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Asian Skincare Ingredient 101: Job's Tears / Pearl Barley

What is Job's Tears / Pearl Barley and How is it Used in Skincare? 

The Story of Pearl Barley

Pearl Barley is often used in skincare products, especially in Asian skincare formulations. But it didn’t just come out of nowhere. In fact, it’s been used for thousands of years in cooking, as decorative beads, and for medicinal purposes. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to this grass called “Job’s Tears” or “Pearl Barley”. In the West: its seed-casings are used as ornamental beads. In the East: it is a staple crop. It is native to tropical parts of Asia such as Taiwan but its popularity today means that you can find it across the world in farms, supermarkets, and in the wild.

Red Pearl Barley Jobs Tears Adlay Hands Outheld

Coix Lacryma-Jobi Ma-Yuen, also known as Adlay, Chinese Pearl Barley, or Red Pearl Barley

So what’s all this hype surrounding Job’s tears all about? Why are so many Asian skincare brands choosing to use Pearl Barley as a star ingredient in their products? Although it’s usage traces back to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there’s many reasons why this grain remains so relevant today. In this article, we will investigate the story behind Job’s tears and why someone would use it in their skincare routine. 

Job’s Tears Name and Definition

The plant known as “Job’s Tears” has many different names, ranging from “Coix lacryma-jobi”, “hato mugi”, “adlay”, or “adlay millet”. It’s part of the grass (Poaceae) family, a diverse set of plants that includes bamboo, rice,  and the grass that you see on a typical lawn. Job’s Tears gets its name from its distinct tear-shaped pods which encase a grain-producing flower.

Job's Tears Bulbs In The Wild

It is related to plants that span the entire ecosystem. Grass is such a successful type of plant that it dominants many habitats since it grows continuously from its base. If it were eaten by an animal, the grass would not likely die. If it is trimmed, it simply grows back again. Because of this, 70% of all plants grown for food are grasses. 

Job’s Tears has a distinct anatomy that sets it apart from other grasses with its large tear-shaped pods that produce large grains. The type of Coix lacryma-jobi farmed for food typically has a softer shell (Pearl Barley) while the ornamental variety found in the wild has a harder shell. Despite the name “Pearl Barley” that is used in Asian supermarkets, Coix lacryma-jobi is not a barley. Although Pearl Barley and Barley are both grains, Pearl Barley has a much larger and rounder grain. 

Historical Background of Job's Tears / Pearl Barley

Job’s Tears is native to India, Burma, China, and Malaysia. Farmers in those regions began cultivating it 2000-4000 years ago because of its high digestibility and high nutrition and later it spread to the rest of the world via trade. Today, Pearl Barley is often grown in areas where it is difficult to grow rice or corn.

Job's Tears is native to South and Southeast Asia but has naturalized in many other parts of the world.

In Chinese cuisine, the most popular way adlay is used is by boiling it in water and then adding sugar to create a drink called “yi ren jiang (薏仁漿)”. In Korea, there is a similar popular drink, called “Job’s Tears tea”, or yulmu cha (율무차), that is made from powdered Job’s tears. 

Going beyond its role as a food, Job’s Tears became a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), used to treat a variety of conditions such as inflammation, chapped skin, and warts. Coix lacryma-jobi is known for “cooling” the body down. Foods that can bring “heat” to the body include spicy, fried, or barbecued foods, which causes inflammation. A study on Adlay (soft-shelled Job’s Tears - the Chinese variety) has shown the ingredient may reduce cancerous tumors in mice. 

Today, Job’s tears is an extremely popular health food across Asia that is commonly mixed into drinks, desserts, soups, and vinegar. 

Job’s Tears as a Skincare Ingredient

Job’s Tears is a popular ingredient in Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean skincare. But what is the scientific basis for its efficacy? How does it make sense to put Pearl Barley on your skin? Although more research needs to be done, especially clinical trials, the lab-based studies have shown promising results. 

One study in Taiwan evaluated the skincare benefits of Adlay on 1) its antioxidant properties and 2) Its effect on reducing melanin production. The study measured the reduction of free radicals when interacting with Adlay extract. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can cause skin damage and aging. The Adlay extract successfully reduced the activity of free radicals in a chemical compound called ABTS (a chemical used to measure antioxidant properties of food). 

Job’s Tears for Skin Brightening

Job’s Tears is high in Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, which is known to help brighten skin and evens out the complexion. It’s also rich in peptides, Job’s Tears helps firm the skin and prevents signs of aging. This could explain why Job’s Tears or Pearl Barley is often featured in brightening sheet mask products. 

Beyond its niacin content, Job’s Tears may help to brighten and improve skin tone through its role in regulating melanin. Melanin is a natural skin pigment and its growth is stimulated from being exposed to UV radiation which results in skin-tanning. Too much melanin can result in hyperpigmentation and dark spots. The same study as mentioned previously also found that the Adlay extract inhibited the production of melanin by reducing enzyme activity of tyrosinase and several other proteins responsible for melanin production.


23.5N Red Pearl Barley Brightening Ultra-Feather Mask

Our favorite products with Job's Tears:

Job’s Tears for Skin Conditioning

In Japan, Hato Mugi is a popular ingredient in skincare and is used somewhat like a toner, often prepared in products with water-like consistency. It is positioned as a “skin conditioner” since it features a variety of skincare benefits in one ingredient: delivering antioxidants and moisture, and balancing skin tone. It is used after facial cleansing. 

Japanese brand Albion developed its highly popular Skin Conditioner product in 1974 with Job’s Tears as the key ingredient. Albion uses a special type of Job’s Tears called “Kita no Hato,” a vitality-rich grain cultivated in the frigid climate of Hokkaido. Albion makes their Skin Conditioner via an extraction method that results in highly-concentrated Kita no Hato.


The star ingredient in Albion Skin Conditioner is hato mugi, or Job's Tears.

Conclusion

Job’s Tears is used as a skincare ingredient today thanks to its vitamin and antioxidant content. It may aid in skin brightening and reducing dark spots by regulating the skin’s melanin production. As a native plant to tropical parts of Asia, it has been used for thousands of years and became an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and other parts of Asia is is frequently used in food and drinks. Because of this, we will likely see even more skincare products with Job’s Tears in the future. If you suffer from damaged skin, uneven skin, or dark spots, then Job’s Tears may be worth trying now! 

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