When I was researching Salma Hayek’s new skin care line, several articles mentioned that she would be utilizing an ingredient called concha nacar. In the original New York Times article that reported on Hayek’s line, called Nuance, the actress said that she wanted to use the ingredient as a “lightening cream.” She was also quoted as claiming that the ingredient is easy to grow in Mexico, which is why her products will be sold at the very affordable CVS.

At this point, I was confused; when I Google searched the term “concha nacar,” I couldn’t find any such ingredient. Instead, several creams kept popping up, most often one called Concha Nacar de Perlop.

The rough translation of the Spanish “concha nacar” is pearl shell, or mother of pearl. The scientific English word for mother of pearl is, in fact, “nacre.” I still can’t figure out how mother of pearl can be easily grown in Mexico or anywhere else, for that matter, as if it were some sort of crop.

Anyway, nacre could have a very important place in cosmetics, as it is known to aid in tissue regeneration. It is able to do so because it contains the same amino acids that maintain cells in humans. Supposedly, nacre can “stimulate the metabolic activities of the genetic material in the cell…and can thus promote and accelerate cell renewal.” Nacre is made up of conchiolin and aragonite; the former is a type of keratin protein – and keratin is a major part of skin and hair growth. According to one study, nacre has been linked to “cell to cell adhesion” and to the regeneration of type 1 and type 3 collagens.

So, does Concha Nacar de Perlop have any of this coveted nacre in it? Yes – in the form of oyster shell powder, which is listed as the product’s fifth ingredient. The third ingredient is ground barley, which isn’t harmful in the least, but doesn’t seem to have much going for it; while it may have antioxidant properties when ingested, there is no evidence that there are any benefits of topical application.  However, Concha Nacar’s 6th ingredient is lemon juice. It contains citric acid, which is a type of alpha hydroxy acid, which has been shown to increase collagen and skin thickness. Lemon juice is also supposed to lighten and brighten skin and fade scars.

Honey is next on the ingredients list, followed by witch hazel and bentonite. Next up is papain, an enzyme found in papaya that may heal wounds, reduce inflammation and exfoliate the skin. However, there is some major concern about topical application of papain. In fact, the FDA has ordered companies to stop marketing unapproved drug products that contain papain in a topical dosage form because of adverse reactions people have had including hypersensitivity resulting in anaphylactic reactions, low blood pressure and rapid heart rate. Also, those who are allergic to latex may be allergic to papaya – so definitely don’t use Concha Nacar if you have a latex allergy. It is important to note, though, that the FDA’s warning stemmed from reactions that patients had to papain used in a medical setting (as the substance is often used to help heal dangerous wounds).

Irish moss powder, also known as chondrus crispus, is yet another seemingly interesting ingredient used in this cream; however, I believe its purpose is only to serve as an emollient and a thickener.

Finally, salicylic acid, the penultimate ingredient, is an exfoliant and an anti inflammatory agent.

Although Concha Nacar de Perlop is marketed as a “natural bleach cream,” it is actually a mask that is supposed to be applied to the face for 30 – 60 minutes and then removed. At least one TIA reader is a fan of this product, claiming that it is a “good pore cleaner and a gentle exfoliator.” Personally, I was excited at the prospect of using it, if only for its short list of ingredients and the fact that it came to less than $6.00, including tax. But when I applied a dollop of it at a local Walgreens to check for an allergic reaction, I was surprised to find that my skin did, indeed, turn red. It was a relatively minor reaction, but I wasn’t willing to test it on my face.

Still, Concha Nacar de Perlop gets rave reviews on blogs and message boards. It seems to be one of those underground products that finds its way into people’s homes through word of mouth. It can be purchased online or found in the ethnic section of certain Walgreens stores.

Editor's note: The packaging of Concha Nacar de Perlop has changed and the product no longer contains Papain. 

Ingredients: glycerine, zinc oxide, ground barley, water, oyster shell powder, lemon juice, honeoy, witch hazel, bentonite, papain, Irish moss powder, salicylic acid, fragrance