The Beautician and The Thread

When one of Dongguan’s most respected cosmetologists takes a tour to find an ancient beauty secret, she discovers a less painful way to a smooth face.

05_15_cultureIt’s human nature to pursue beauty. This is also true of Dongguaners from times before shopping malls and modern spa treatments. Where a lack of modern zappers, burners and pullers existed, ladies used a technique that’s heritage is still in use in the small alleys of China. Inviting Rejane Guasso, beauty specialist and partner at Equilibrium Beauty Center, we wanted to experience the old-style facial and see if the method, now trending in some Western salons, could come back in Dongguan vogue.

Walking through several alleys to find Aunt Chen, a woman in her sixties trained in the hair removal technique called threading, we learned the process is most popular among Indian clients. “It’s good for doing the basic forming on eyebrows, but the detail work needs others,” Rejane said.

In front of a mottled wall, Chen was found Sitting on a wooden bench waiting on local customers that range from teenagers to 80-year-old ladies. The tools on her small work station, were simple and practical—three reels of thread and some white powder accompanied by razors, scissors and combs. As we watched, each tool played its magic one by one.

Step 1: Powder

05_15_culture_1Aunt Chen begins by wrapping the hair up with a pink headband and applying a thin layer of powder. The product was new to Rejane, and we learned it is called Qi Jie powder by Dongguaners, a pulvis talci powder customarily applied to the faces of adolescents in search of love on Qi Xi, the Chinese Valentine’s Day. Rejane said the powder absorbs the skin’s natural oils so the thread can gain friction for the pulling process. Made up mostly of magnesium silicate, it also blocks infrared light and acts as a sun blocker.

Step 2: Thread

05_15_culture_2Now it’s show time. Aunt Chen bites one end of the thread tight with her teeth. The two ends in her hands form a triangle, twisting and rubbing the skin as the hair pulls away. Rejane said the process is different from waxing and less painful. “It is a little painful,” Rejane said trying the treatment herself, “but she seems very skillful.”

Step 3: Razor

05_15_culture_3The thread gradually wiped clear the powder as Chen rubbed the face smooth. In this case she applied a little more and went to work with her razor, patiently employing different tools to each curve of the face. Rejane noted that the line could be thinner if she used 100 percent polyester thread, and said, “She has experience, but she needs take more care about sterilization of the materials.”

Step 4: Scissors

05_15_culture_4According to the need of the client, the steps can vary. Usually in the final step, Chen uses scissors to trim the eyebrows. Afterword, the 10-minute process is concluded and the face is washed in a red plastic pail, the hair is brushed in a mirror, and the customer pays in satisfaction.

A Bridal Custom

Chen usually charges RMB 10 per treatment, but she discounts regulars, elderly and disabled customers. All of whom seem to enjoy the old-style business practices. There is no pushing of beauty products. Mrs. Wen, a woman in her fifties, told me that she has come once a month for ten years. She said she never went to modern beauty salons. “It’s cheap and convenient here.” Aunt Chen’s treatment is primitive, yet simple and transparent. It’s also, to some, a connection to tradition that is disappearing daily.

In days past, the brides of Dongguan would come to Chen for a facial before putting on their wedding day make-up. Today the tradition still lives in smaller numbers, but the next generation of beauticians are even fewer.

Aunt Chen first worked as an apprentice for a skilled street beautician who spent 50 years performing the technique. When she left Dongguan for Hong Kong, Chen took the torch, and after 27 years her business will end with her retirement. “I’ve trained three apprentices, but all have given up.”

Read the article in Chinese