More Than Skin Deep

Cosmetology may be the science of pampering the skin, but earning a client’s trust is about the art of empathy and attentiveness

Lying on the feather-soft couch beneath me, I sink deep into the warm body of ocean. I can feel the gentle touching, like staying in the womb of a mother. “How does it feel?” Kwok’s soothing voice coaxes me out of my trance-like state. I open my eyes and slowly become aware of the space around me. It’s like emerging from a long, deep sleep. Warm yellowish light enters my eye. I am in a roomfull of pretty bottles and clean decorations. Racheal Kwok Choi Ying, my cosmetologist, is standing beside me. She is the one who takes me through this peaceful journey.

Kwok, 20, dresses in white and tidy uniform, has a nice smile on her face. Her arms slightly bent and overlap in the middle of her waist. Follow with a standard bow to the customers. “I am looking forward to see you again.” The woman waves, and leaves with a satisfactory face and glowing skin. By then we can already tell their relationship, they have had a good time together. Racheal is a cosmetologist at Ingrid Millet, a beauty brand and cosmetology “institute” started in Paris in 1959 after its founder claimed to have made, according to the brand’s website, the “groundbreaking discovery that plant cellular extracts have a remarkable rejuvenating effect on the skin.”

In Hong Kong, beauty is a booming industry. In the survey by Euromonitor International, beauty and personal care experienced stable current value growth of 6% in 2014. But despite the dazzling outlook for beauty services, the industry has also suffered setbacks frequently. In 2012, a patient died at a local beauty center after undergoing a blood transfusion procedure generally given to cancer patients. All the victims suffered septic shock, a result from severe infection. “Fourth woman in hospital after blood transfusion beauty therapy” read a headline in the city’s leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post.


“When we saw this news, we are angry as well. It is a stain to the industry,” Racheal and her colleagues said. “They often use a relatively low price to attract customers.” The majority of these beauty salons lack proper licensing and safety guidelines. “We must acknowledge that any beauty treatments have their risks.” Our skin is one of the most sensitive part of human body, it could be easily damaged by external irritation. “As a professional beautician, we must carefully evaluate the risk of those treatments.” Professional beauticians have to evaluate the risk and danger for their clients. The salon will give them a survey, where they learn from their clients about their physical conditions. Racheal and her colleagues would pair up to formulate a plan that best fits their clients. Every procedure will be explained in detail, including products and ingredients they used. These processes facilitate interactions and communications between the clients and the beauticians, which are acts of trust building before they start.

Most of their clients are office ladies and business women. They have to work in the day, therefore mostly dropped by at night. Chan, 46 years old, is having an appointment for a deep clean treatment. She is working as financial in Central, with a family of five to take care. After work, she usually has to rush back home to cook for her husband and their three kids. “It’s like having two full-time jobs.” She said. “So having a treatment here twice a month is a rewarding time for me.” Within half an hour, she would be able to leave her job and family. “Feeling refreshed and charged, I have the energy to handle all the challenges in life.”

“We have a series of protocols to follow,” said Kwok. Cosmetologist is a job that required many practical skills. Before serving a customer, Racheal has a two weeks training, she learns not only how to operate machines, but also proper communication with clients. “They give me a list of sentences for professional meet and greet. We are required to memorize all the lines. “Good morning, madam, how is your day?” She recites. Two weeks is indeed not a very long time, but most of the knowledge and experience are gained through practices. “We learn from our clients.” Every time they are having a treatment, cosmetologists observe their clients’ reactions and listen carefully.” Feedbacks from customers help them to improve. “We thereby learn how to talk and make them comfortable. They are the best textbooks.”

Kwok first steps into the field right after she graduated from high school. She took Applied learning subject: Fundamental cosmetology for Hong Kong Diploma in Secondary Education. She is a girl passionate in make-up and beauty. “I am not doing very well at school.” Kwok therefore decided that she may try something new outside school. In fact, most girls in the class bear similar reason.

Man Ling Lau is an Esthetician in Elyze. She is a mother of a 3 month old daughter. “It is hard leaving my daughter for work every day,” She said. “For honest, I am not most interested in being an Esthetician.” After graduated from high school, she decided to work. “I don’t have much choice.” Without further academic qualification, she applied a foundational course at Caritas Cosmetic Career Center. And later, she starts working in the industry, there she meet more people with same interest and concerns. “When there are just the two of us, we chat like friends.” The small treatment room is the ground of intimacy and connection between people. Some clients who also have kids give her many advices. They share everything. From kindergarten schools, affordable outlets and an argument with their husbands. “People are the reason why I love the job.”

Although there are protocols and guidelines, things don’t always get along smoothly. As long as it involves people, the situation may get complicated. “Some clients are hard to understand.” Wong, one of Racheal’s colleagues says. Kwok once served a customer who has anxiety. “I heard from my colleagues that she is hard to please” she said. “Therefore I tried everything to make her feel comfortable, I explained every step and ask for her feelings.” At first the treatment goes on smoothly, but when they are doing a facial mask, the client started to complain. “She is not happy with everything.” The client yelled at her about the temperature and she question the quality of the mask, even Kwok already explained in detail. “I started getting mad, but I have to stay calm. Unleash your anger will only make the situation worse.” She therefore tried to do everything the client asked for, adjusting the temperature for six time. The client seems satisfied, and they spend another fifteen minute together, in a peaceful and comforting environment.

“Our management always tells us to take care of our clients as friends,” Kwok said. “And to make sure that they feel like home.” She herself is the perfect example of these goals. Chow, the manager of the branch is walking around the lobby, quick and nimble, without hesitate. She is greeting all the clients that come near the entrance, guiding them to the couch. A few minutes later, she is receiving a phone call. She politely answers the phone, with bright and plentiful facial expressions, even when the one on the other side won’t get to see it. When she walks around, all employees look at her with respect. “There are no clients that she cannot please. She can win over their heart.” All colleagues agree. Chow has ten years experience working in the industry, which makes her smooth and diplomatic in serving customers.

“When I first work here as a trainee, the customers are not very welcoming, which is understandable. If I pay, I would like to be served with the best. When the clients see a new face, they would ask many questions to “test” you.” They worry about being guinea pigs in the lab.” Trust building is a long-term and ongoing process. “Everyone went through this stage.” Communication is the key. “We always start by asking. To understand what they like or dislike. When they begin to trust you, they would share everything with you.” The reason Racheal Kwok loves her job lies in the satisfaction from being accepted and affirmed. “When a client designated you for their treatment, it means that you are being recognized as a cosmetologist.” Some clients would bring Racheal small gifts, like chocolate and accessories, for being grateful for having a great time together. “A girl dropped by to deliver her hand-made cookies as Christmas present.” She always shares about her family with Kwok. “She makes me feel important.”

“Once she tells me about her parents’ divorce.” And she started crying in the middle of the treatment. Kwok is forced to cease the procedure and calm her down. “The fact that they are no longer couple doesn’t mean that they will stop loving you.” Kwok tries to recall the memory. Kwok then gave her a free facial massage. “It is good to know that I make her feel better. Her applause means a lot to me.” They also talk about the latest fashion trend and shopping malls.“We have a lot in common.” “One time I was so overwhelmed that I forgot what I have to do next.” Kwok giggles. The bitter and sweet they share together definitely exceed the price of the treatment.

Skin is one of the most sensitive part of human body. The moment people pay represent they trust you. The treatment process is rather private, the clients stay with a cosmetologist in a small room. Most of the time the clients would lie down in their most defenseless posture. This industry is all about trust. “They pay, we listen.” Some customers come here because they need someone to talk to, and to seek comfort and relief. “Therefore we do whatever we can to help them feel better.” They pay for joy, instead of the treatment itself. Trust, however, is the foundation of such happiness and relief.


Writer: Vicky Kwok

Editor: Vivian Lee


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