What is it?
75-minute men’s facial, including shoulder and head massage at Everlasting Spa (380 Shaanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu)
The pain factor
Shanghai is a city that is bad for your skin – even the rough and rugged skin of a Time Out
editor, would you believe – and so an occasional facial feels like a necessity rather than a luxury. Entering Everlasting Spa through a pair of chintzy curtains, we had high hopes of cleansed pores and a healthy glow to show off afterwards. This is happily what we got after a seemingly endless series of masks, creams and cleansers were applied to remove every inch of urban dirt from our face (quite a lot in Shanghai, let’s be honest), and hydrate our skin. The treatment also included a relaxing shoulder and head massage to round things off, upping the bliss factor.
While we were a little disappointed the facial didn’t feel more bespoke – they didn’t tackle any of our spots, for instance, and there was no steam treatment either – it was good value for money, keeping in mind how many overpriced facials there are in this city. The Shaanxi Bei Lu branch of Everlasting, where we went, is also next to a healthy juice bar, and we suggest paying that a visit afterwards to really round out your male makeover.
What is it? Bum wax at Strip (84 Wulumqi Zhong Lu, near Changle Lu)
The Pain factor 4/5
How much 150RMB
Verdict We had a lot of reservations regarding this treatment, namely the pain factor and exposing a bare behind to a stranger. But to their credit, Strip made a potentially nasty and embarrassing experience quite bearable. This treatment can only be performed at the chain’s Wukang Lu location, in Ferguson Lane. It’s a no-frills place, but staff are keen to put visitors at ease, especially for first timers, like us, trying this less common wax.
On our visit, they explain the procedure before getting started – their relaxed manner is infectious, and does a good job of making us feel more assured about having hair ripped from our bottom. Having removed jeans and boxers and stretched out on the table, we’re provided a squishy gorilla stress toy to mangle should things get too intense. There are moments of awkwardness when we’re told to spread our legs and, later, to bend one arm back and hold our cheeks apart so the crack can be better accessed; but the professional, seen-it-all attitude of the staff means these moments aren’t dwelled upon.
The pain is bad, but not so horrible that we yelp out or feel too traumatised to ever repeat the treatment (though we do make use of the stress toy). Probably the most uncomfortable sensation comes when wax is applied around our unmentionable, which makes us feel as if we’re being lubed up.
After a little more than 15 minutes it’s all over and it feels like we’ve regained the behind of our infancy. On our way out, Strip staff provide us with an aftercare package and even an SOS number, which makes us a little panicky, but reinforces their care and professionalism. Overall, it’s a job well done.
What is it? Classic Earth-Aroma Essence Body Scrub at Subconscious Day Spa (181 Fumin Lu, near Julu Lu)
The pain Factor 1/5
How much? 320RMB
Verdict The list of results this treatment is stated to provide is impressive: relief of negative energy, enhanced skin metabolism, detox and cleansing results, unclogged pores and refined skin texture. The space of Subconscious itself certainly does a good a job of relieving negative energy; its flagship branch on Fumin Lu, with its bare white walls and sparse decoration, has a Zen effect, completely removing you from the bustle of the city outside.
Stripped and clothed in only the shorts provided, we get comfortable on a massage table. Then begins the
administration of juniper, stout camphor, lavender and orange essence. There’s a certain pleasant grit to the mixture applied, which makes us feel less like we’re being oiled up for some sort of sleazy wrestling match. The process is somewhat unsatisfying though; we can’t help but wish it were more like a massage. It’s a relaxing experience but almost too comfortable; it lacks satisfying pressure and kneading of muscle.
After the full 45 minutes we’re told to shower off and exit the shower feeling refreshed but still wishing we’d had sterner treatment. It was definitely soothing but we won’t be swapping our Chinese massages for body scrubs just yet.
What is it? Armpit waxing at Diva Life Spa (Garden House, 266 Rujin Er Lu, near Taikang Lu)
The pain factor 4/5
How much? 120RMB
Verdict We thought waxing armpits would be fairly painless. We weren’t expecting to be told ‘the last time I had that done I cried’, by one of our female peers – one we consider to be quite tough.
Entering Diva Life’s spa with trepidation, we couldn’t help wondering whether the welcoming smiles of the friendly staff were undercut with a knowing smirk. Lily, the technician tasked with removing our ‘extraneous’ hair, gave us a suspiciously warm welcome and professional introduction. We submitted to our fate in a stoic manner, laying back and nervously raising our arms above our head.
Lily set about undertaking a spot of trimming the axilla with scissors. As locks dropped away we nearly cried a tear at the loss of 30 years of carefully-grown armpit hair, but realised it was way too soon to give in to tears. Next, there was a gentle application of warm wax. Then, when Lily judged it sufficiently cool enough, she came into her element. In the blink of an eye and a disconcertingly effeminate scream, the armpit hair was gone. It was indeed painful, but we’re proud to say there were no tears (that we’ll admit to in print, anyway).
After a couple of days of what we’re assured is normal soreness, our armpits have been given a new lease of life. Applying roll-on deodorant since has been a silky smooth revelation. It was a thoroughly professional job in a friendly and attractive spa, but not an experience we’ll necessarily rush to repeat.
What is it? Manicure and pedicure at Helen's nail spa (70 Shimen Yi Lu, near Dagu Lu)
How much? 248RMB
The pain factor 0/5
Verdict We’re fully aware that getting your nails done is a tried and tested method for many of the females of the species to pamper themselves. Consequently, we were quietly looking forward to getting ours done
purportedly for research purposes, particularly as Helen’s is one of Time Out’s favourite nail spas, with a warming, relaxed decor. It all starts well enough; soaking our feet and hands in warm water, sitting in a comfy chair. But then, the staff bring over the implements and we become instantly unsettled by the range of sharp, metallic objects of nefarious-utility contained within their disarmingly kitschy wickerbaskets. We begin to sweat.
As the two specialists efficiently get to work – one on the feet, and one the hands – we are struck by how incapacitated we are. We are completely at their mercy while they work away, treading that thin line between pleasure and pain.
The process goes something like this: soak limbs in water, clip the nails, file nails, apply mysterious cuticle softening liquid, remove cuticles, buff the nails, moisturise. We can’t help but wonder what offence cuticles have ever committed that warrants their immediate destruction. For the feet we also get scraped, and before applying moisturiser, legs and feet are rigorously washed.
The process is a little baffling to the uninitiated, but by no means unpleasant. As we walk out on our newly dainty feet, we are suddenly struck by a pervasive feeling of comfort and warmth. Is this what it feels like to be pretty?