Get us in your inbox

Search
Face threading, Beauty Salon Choice Threading
Photograph: Joshua Lin

Face threading 101: A look into an age-old beauty technique

Learn all about the art of face threading and those who are keeping this traditional craft alive

Jenny Leung
Edited by
Jenny Leung
Written by
Tommy Yu
Advertising

Nestled in the heart of Sheung Wan, Beauty Salon Choice Threading is one of the few beauty parlours in Hong Kong that still provides an age-old beauty treatment – face threading. We sat down with the salon's beautician, Ah-lok, to find out just exactly what it is, how it works, and what the future holds for this unique beauty technique that's been around for thousands of years.

RECOMMENDED: Curious about other unique trades and crafts in Hong Kong? Read all about these disappearing trades and crafts in Hong Kong and where to find them.

A family trade
Photograph: Joshua Lin

A family trade

Ah-lok works in Beauty Salon Choice Threading, a family business manned by Leung Tai, the legendary woman who carries the artisanal side of the family. Leung Tai's children help in the shop and know this beauty trade inside out, with no exception for Ah-lok, her son-in-law.

"I didn’t know anything about threading before I met my wife,” says Ah-lok. His wife, the daughter of Leung Tai, grew up in the humble trade and watched her mother 'thread out' a living. It is her root and her love language – and something that Ah-lok needed to master. "When we were dating, I had to thread her face”, he says with a smile. Then one day, Leung Tai injured her hand, and her daughter shouldered the salon business alone. To lighten his wife’s burden, Ah-lok decided to lend a hand whenever he could and started working part-time at the salon.

Although Ah-lok had picked up the skills from his wife, threading on-the-job was not a piece of cake. "We rely on the neck, shoulder, and waist to lend motion to the thread", he explains. "When I first started, I would experience pain and aches all over the body until I gradually got into the swing of things." Now a full-time threader, Ah-lok has taken on this job for eight years and counting.

Threading 101
Photograph: Joshua Lin

Threading 101

Being a traditional beauty technique, face threading (or simply, threading, as other parts of the body can also be treated) was born thousands of years ago in Central Asia. No one would have imagined a cotton thread rolling down the face can leave behind a clean, smooth trail. "Most people just know that threading is about hair removal, but there is much more to it", says Ah-lok, who explained that not only does threading remove peach fuzz and clear clogged pores, but it also has the effect of tightening the skin and diminishing black sprouts. "Dirt is trapped around hair roots. As we pull them out, dead skin, grease, and grime come out, too”, he adds.

Advertising
Traditions and customs
Photograph: Joshua Lin

Traditions and customs

In some parts of China, threading remains a wedding rite. According to ancient legend, Emperor Yang of Sui used to seize civilian brides, and no one dared to host weddings at the time. But a slick couple thought up a plan: the bride would have her face threaded, put on makeup, and play the statue of a goddess in a religious march. As it turned out, her stainless face successfully cleared the suspicion of the imperial guards, who thought the bride was really a goddess in the procession. From then on, threading has started to carry auspicious meanings for brides. 

Threading also conveys blessings to pupils. Ah-lok tells us that when school starts, some children would have their forehead threaded, as the term for 'threading' can be translated as 'hoi min' in Cantonese, which literally means 'opening one’s face'. Thus, threading one’s forehead means removing all the mind-boggling obstacles in the learning journey, and is considered favourable to pupils. 

But that's not all – did you know that the beauty technique also connects people in a community? According to Ah-lok, threading was so popular in some parts of China that every woman needed to learn how to thread. Girls would learn the ropes, practise on one another, and forge connections with each other. 

Ready, set, and thread
Photograph: Joshua Lin

Ready, set, and thread

To prepare for a threading session, Ah-lok first puts a headband on his customer and washes their face with herbal tonic water, a plant-based solution used to cleanse the skin. Then, he covers the face with begonia powder, or 'Hoi Tong' powder, which helps to clear facial oils and make hairs easier to shear. According to Ah-lok, folks once used ross stick ash, but it has fallen out of fashion due to hygiene concerns. 

Photograph: Joshua Lin

Looping a cotton thread around his thimbled fingers, Ah-lok holds another end in his mouth. By the sleight of his hand and a light bob of his head, the looped thread begins snipping the hairs in a grasp-release motion like cutting scissors. To ensure satisfactory results, each threader must be relentless about precision. God is in the details, and one minor lapse is enough to mess up all the work, especially when shaping a perfect eyebrow curve.

As Ah-lok deftly operates, the uprooted hairs, along with the begonia powder, fly out. Running from the forehead to the cheeks, a threading session takes around 30 minutes – but there's certainly a price to pay for beauty as it tickles and sometimes stings. "It hurts more if the hairs are thick," he says.

Photograph: Joshua Lin

Adding the finishing touches, the skin is washed again with herbal tonic water. But this time, it serves as aftercare to prevent inflammation. "Don’t touch your face in the next four hours or so,” Ah-lok suggests. "The pores of your skin are wide open and prone to infection."

Advertising
The future of threading
Photograph: Joshua Lin

The future of threading

Threading has been around for thousands of years, but will it stand the test of time? "I am optimistic about the future of threading," answers Ah-lok. Beauty treatments are equally favoured by men and women nowadays, and the threading salon boasts a considerable portion of male customers amongst its diverse clientele. Ah-lok has lost count of how many threading sessions he has manned as a longtime beautician. However, he knows the secret to the longevity of threading and what wonders a cotton thread can conjure. 

The allure of threading is one that many find fascinating; from waxing to lasers to other modern treatments that require the workings of complex machinery, humans have never ceased to pursue beauty. But for Ah-lok and many of his loyal patrons, the key to a great complexion is so daintily kept with a simple cotton thread.

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising

      The best things in life are free.

      Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

      Loading animation
      Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

      🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

      Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!