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She Runs A 100-Year-Old Family Business For Eye-Cleaning In This Penang Shop

One year-end holiday, Ooi Poh Mei had some free time on her hands and decided to learn how to clean eyes from her grandfather when she was 16. 

Using ink, copper wire, a bamboo stick, cotton and a concoction of 10 different herbs, Poh Mei’s eye-cleansing family business, Hwang I Care in Lorong Soo Hong, Georgetown, has been going on for a century. 

It was brought over by her great-grandfather from Fujian, China. Poh Mei is the 4th generation taking over this family business. 

I’d always thought that our tears alone were a natural eye-cleanser, but Poh Mei explained how their business helps customers the way our tears can’t.

“Customers come in complaining about their eyes feeling dry, itchy, feel wet or sticky. Their eyes feel wet because it is either too dry or too dirty, hence the excess tears.” 

“When tears and dirt stick together, they make the eyes feel uncomfortable. But that sticky feeling also could be from the frequent use of eye drops or wearing contact lenses,” she explained to Vulcan Post. 

The herbal concoction and apparatus used in the procedure / Image Credit: Hwang I Care

The Process Of Cleaning The Eyes

The deepest that we have cleaned into our eyes, especially for people who wear makeup, is just the waterline. Poh Mei’s cleansing service goes beyond that. 

Hence, it is really important that her customers can relax, otherwise it would be difficult for her to clean their eyes. 

“There’s never been a time when a cleansing procedure has gone wrong, and I’ll never let it happen,” Poh Mei affirmed.

“For very anxious customers, I’ll put a warm towel over their eyes for them to relax first. If that still doesn’t work and they try to force their eyes shut, I’ll stop the process and ask them to come back when they’re ready.”

Relaxing their eyes with a warm towel before performing the cleaning / Image Credit: Hwang I Care

When customers aren’t ready, she isn’t able to properly flip their inner eyelids out to clean, which is why this service is only for those who can completely relax.

She sterilises the stick before every use with hot water and applies hand sanitiser every time before wrapping the cotton on the stick.

While she could use cotton buds to clean eyes, she prefers to avoid them because they’re too hard and might cause discomfort in the customers’ eyes. 

Once the cleaning is done, Poh Mei told us that her customers would say they felt their eyesight got better with less itchiness and more relaxed eyes overall. 

Whether you opt to clean one eye or both eyes, the service costs RM30 per person. While it isn’t that lucrative of a business, it is enough for her and the shop to survive.

Her returning customers range from once a week to once a quarter of the year. She also has outstation customers who come in only when they visit Penang.

What Does Modern Medicine Have To Say About This Traditional Practice?

Now, Poh Mei’s service isn’t one that is commonly heard of in Malaysia. In fact, she herself doesn’t know of anyone else who is doing the same eye-cleansing business as her family has been doing.

For those that aren’t familiar with or don’t regularly resort to traditional Chinese medicine, you may be raising your eyebrows with scepticism.

Wanting to get an optometrist’s opinion on this practice, I reached out to the team at Pott Glasses. To begin, I asked them if tears were enough to clean our eyes, and if we actually needed an external cleanser to deep-clean our eyes.

“It is true that our tears can be natural cleansers for dust and pollutants, but due to the current situation today where many people are experiencing dry eyes, our tears may not be sufficient enough to drain these dust and pollutants,” they explained to Vulcan Post. 

“Which is why eyelid wipes, warm compression and preservative-free artificial tears come in to support us to keep our lids clean and prevent these dust and pollutants to cause further damage to our eyes.”

Debris from her customers’ eyes / Image Credit: Hwang I Care

We’re frequently using our phones and computers, which reduces our blinking rate, allowing our tears to evaporate easily and replenish less. 

Warm compressions are thus important because they help soften the oils in our glands, enabling more tears to work better, which is what Poh Mei is using to help relax her customers’ eyes.

“What about the herbal medicine and the apparatus used to clean the eyes? Are they safe?” I asked the optometrists.

“Herbal treatment could be helpful within a certain concentration, anything out of that will cause side effects or complications. In our personal opinion, it will be better to use the ways that have been clinically-proven as it is safer and not to have much to worry about.”

“Cotton wrapped over the metal rod is safe as well, but you’d have to be careful with the potential rusting that may occur on it,” they shared with Vulcan Post. 

They also added that it’s important for anyone conducting these procedures to wear gloves, as the eyes are very sensitive and could be easily infected.

Contrasting Modern Medicine With Traditional Chinese Medicine

After getting to know both sides of the story, I can deduce two things: 

  1. There is a necessity for deeper cleaning of the eyes as a service, especially in this day and age.
  2. Poh Mei’s practices for eye-cleansing are safe so long as she regularly changes the metal rods and maintains a certain concentration of the herbal concoction.

While it’s great that Poh Mei sanitises her hands before each session, it could increase customer confidence if she were to use disposable gloves on top of that too.

In every business, there’s bound to be sceptics, even more so for a unique one like Poh Mei’s. But negativity doesn’t dissuade her, as the results and feedback she’s gotten is all the proof she needs to continue.

If our treatment is useless, we won’t have so many customers coming in to try it out and do free advertisement for us. If our treatment is harmful, we wouldn’t have been able to stand for more than a century and have this business passed down until the 4th generation. Never try, never know. Let the result speak the truth instead.

Ooi Poh Mei, current proprietor of Hwang I Care.

  • You can learn more about Hwang I Care here and Pott Glasses here.
  • You can read more startups we’ve written about here.

Featured Image Credit: Ooi Poh Mei, current proprietor of Hwang I Care


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