Asian women, specifically diaspora Asian moms, have a certain mystifying nature when it comes to health and beauty. Growing up in the United States, my own mother oscillated between relying on Western doctors' advice and rigorously rubbing Vicks Vapor Rub on my chest and hoping for the best. Although these treatments may not do everything your mom says it does, we've collected our favorite iconic ointments and oils that are sure staples to keep in your health and beauty arsenal.
White Flower Oil
Known for its pungent minty scent and a distinctive clear bottle, white flower oil, or Pak Fah Yeow, is a cure-all treatment recommended by Asian grandmothers and millennials alike. Its ingredients, which include wintergreen, eucalyptus, menthol and camphor, are known for relieving mild congestion symptoms and minor muscle aches. Of course, white flower oil has many, many, more uses among its avid fan base. Stomach ache? Use some white flower oil. Tension headache? White flower oil. Bug bites? White flower oil.
In one episode of "Fresh Off the Boat," Jessica, played by Constance Wu, insists that she never gets sick because of her regular white flower oil use.
Although there are several producers of similar balms and oils that purport to be white flower oil, the only official maker is Hoe Hin Pak Fah Yeow. Its founder, Gan Geok Eng, began selling the herbal remedy in 1927 and named it after his favorite flower: the white narcissus. The blend of eucalyptus, wintergreen, peppermint and lavender oils make it a go-to for aromatherapy. Small swipes of oil underneath the nose will easily clear out congestion, but if you're sensitive to smells, you can dab a tiny amount on your wrist and neck.
I despise nothing more than the angry, allergic reaction my skin has to mosquito bites. After a few days of camping and rock climbing in the woods, my arms and legs are often polka-dotted with angry red welts while all my friends are left completely unscathed. Mopiko lists camphor and menthol among its main ingredients, which help reduce inflammation and itchiness. Unlike many American anti-itch ointments, Mopiko applies as a cream and doesn't leave behind a greasy finish. A must-have if you're travelling or living in an area with plenty of mosquitos.
Scrichand Transluscent Powder
This translucent powder is a miracle worker for setting makeup and mattifying skin. The product comes in a gorgeous pot, is inexpensive and can be found in Thai 7/11s and other similar shops, making it a convenient Asian beauty staple. Reviews mention a slight white cast that be buffed away or it otherwise simply fades after about an hour after application. It's a great alternative option to Coty Airspun powder and it travels well in its locking case.
I had never heard of Tigerbalm until I attended Color the Crag last year, a rock climbing festival that celebrates diversity in the climbing community. After days of constantly using our hands, the joint pain in my fingers was killer. One of the girls I was climbing with saw me futilely taping my fingers and offered me some Tigerbalm in its iconic hexagonal jar. I took a break from climbing to massage the waxy ointment onto my hands and found near instant relief. Camphor, menthol and methyl salicylate work together as counterirritants, but the red formula has cassia and other essential oils which give it a clove-like scent. Depending on where you purchase Tigerbalm, there are different formulas that have different amounts of camphor, which is regulated in the U.S. Its most common use is for joint or muscle pain, although some swear by its ability to treat headaches and other ailments.
Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder
I love summer in New York City, which is to say I love drinking sangria and lounging outside during three weeks in May when its 78 degrees, September and nothing in between. Really, I just hate chub rub, when my thighs chafe against each other while wearing shorts or skirts during hot and sticky weather. I usually rely on Lush's Silky Underwear dusting powder on the seasons' hottest days, but it's a little too expensive to apply liberally on a daily basis. Enter Snake Brand powders — a Thai product that cools and keeps skin dry. A two-tin pack comes out to less than $14, a steal compared to Lush's $11, 2 ounce bottle. Especially for those that experience heat rashes, the prickly heat powder helps relieve itching. For folks that would prefer a different scent, it comes in classic and lavender.
Spring Wind Amber Massage Salve
Spring Wind Amber Massage Salve, 2oz from Lhasa Oms
My acupuncturist recommended this salve for continued aches and pains in my fingers from rock climbing. At first, I balked at the list of ingredients, which included Dragon's Blood (red resin extracts). But it only took two minutes of my acupuncturist methodically massaging my scar tissue with the orange-tinted salve to convert me into an avid fan. I keep some on my bed-side table and rub it into the skin while I'm watching TV.
Vicco Turmeric Skin Cream
This cream costs less $10 dollars for a tube that has plenty of accolades. Reviewers on Amazon refer to it as "miracle stuff," and one review is simply titled "VICCO!!!!!!!," so that's promising. Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and the cream can help with anything from lightening up hyperpigmentation to helping prevent breakouts. It also can work as an antiseptic on small cuts. Vicco skin cream has helped those with very stubborn acne when nothing else works. Depending on your skin-type, you may have to apply an additional moisturizer after using this product, but it will otherwise leave a smooth, matte finish. The turmeric gives the cream a light yellow hue and a light sandalwood scent, but it doesn't leave a yellow residue when applied. Just be wary when applying it while wearing light-colored clothing.
Saeed Ghani Sandalwood powder
Saeed Ghani's Sandalwood powder can be used to create a face mask that is both wildly inexpensive and easy to use. Just combine sandalwood and rose water, mix until smooth, then apply and let sit for 20 minutes before rinsing off. The sandalwood absorbs excess sebum in the skin, helping your face look fresh and feel extra clean.
Vicks Vapor Rub
According to Filipino moms everywhere, Vicks will cure anything from a cold to parental disappointment that you majored in journalism instead of nursing. Feeling really sick? Just slap some Vicks on your feet, put on some socks, and it'll suck the sickness right out (I thought this was some unique insanity my family made up until I watched Jo Koy's Netflix special. His Filipino mom told him the exact same thing). I usually swipe a small amount under my nose and rub a bit on my chest to soothe congestion and call it a day