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An Adventure in a Chinese Cosmetics Store

Snake oil hand cream.

Snake oil hand cream.

Back in January, I went on a shopping excursion with some friends. We had a full girls day out of shopping for clothes, cosmetics and naturally, lunch! 🙂 Our shopping trip had us visiting Yabaolu area of Beijing. North Yabaolu (unofficially known as Russiatown) is an area that is populated with shops that are frequented by foreigners living or visiting Beijing. Many merchants speak Chinese, Russian and/or English.

Our first stop was a small cosmetics shop that was stuffed to the ceiling! As my friends did their shopping, I browsed the shop and looked at the different products available. I saw bath gels with osmanthus petals, mud masks, nail polish, face creams and even foot masks. One product that caught my eye was a box that had “Snake Oil Cream” written in English! I grabbed the box and looked closely. I was convinced this had to be a bad translation. (Do you know what thoughts were racing through my head?)

One friend noticed the box I was examining and asked if I found it interesting. I told her that it was interesting and then asked if it really contained snake oil or if it was a bad translation. She chuckled and told me that it really contained snake oil. I took a picture of the box so I could share it with you.

I chuckled about the cream for the rest of the day because I couldn’t believe that a cream was labeled as a snake oil cream. In the USA, I’ve read many books that talked about “snake oil” salesmen who sold fake “medicines”. So the first association for me wasn’t the Chinese water snake that actually is the oil provider, but the salesmen of the books of my childhood.

When I returned home, I asked Jerry for more information and he told me more about snake oil being used in cosmetics here in China. Snake oil has been used to make skin softer and has been thought to help skin heal quickly and relieve pain. Generally snake oil is used in foot creams, hand creams or even face creams.

Jerry asked me if I would be interested in trying snake oil, so he helped me order snake oil from a Chinese online cosmetics ingredient supply shop. The snake oil arrived at the beginning of February and I got to play with it. (I’ll share that blog post with you on Monday!)

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