons, the trade in pink and red coral is 30 to 50 metric tons annually.

Red and pink coral, also known as corallium, were considered for Appendix II protection in 2007. At the last CITES Conference of Parties, the proposal passed the initial committee vote but was overturned in the final plenary vote, due to implementation concerns, which were discussed again at a recent workshop held in Naples, Italy.

A two-thirds majority vote from CITES member countries is needed for red and pink coral to be successfully listed under Appendix II.

courtesy of National Jeweler