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Monday 6 May 2013

Hong Kong Beauty Little Black Book

When I first moved to Hong Kong just over four years ago, I arrived never having visited the city before without really having done any research about my new home. Work had arranged a serviced apartment and a taxi to pick me up from the airport, I knew vaguely how to get from the serviced apartment to the office on Monday, and I had a Time Out Guide to Hong Kong, I'd be fine...

The fact that I'd neglected to get any cash changed at the airport was my first stumbling block. It turns out a wallet full of ten pound notes is even less useful in a Hong Kong taxi than a five hundred Hong Kong dollar note... Finding an HSBC cash point in Central was my second issue. How is there a 7eleven every hundred metres, but a complete lack of places to get the means to buy anything from these cash only corner shops?! Once I'd located an ATM, I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no idea what the exchange rate between pounds and HK dollars was... The suggested amounts on the cash point screen seemed to indicate that $1,000 was a viable amount to be withdrawing in one go, but that sounded like a lot? Would I withdraw $1,000 and empty my account? I decided to just grit my teeth and go with it. Thankfully $1,000 is less than £100, account draining was averted and I could pay my angry taxi driver and send him on his way.

As my first week progressed, I realised that locating an HSBC ATM was the least of my new city problems. Small things that you take for granted become a huge undertaking. You need to buy some groceries. Where is the nearest Waitrose? Oh, right, there isn't a Waitrose in Hong Kong, so um... what are the supermarkets called in Hong Kong? Which is the equivalent of Waitrose? You've forgotten to pack blonde hairgrips, where's the nearest Boots? Oh, no Boots in Hong Kong either... And the likelihood of getting blonde hairgrips anywhere is slim to none? Excellent.

Need a doctor? Need to get a pair of trousers taken up? Need to buy a Birthday card? Yes every little day to day thing becomes a bit of an uphill struggle.

And then there's your hair and beauty... Where to get a haircut, where to get a wax, where to get a mani pedi... And don't even get me started on where to get good blonde highlights...

After much googling (what would we do without it?) and a lot of badgering of new friends, I begun to build up a directory of recommendations. Over the years I've also found the genius Everything Hong Kong (an awesome knows everything directory to Hong Kong that every new expat should be handed at the airport) and local websites like Sassy and Dim Sum & Then Some - total saviours.

On the hair and beauty front, I'm still uncovering hidden gems but I pretty much have my stalwart cast of favourites. For anyone new to Hong Kong or for those looking for a new waxer/ hairdresser/ beautician magician, here's a peek into my Hair & Beauty Little Black Book...

Kicking off with my top tip for the hardest thing to get right in Hong Kong, yup, blonde! Rather fittingly, my natural hair colour is mousy brown and while I love rocking my ears and whiskers in the blog header, I'm really not a fan of my mouse-hued tresses. But the pursuit of the perfect blonde is never a smooth journey. There was the teenage disaster with bleach and then the university years of dodgy stripy hair courtesy of various housemates using at home highlighting kits... 

As a result, these days I'm fastidious when it comes to getting my hair coloured. One of my most difficult goodbyes when I left London was that with my trusty colourist, but little did I know how hard finding a replacement would be in my new home. Four and a bit years on, I've done the rounds trialling and testing more than my fair share of salons and I've finally found the only man whose name you need to know if your blonde comes courtesy of a bottle... step up Shayne Chandler of Salon Chandler.

I'm not going to pretend that Shayne's cheap, but this is your hair and you wear it everyday. If you're happy to pay Louboutin prices for a pair of shoes that you'll wear now and then, relatively, Shayne's a total bargain! The Salon Chandler experience is also super luxe and will leave you not only with the best blonde of your life (no kidding) but also feeling pampered and princess-like. Make sure you get booked in way in advance though, understandably, Shayne's a very popular man...

Salon Chandler
14/F Tak Woo House
17-19 D'Aguilar Street
Hong Kong
+852 2537 3737

Colour sorted, your cut should be a total breeze right?

No, sadly not. If you've ever gone in for a trim and come out with something 'directional' and 'different', you'll know that no amount of being told that 'it will grow' is any comfort. Avoid disaster entirely by heading to a stylist who knows his way around a pair of scissors and has far more interesting chat than enquiring whether you're going anywhere nice on holiday. My top two are Billy at Salon Chandler and John at Paul Gerrard.

Paul Gerrard
1st and 2nd floor
Wah Hing House
35 Pottinger Street
Central Hong Kong

+852 2869 4408

Salon Chandler
See full details above.

Brazillian Blowout
If you're one of those very annoying naturally swishy haired people, you can skip this part. Fellow frizzy friends, if you've noticed that your fro's kicked up a notch since the humidity's risen, it's time to get booked in for a Brazilian Blowout and I have the scoop on the top guys for the job. For the uninitiated, the Brazilian Blowout is quite possibly the best invention in the world. Ever. Well at least since the invention of GHDs. Cast aside images of flat, lifeless, chemically straightened helmet hair, this is a smoothing treatment which actually improves the condition of your hair while also transforming it into a frizz-free curtain of rippling goddess hair... I can confirm though that not all Brazilian Blowouts were created equal, I've had a couple of shockers but in the process have also discovered the awesome Millie at Paul Gerrard. With that knowledge in your back pocket, you too can join the ranks of the annoyingly swishy haired people...

Paul Gerrard
See full details above.

I know it sounds high maintenance, but I really love having a perfect set of shiny, glossy, painted nails. Whether you're in a cocktail dress and strappy stilettos or barefoot on a beach in a bikini, a mani pedi just gives you that 'done' edge. The only problem is that I have the kind of weak children's nails that bend and flex which means that manicures tend to last 3 days tops. While I can cope with this if I'm getting a manicure for an ocassion, my divadom doesn't quite stretch to heading to the spa every couple of days for a nail touch up in usual everyday life. Which is why I was absolutely delighted to discover the gel mani pedi. A set of nails that stay unchipped and mirror shiny for roughly two weeks? I'm totally sold! I get the OPI Gel Color and my top shades are Cajun Shrimp and Big Apple Red (but there are tonnes to choose from). The only downside is that your nails are a little weaker when the colour comes off (make sure you get it removed in salon to minimise this as much as possible) but that's a price I'm willing to pay for mani pedi perfection!

My favourite place for anything nails related is Iyara. I've been a fan of the Central branch, conveniently located just alongside the escalators, for a while, but have also just discovered the Wan Chai branch, a heavenly little oasis of peace and calm tucked away on Ship Street. The therapists at Iyara are all really lovely, work quickly and efficiently and know how to give a mean manicure. You can also bring your own wine making this the perfect place to kick off a girlie night out!

1/F 26 Cochrane Street,
+852 2545 8638

I'm now an out and out IPL covert (see Skin Gym section below), but prior to that I'd tried an array of waxers around town. Pleasant it may not be, but when weekends are spent poolside or sunning on junks, having a good waxer on speed dial is essential. The majority of the places I've tried are much of a muchness, small day spas with cheerful staff who get the job done quickly and efficiently. My favourites of this variety are Nu Waxing Workshop, Om Day Spa and Nude.

But if you're looking for somewhere that makes this grooming chore a little more of a treat, I think the ultimate HK wax is at the Mandarin Oriental Spa. Surprisingly, it's only about HK$50 more pricey than most of the small day spa options and if you have to have hot wax smoothed onto you and then ripped off again, you really couldn't wish for a better place to do it.

I've heard amazing things about the legendary Betty, but apparently her waiting list is comparable to the Hermes Birkin waiting list, and in my experience, all of the therapists are great. The spa is absolutely beautiful, you're given tea on arrival along with a fluffy robe and slippers to slip on pre-wax and the changing rooms are super luxe. The whole experience is relaxing and soothing and the wax itself really is the most pain-free of all the waxes I've ever had.

The Mandarin Spa
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
5 Connaught Rd Central
+852 2825 4888

Foot Massage 
On my first weekend in Hong Kong, at a bit of a loss as to how to spend a Saturday afternoon in a city where I knew no one and was more than a little hungover, I stumbled across a reflexology spot and my love of foot massage was born! When I'm feeling in particular need of pampering, I can happily spend a whole afternoon snoozing and reading trashy magazines while all my stresses and strains and aches and pains are kneaded away.

If you're looking for cheap and cheerful, my favourite spot in town is Gao's. The decor is a little eclectic - think your Chinese Grandmother's front room with a dash of Ikea - but the foot massages are awesome and the little touches like the warm cinnamon scented neck pillows and the rosebud tea, set this aside from all the other foot massage joints in the city.

If you're looking for something a bit more spa-like, luxe it up a level with an hour or two at Ten Feet Tall. While this is pretty spenny compared to Gao's, your foot massage does come with a huge range of glossy magazines, a fro-yo menu and a zen white backdrop. My top reflexologists are Don & Tony, but be sure to book in advance at the weekends when appointments are like gold dust! If you're feeling in need of some real me time, nab a private room which comes complete with beds and huge TV screens where you can watch one of the selection of TFT DVDs or even your own downloads via Apple TV... The latest episode of Girls and a pot of M&M topped fro-yo while your feet are rubbed? It doesn't get much better...

Gao's Foot Massage
15th Floor Century Square
1-13 D'Aguilar Street
Hong Kong
+852 2810 9219

Ten Feet Tall
20/F & 21/F,
L Place, 139 Queen's Road
Central, Hong Kong

+852 2971 1010



Eyelash Extensions
While having inidividual eyelashes painstakingly glued to each of your natural lashes may sound the height of diva-dom, this has been my number one beauty discovery of the last few years and actually means that you can become ridiculously low maintenance day to day. Suddenly from the minute you wake up you look groomed and glossy - your make-up regime is reduced to a dab of concealer and a swirl of blusher...

My first foray into lash extensions was at Hong Kong's Browhaus, but I've now found a new salon which is far cheaper and delivers much more natural results (the lashes are finer, softer and less black than the Browhaus lashes). Glow with Ceri Silk is slap bang in the middle of Central, in fact directly opposite where the brand new Topshop is about to open up! While your lashes are applied you lie on a very comfy bed, wrapped in blankets where you won't feel so awkward when you inevitably nod off!

Glow with Ceri Silk
9/F Parker House
72, Queen's Road Central,
Hong Kong
+852 2525 5198

All Round Spa Awesomeness
My number one spot for everything spa related that hasn't been covered off yet - so, eyebrows (shaping and tinting), facials, massage and IPL, is the Skin Gym.  This little haven of all things beauty is very conveniently located just opposite Shanghai Tang on Duddell Street - which is just about to become the hottest street in the city thanks to much hyped new arts club, Duddell's...

I first discovered the Skin Gym when I was having a bad skin month and was in dire need of a facial, a trip to skin magician, Justine, later and my skin was glowy and bright and I'd had a very happy hour chatting away about everything and nothing for the first half and zonking out with Cafe del Mar softly playing in the background for the second. As I was about to leave Justine offered to give my eyebrows a tidy and I gratefully accepted. My only other experience of brow shaping in Hong Kong was painful and left my eyebrows looking sparse. This was the absolute opposite and I now make sure I pop in for a freshen up every few weeks.

After years of waxing, I finally decided to bite the bullet and go for a more permanent hair removal solution last winter. I considered snapping up a bargain basement GroupOn deal, but decided that where there are lasers and delicate skin involved, it pays to spend a little extra and get the assurance that the job will be done well. So, I've been heading to the Skin Gym for my monthly IPL sessions ever since. It's not the most pleasant treatment (it feels a bit like a cross-between being given a small electric shock and being snapped with an elastic band), but it's made infinitely better by being in a luxe spa room chatting to the super friendly and very efficient Clara. Results so far are head-spinningly amazing, the idea of never having to wax or shave again is just too brilliant for words and if you work out how much you'd otherwise spend on waxing, the treatment pays for itself it just a couple of years - total no brainer!

The girls also offer waxing, massage and my latest secret weapon for getting junk season ready... Maximus RF and DMA for body... The science behind this treatment is pretty complex but let's leave it at the fact that it reduces the circumference of your thighs, tightens and tones your fleshier areas and significantly improves the appearance of cellulite... A miracle treatment that I'd suggest you get booked in for ASAP, it's already May and your bikini beckons...!

The Skin Gym
Room 603
6/F Printing House
6 Duddell Street
Hong Kong
+852 2810 8088


  1. Thanks for mentioning existing locations for each treatment, I need to get a fine foot massage at ten feet tall.

  2. This is a fantastic compilation! Thank you for sharing :)

  3. Hi I was wondering if you could tell me the price for your eyelash extensions at Ceri Silk?

  4. They (glow) have stopped their service of eyelash extensions

  5. Great infos! Very grateful to have you shared this post with us. The places you mentioned here are awesome as I heard from my friends. Good luck! I really need a massage for now =)