The Essential Balm: How to Use Tiger Balm & Qing Liang You
What is simply known as ‘Tiger Balm’ in most Western countries, is also known as Fēng yóu jīng (风油精, lit. ‘wind oil’) or Qīng liáng yóu (清凉油, lit. ‘cool oil’) in China, usually translated as ‘Essential Balm.’
The translation ‘essential’ is quite literal in the sense that the balm is in fact essential to many Chinese households; virtually all pharmacies, supermarkets, airports shops and convenience stores in the PRC will sell it.
The over-the-counter balm (or oil) is a product that often pops up on Chinese social media. A recent video on streaming platform Billibilli calls it a “cure-all” product (包治百病), while netizens on Weibo share tips on how they use the balm on a daily basis.
The Tiger Balm brand name in Chinese is Hǔbiao Wànjīnyóu (虎標萬金油), which literally means ‘tiger-marked jack of all trades.’
All of these balms or oils are practically the same kind of ‘heat rubs,’ topical preparations for application to the skin, mainly made from menthol, camphor, clove oil, mint oil, and cajuput/eucalyptus oil.
The Chinese fengyoujing is an oily liquid that comes in a small bottle (10ml), while both the Tiger Balm brand and so-called ‘Essential Balm’ (various brands) come as balsam in a small tin. Because the first-mentioned is more easily applied as liquid, its effects are somewhat stronger than the balm.
A Tiger Balm History
The original Tiger Balm was developed in Birma in the 1870s, by the Fujian-born herbalist Aw Chu Kin (Hu Ziqin 胡子钦). Different to what the name suggests, Tiger Balm does not contain any ingredients related to the tiger, but was named after Aw’s son, whose name literally meant ‘Gentle Tiger’ (Aw Boonhaw or Hu Wenhu 胡文虎).
He was the son who later inherited the recipe of the balm, and turned Tiger Balm into a household name together with his brother (Hu Wenbao 胡文豹).
Aw Chu Kin was born in a small village. His father was also a herbalist, but the family was very poor. In search for a better live, the young Aw later moved to Birma (Myanmar), where he set up his own apothecary in Yangon in 1870 under the name of ‘Eng Aun Tong’ (永安堂药行).
Aw had three sons and a daughter. When he passed away in 1908, he left his company to the two sons who had helped him with his business. They later moved to Singapore, where they continued their father’s business and officially launched Tiger Balm as a brand in 1925, based on their father’s recipes.
The brothers used a remarkable promotion method for their balm; from 1926 on, they drove a vehicle that had a big tiger head on its front (see image). The horn of the car sounded like a tiger roar – a good way to attract the attention of people and to give them some free samples of their balm.
How to Use Tiger Balm: General Uses
The century-old product is still wildly popular today, with various companies now producing (nearly) identical products.
Note: not recommended to use for pregnant women, children under the age of 3, avoid contact with eyes, keep out of reach of children, and do not apply to injured skin or burns. If you’re in doubt about tiger balm usages and/or allergies, consult a doctor before using.
Among the main purposes of Tiger Balm and Qing Liang You is that it can be used as an anti-itching remedy for mosquito bites and insect stings.
For those with rheumatic pains, tiger balm can be also used as a painkiller by applying it in the lower back area, legs, and directly on sore muscles and bones.
Tiger Balm is also said to be helpful against a cold and have a stuffed nose, by putting some balm right underneath and around the nostrils to let the nose clear up.
To prevent dizziness and carsickness, the balm can be used to slightly moisten the lips or temples to prevent nausea.
Social Media Tips
On Weibo, dozens of people share their use of Tiger Balm and the likes on their accounts every day – especially during the hot summer.
* Some Chinese students simply recommend keeping a small tin of balm nearby for those late study hours; they claim sniffing the balm awakens the mind.
* “I apply some balm before I take a shower,” one commenter says: “Now my whole body feels cool as a breeze.” By applying some balm to parts of the body, the skin gets cooled – a comfortable feeling in times of hot weather or fever.
* Social media user Xixi (@西西咕噜咕噜) uses Tiger Balm in hot summer days. Opening up the lid of the balm a few times a day in front of the van spreads its cooling breeze throughout the room: “I’m crazy about this fragrance.” (Tip! Mosquitos and other insects dislike this smell; this method is also effective as a repellent.)
* “I’ve been suffering from a head-ache for days,” a Weibo user named ‘I’ve been studying for hours today’ (@今儿学了几个小时) says: “Rubbing some qingliangyou on my temples really helps.” Tiger balm is often promoted as a remedy against headache, by rubbing some tiger balm on the forehead or temples (mind your eyes).
* “After cutting red peppers, you can smear some Tiger Balm on your fingers,” another Weibo user (@萍了早煤) writes: “also use some plain vinegar to wash it off. It helps.”
* “You can use Tiger Balm / Qing Liang You to improve blood circulation and decrease swellings,” one Guangdong micro-blogger writes. It is indeed said that one of the active ingredients, camphor, dilates the blood vessels and brings blood closer to the skin’s surface; increasing circulation and warmth.
* Another popular Weibo account (@好运逗比) recommends rubbing some drops of the fengyoujing (the liquid rub) to the soles of the feet before wearing shoes to prevent smelly feet at the end of the day.
* There are also Weibo accounts recommending Tiger Balm / Qing Liang You as the must-bring item on travels to prevent mosquito bites, car or sea sickness, and for treatment of headaches.
* There are also some people who say they use Tiger Balm on their face as a way to treat acne/pimples, but we’d highly recommend consulting with a doctor before doing so, as the balm is not recommended to be used on irritable skin.
Still not had enough tips? You can check out one of What’s on Weibo’s earliest articles, titled ‘20 Ways to Use Tiger Balm,’ for more tips on how to use this ‘jack for all trades’ balm.
Where to Buy
Tiger Balm is practically available everywhere. Check your local pharmacy or convenience store. The brand also has an online shop where their products can be purchased. For small cases of essential balm to carry with you at all times check here.
The Temple of Heaven balm can be purchased at Beijing airport and many other places, but online it is purchasable here.
The classic oil, which is somewhat stronger, is available here.
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