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Save Your Skin!

Meet Sugar Mama, the 55-year-old Chinese granny who claims to hold the secret to making you look ten years younger

We’d do anything to lessen Beijing’s impact on our skin, yet it can be hard to know exactly where to turn. When it comes to beauty products, many of us stick to the comforting Western brands found on the shelves in Watsons.
There is, however, always the option of going local and trying out some of the more unconventional Chinese treatments out there. Simply put, we have a choice in Beijing between Chinese and Western treatments.
But is slapping on a bit of white fungus perhaps a beauty step too far? And do some of the more weird and wonderful approaches to healthy skin really work?
Winter is on its way, which – as ever – is going to be particularly harsh on the skin. So, in preparation, we tried to get to the bottom of this conundrum through a visit to the remarkable Sugar Mama, a traditional practitioner for the 21st century.
Aka Lily Lu, she claims to have inherited many beauty secrets through links to the Qing Dynasty. Born into a family of traditional Chinese medecins, her mother made all her own skincare products, and used specialist recipes to cure Sugar Mama of her teenage acne.
Today, Mama’s knowledge and skills have won her a number of celebrity fans, including Juliette Binoche; Chinese actresses Faye Wong, Li Bingbing and Gao Yuanyuan are also reputedly patrons. Mama also hosts her own beauty chat show on the radio, and is a prolific user of microblogging website Weibo.
When we visit, we are struck by how her salon mimics your typical Chinese joint. Once Sugar Mama bursts in, all smiles, ripe skin and even riper language, you realise things aren’t quite what they seem. Bedecked in a mobile headset (to both connect with her many minions and keep her Weibo account updated), she is 55 but looks 20 years younger. She asks us to guess her age – a party trick she uses often.
A wish to help others suffering from her teenage affliction (or similar) led to the opening of the salon. Tailoring to the individual is key, she tells us. One particular mask (299RMB for seven) – made of white fungus, bird’s nest and ‘protein’ – has 72 different varieties with varying amounts of each ingredient depending on the client’s skin type, age and skin condition.
Mama keeps schtum about exact product recipes, insisting these regal family secrets can only be passed from generation to generation, but explains the central focus is ‘nature’. Most of her products are actually edible.
Her ‘Golden Trio’ cleansing regime (127RMB) includes a balancing water that you can also gargle if you have toothache, and honey – of which she insists you consume a tablespoon each morning to help clear your intestines, then combine with yoghurt to wash your face.
She also urges us to massage our breasts with the honey to keep them pert, and reveals that she keeps herself, ahem, well lubricated, by washing her nether regions with it each day to keep her literally glowing from top to, erm, wherever.
She has also developed and patented several treatments and therapies, and stresses the importance of advanced technologies used alongside her products. Her main facial therapy, she believes, can treat the four main causes of skin problems, which she calls the ‘O-PI detoxification 2+1+1’ therapy (1,378RMB).
While the treatment may sound pricey, she insists you only need four sessions per year, and will never need any other facial treatments. This procedure, she assures us, will open the lymphatic system to tighten the skin, rebalance cells, remove lymphatic waste water and fine-tune the microcirculation system to shrink pores, while an antioxidant treatment will prevent skin damage.
For acne sufferers, Mama says there are two types of acne, and confidently claims she can cure both. For those with established acne, she believes a cocktail of too many products is to blame and that rebalancing the cells will literally clear up the problem. She asserts that one treatment course of 20 sessions will do the trick.
For those under the age of 25, she says a customised blend of Chinese medicine will rid the client of any skin woes. Now, it’s easy to feel you’ve been duped in Beijing, especially when bargaining is de rigueur. However, while her sales pitch is at times outrageous, it’s part of Mama’s irrepressible personality.
Plenty of satisfied repeat customers can’t all be wrong. Juliette Binoche? Faye Wong? Li Bingbing? Pass me the white fungus. The proof is in the pores and ours felt cleansed and rejuvenated as we waved goodbye to Sugar Mama.
Sugar Mama’s top tips
1. An obvious one this, but it’s essential you keep your skin clean, especially if you wear make-up. Your pores need to breathe. Even in a city as polluted as Beijing, they need to absorb air continuously.
2. Exercise is absolutely crucial. Twenty minutes or more of brisk walking every day will speed up your blood circulation. Get moving!
3. Increase your fibre intake to ensure a normal stool cycle and to allow for detoxification. Eating seasonal foods such as almonds, red dates, medlar, hawthorn and yams benefits the skin and body.
4. Avoid skincare products that contain chemicals as these will damage your skin over time.
5. While some spas will massage your skin during a facial, this is really harmful – it has the effect of damaging the skin’s elasticity. 6. While there are well-publicised downsides to excessive sunbathing, you do need some sun to stimulate the formation of vitamin D, which can improve calcium absorption.
Contact Sugar Mama on 6553 3541 or visit for more details.

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