Shanghai's budget health and beauty fixes

Four of the best health and beauty fixes for the cash-strapped in the city

Following on from last month’s guide to cheap and free fitness, Time Out present four health and beauty fixes for the cash-strapped

Visiting a blind massage parlour

Double Rainbow

There are no frills at Double Rainbow – no mood lighting or even pristine sheets – but the blind and partially-sighted masseurs certainly know how to work out tension from aching feet and stiff backs, judging by a steady flow of customers. Both foot and full-body massages are communal, with up to eight other people being kneaded and thumped in the same room. Our masseur isn’t big on small talk, which is fine with us, and more importantly delivers a tough but fair foot massage (68RMB/45 mins) which leaves our trotters feeling incredibly nimble. A cheap and effective way to relax.

Double Rainbow 9 Pingwu Lu, near Panyu Lu. See full address details

Gifted Blindman Massage Centre

We immediately get good feelings about this blind massage centre. There are reassuring anatomical drawings in the reception and, as we arrive, two customers are leaving saying, ‘That was good, we’ll be back tomorrow’. And we aren’t disappointed. Our partially-sighted masseur concentrates for a long time on our tense office-worker shoulders before kneeling on our lower back with his whole body until our spine gives a reluctant click. The treatment finishes with one of the most effective leg massages that we’ve ever had – we feel muscles deep within our legs gradually relaxing. The only negative is the loud ringtone and conversation from our massage roommate. Traditional Chinese body massages start at 78RMB/hour.


Gifted Blindman Massage Centre Second Floor, 640 Zhangyang Lu, near Laoshan Lu. See full address details

Ganzhi Blindman Massage

At first the coughing and occasional exasperated sighs of our masseuse at Ganzhi Blindman Massage is offputting, but we can tell that this was a well-executed massage (78RMB/hour) by how thirsty we are afterwards – a sign of increased circulation to blocked-up areas releasing toxins into the blood. The branch on Beijing Xi Lu, one of five dotted around Jingan and Pudong, is a subterranean warren of massage rooms – you do get your own room, but they are tiny and a bit grubby. The place is popular with Chinese women, a good indication of professional standards and no funny business on the side.

Ganzhi Blindman Massage 129 Jiaozhou Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu. See full address details

Stock up at the salon supplies market

The stretch of Guangdong Lu between Guangxi Nan Lu and Shandong Zhong Lu is choked with shops selling all manner of beauty paraphernalia and is where many local spas and salons source their tubs of massage oil and UV nail gel-setting machines. The good news is you don’t have to buy in huge quantities to take advantage of the wholesale prices, and unlike buying on Taobao, you get the chance to inspect the goods before handing over cash.

No. 620 Guangdong Lu is the place to go for all things nail-related. Tide yourself over between mani-pedis with OPI nail files (2RMB), buffers (4RMB) and heavy-duty foot emery boards (12RMB). Or forgo the nail parlour altogether and get creative with 5RMB printed nail wraps (a doddle to apply and a tenth of the price of Sephora’s), mini moustache nail stickers (2RMB/sheet, apply and simply seal with topcoat), nail glitter (75RMB/12 colours) or individual ‘Swarovski’ crystals. They also sell OPI-branded nail polish (45RMB) which may or may not be fake: either way, it’s useful for touching up minor chips if you can find the right shade.

When it comes to hair, bypass the tempting budget tubs of Kérastase and L’Oréal Mythic Oil –at this price, they’re almost certainly fake. Instead, pick up ceramic blow-drying brushes (75RMB), specialist detangling combs (45RMB) and bobby pins (1RMB/pack of 10). Electrical appliances run the gamut from curling tongs, crimpers, straighteners (titanium or ceramic) and hair-dryers. You won’t find any bargains on legit Western brands such as Babyliss, but Korean and Chinese models start from as little as 100RMB with bargaining: we found a Korean-made blow-dryer with tourmaline elements (which apparently reduces drying time and adds shine) for 200RMB and found it perfectly serviceable. If you’re worried about frying your scalp with dodgy guarantee-free electrics, ask the shopkeeper for a demo before you buy.

Similarly, if you are on the hunt for makeup, the palettes of fake Bobbi Brown and MAC eyeshadow and foundation are probably best avoided. However, a roll of professional quality makeup brushes featuring real hair (but fake branding) can be had for as little as 60RMB.

Make your own lotions and potions

For inexpensive DIY beauty products with no hidden nasties, look no further than your store cupboard, local wet market and convenience stores. We asked three experts from Shanghai’s natural skincare scene to share their top recipes.


Lotus eye mask

Jin Yang, founder of Earthium

  • 2g lotus leaves (available from local stores) 
  • 1tbsp sugar-free lotus powder (available from local stores)
Simmer the lotus leaves in a pan of water on a medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Mix a spoonful of the hot liquid with the lotus powder until it forms a thick paste. Allow to cool before applying to skin around eyes. Leave for 15 minutes before rinsing off to help prevent dark circles and firm the skin. 

Rosemary lip balm

Jeni Saeyang, founder of Eco & More

  • 2 tbsp virgin coconut oil (available from Sprout Store, see Listings) 
  • 2 tbsp cocoa butter (as above) 
  • 1/2 tbsp pure rosemary essential oil (available from 
  • 1/2 tbsp honey 2 small metal containers with lids (reuse old lip balm tins)
Fill a large saucepan with two inches of water and heat to boiling. Create a bain marie by placing a second, smaller saucepan inside the first. Add all ingredients to the smaller saucepan, lower heat and stir until melted and blended together. Pour into containers. Leave to stand for 20 minutes (reserve the leftovers in the saucepan to top up). To achieve desired consistency, simply re-melt and add more coconut oil (to soften) or cocoa butter (to firm).

Softening face and body scrub

Michelle Yeh, founder of myLOHAS

  • 3 tbsp fresh cream 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 cup white sugar 
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Apply to dry skin on face and body in a gentle circular motion (don’t scrub your face too hard as the skin there is thinner), then wash with warm water. Lastly, rinse with cold water. Pat skin dry. Store any remaining mixture in the fridge and use within two weeks.

Swap facials for face masks

Spa facials are generally a lengthy and costly business, but the new breed of home face masks couldn’t be easier to use. You simply place the paper-silk mask, which comes pre-loaded with product, on your face and leave for 15 minutes before removing the mask and massaging the residue into your skin, with no need to rinse. And at less than the price of a cocktail, you can afford to try a new one every week. There’s a mind-boggling selection at the big beauty chains including Watsons, Sephora and Innisfree: below are three of our favourites.

For wrinkles and fine line

Lingzhi Mask, 19RMB, Sephora
The main ingredient in this smoothing and anti-wrinkle mask is imported extract of Taiwanese lingzhi mushroom, a TCM staple that reportedly has anti-aging powers. 


Sephora Ground floor Super Brand Mall 168 Lujiazui Fucheng Lu Pudong district See full address details

For a dull, tired complexion

Real White Tea Mask, 15RMB, Innisfree
The hugely popular Korean skincare chain uses all-natural plant extracts in its products: here white tea and ‘green complex’ combine to perk up dull skin and give it some glow. 


Innisfree Suite 117, Inpoint Mall, 169, Wujiang Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu, Jingan district See full address details

For dry winter skin

Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizing Mask, 10RMB, Watsons
Hyaluronic acid is well-known for its ability to lock in moisture, giving a satisfyingly plumping effect to dehydrated skin.Find it Watsons, branches citywide. 


Watsons branches citywide