A Chinese toothpaste brand that became a household name because of its traditional healing powers has been accused of using prescription drugs and false advertising.
Du Xuanjian and his fiancée — both medical practitioners — said Yunnan Baiyao Toothpaste doesn’t entirely use Chinese herbal products to prevent bleeding gums, as it claims. Instead, as the couple wrote on the now-deleted Weibo post on Sunday, the toothpaste’s ingredient includes tranexamic acid, which the company hasn’t mentioned in its promotional campaigns, but lists on its packaging. Tranexamic acid is used to treat excessive bleeding during surgeries and tooth-removal, among other cases.
“Yunnan Baiyao’s packaging says the toothpaste’s active ingredient can help reduce gum disease … but it never advertises that its product also includes Western ingredients, like tranexamic acid,” the fiancée who doesn’t identify her name on social media platforms wrote on her Jinri Toutiao account Monday. “This is clearly deceiving the public! And this practice lets the public mistakenly assume that it’s full of ‘safe and reliable’ Chinese herbal ingredients, taking advantage of their resistance to Western medicine.”
Yunnan Baiyao, which was founded in 1971, claims to use Chinese herbal powder that dates back to the late 19th century. This powder was so effective in healing certain medical conditions that China’s cabinet, the State Council, listed it as “national-level confidential information” in 1956. Today, the company is a multibillion-dollar firm, exporting products to countries like the United States.
On Tuesday, the company said that it abides by China’s regulations on toothpaste ingredients, as well as international health standards. However, it did not specify whether it’s the herbal ingredients or the tranexamic acid in the toothpaste that helps prevent bleeding gums.
You Hu, a doctoral student in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) at Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, told Jiangsu News Broadcast that the active ingredient to stop bleeding gums used in Yunnan Baiyao has been certified by authorities, and the company uses tranexamic acid only as a substitute for an expensive herbal ingredient with the same function. “There is no need to negate the hemostasis function of Yunnan Baiyao because [the toothpaste] has a Western ingredient in it,” he said. “It’s necessary to take into account the combination of Chinese and Western medicines, which are not at odds, but reciprocal.”
The usage and history of traditional Chinese medicine dates back thousands of years, and many people still turn to them as an alternative to Western pharmaceutical products. However, quality-control issues have plagued the multibillion-dollar industry that accounts for about 28 percent of China’s pharmaceutical industry. Last year, the country’s food and drug regulator closed 81 TCM manufacturers after they found that certain faulty production procedures affected the composition of the medicines. The Chinese government issued its first white paper on TCM in 2016 to better regulate the industry, improve quality standards, and push toward the globalization of its ancient heritage.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A woman passes by a supermarket shelf with Yunnan Baiyao, Chinese medical toothpaste, in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, April 11, 2014. Hu Guolin/VCG)