Beauty Parlor Fraud

My Chinese tutor was just telling me about a method some beauty parlors (美容院) use to cheat girls out of money. The shops have someone standing on the street outside the shop, luring in girls with an offer for a free facial. Girls just love to get that crazy facial treatment (做脸), so they go for it.



Then the beautician cleanses/treats half of the girl’s face and allows her to compare the “beautified” side with the untreated side. At that point, the beauty parlor will tell the girl that if she wants the other side done, she has to pay for it, and it will cost her several hundred RMB. Scandalous. The girls will often do it, because they think they’ll look like a freak if they’ve only had half the facial done, but in fact the visible effects of the facial treatment last less than a day.

Reminds me of the time my little sister went to Paris, and a guy wanted to braid part of her hair. She told the guy she didn’t want to buy anything, but he insisted. When he finished and she still didn’t want to pay for it, he cut that part of her hair out!

Play it safe: stay ugly.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. At least my experience wasn’t as bad as the one you mentioned.

    Once a lady insisted that the facial was free and i reluctantly followed her inside. (She had talked to me for around 10mins to convince me. )
    Once inside. another lady started working on my face. I have to admit it was pretty relaxing. Half-way done, she started to show me many products, telling me about their yearly package for a facial. It costs like RMB700 for one year (a complete facial every week), including 7 beauty products. It sounded like a good deal, way cheaper than in my country so I agreed to pay for the yearly package. The good thing was that I could bring my products back home if i wanted and then bring them along with me when go there for the facial. They can also keep my products for me but I didn’t trust them that much. I don’t regret paying for the package because they really did nice facials but at least now I know one thing:
    I need to be very firm when I say no to Chinese people. Else, they’d keep on pestering me, trying to convince me to buy their stuffs.

  2. This happens in the states all the time. More often than not it involves makeup and not facials. Most big department stores will give women a free “makeover”. The “makeover” only includes half of the face unless they cough up the money to do the rest.

    JC Penney will do the whole face for “free”, but will constantly talk to you about their products and how wonderful they are and pressure you into buying some. I can understand the salesman pitch, but by the end the women I’ve seen having this done look like a clown. Where is the incentive to buy the products if they make you look worse?

    “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

  3. There is a variation on the facial scam. The cosmetic clerk applies a clear liquid to the woman’s face and then wipes it off and shows the woman a dirty, black washcloth and says, “Look at all this gunk on your face!” The gunk, of course, is the clear liquid after a chemical reaction with the skin.

  4. Wow, I’m taking notes. I bet Chinese people would never expect these schemes from a foreigner. I’m considering running some three card monte off Fuzhou Lu as well, who’s in with me?

  5. The facial scam I’m talking about happens in China, but it could very well happen in other countries.

  6. @Jeff: I don’t know if that’d work so well – I think scams run by foreigners have to be done quickly so that when the perpetrators make their exit, the folks they’ve scammed still are in awe of the experience. Occasionally you’ll read in the press about pairs of foreigners running a “collectable bill” scam where they ask for an older 100-yuan note in exchange for one of the new Mao-notes (which happens to be fake). Their marks are just glad to help out…I don’t think you’d be able to hold someone in a beautician’s chair long enough to profit.

  7. The biggest foreigner run scam, I believe, is the pretend-to-teach-your-children English scam…which has been going on for years.

  8. shhhh, you’ll ruin it for the rest of us Jaime! 😛

  9. seriously? i’d walk to the next
    salon and ask to have the other
    side done for free. HAHA!
    c’mon now.

  10. Your sister’s not ugly!

  11. I was subject to a similar scam in Shenzhen. While getting my hair done, they offered a free eyebrow reshape. they plucked my left eyebrow then refused to do the other one unless I paid. I didn’t pay and they didn’t do the other one. (after all the hotel, and my tweezers, were only down the road)

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