My First Face Massage Was in China — Torn Between Relaxed and Sore

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After 5 years of marriage with a Chinese man, I had my first face massage in China. I never quite cared for facials, massages, makeup, doing my nails, but as a member of this family, I had to keep up good appearances. Reputation, beauty and image were strong components in the Chinese society. They worked hard and knew when to relax.

My mother-in-law was addicted to massages. It’s a passion of hers. Her mind was in her mid-fifties, but her body was in its prime. She looked young and she attributed the astonishing results to her weekly visits to her favorite massage spot.

When she inquired about my interest in getting a face massage with her, she piqued my curiosity. I had heard that Chinese people liked to massage with strength and I wanted to know more about their techniques and see if the rumor was true. When we arrived, I could clearly discern that my mother-in-law was a regular. They treated her like a queen.

I laid on my back under a thick cover, not expecting much. I speculated that they would massage the face for thirty minutes or an hour with their fingers rotating on the temples or squeezing my cheeks until the time was up. And I was wrong.

They started by washing every inch of my face with a warm cloth, twice. Then, they applied different scentless oils that dripped into my ears and rinsed. A cream came next, reminding me of the type of gripping perfume my mother used to wear when I was a kid. The massage had not started yet, and I wondered if this was what a face massage was like. Would they do anything else other than apply stuff on my face? Was it worth the money?

The second cream came with a fish mask and additional oil to exfoliate the skin and eliminate toxins. Fish masks were a popular commodity among Chinese women who believe the components keep their skin fresh, smooth and young.

After forty minutes of oil, creams and masks, the massage began. However, the strokes that were formerly relaxing slowly transformed into a finger quest to unlock muscles and nerves.

The skin was repeatedly stretched, pulled and pushed, but the lady was kind and frequently inquired about my state. I regularly grimaced as her fingers forcefully traced their way around my eyes. I have very sensitive skin, so she lightened the pressure. Complying with my expression, the lady used an instrument to massage my jaw line, up to the forehead. The rolling instrument was pleasant. I began to relax. When the lady gently caressed my head, passing near the nape and behind the ears, it was surprisingly enjoyable. My joy was abruptly shortened by a second fish mask.

While the mask rested on my face, we were offered a free extra. The lady roughly massaged my hands and arms like a wrestler to stimulate blood flow. It was an unusual sensation and I was torn as to say whether it emitted a mild pain at the knuckles, or if it was the sound of her clapping fingers that tricked my brain into thinking my joins cracked. The lady let my body relax for a moment and the warmth of the room enveloped my senses, entertaining the idea of a nap.

Before I could doze off, the lady removed the mask, washed my skin with a warm cloth and applied an oil like an aftershave. The session was over. When I glanced at the clock, I noticed that two hours had passed.

Three hours later, soreness and red spots emerged from the pressure points on my face, but the skin was as smooth as a baby’s cheeks. My mother-in-law was so happy that we did this together. She saw it as a bonding experience for the two of us.

I am still debating if the experience was worth the time and money. I guess I participated out of curiosity and to get closer to my mother-in-law. I would go again if she invited me, so it was probably somewhat agreeable.

I know a lot of people who do enjoy face massages. Different people do it differently, I suppose.

What is your story with Chinese face massages?

Sabrina Mailhot


  1. Some massages just are simply not soft and pleasant. Instead, the masseuse acts more like someone performing an exorcism trying to remove a demon. Some people like that, though. For them, massages are not meant to be just for relaxation but also a way to remove knots in the body through force. I prefer the soft and pleasant style.

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