A beauty addict in China: Beauty shopping in Shanghai
There’re many highs and lows in the life of an expat, and while living in Shanghai has many perks, beauty shopping definitely isn’t one of them. Especially not for a die-hard beauty addict. On the surface, it doesn’t look that bad – in Shanghai’s enormous shopping malls, there’s usually a Sephora or drugstore, and there’re also a lot of free-standing stores of the big Western beauty brands, and some Korean ones as well. But. There’re a lot of buts, actually.
Some difficulties you might encounter
The first ‘but’ is availability, and the second ‘but’ is the price. Imported goods from other countries (especially ‘luxury’ goods like cosmetics) have an import tax of about 40-50%. That means that your MAC foundation that costs 30€ at home will be around 50€ when you buy it here, Chanel nail polishes are about 30€, and so on. It gets ridiculously expensive.
And then availability. Everytime I enter the Sephora that’s nearest to me, I want to start to cry. Because honestly, as Sephoras go, Chinese ones are a tragedy. The range is seriously limited, same with the brands they showcase. You’ll likely find the big ones like Dior, Clinique, Lancome, and Guerlain, but only their core range. Seasonal collections? There’s neither rhyme nor reason to them. Sometimes you’ll find them, sometimes you won’t, sometimes you’ll find them one season later. And sometimes, when you’re at MAC, you’ll find that the Limited Edition you were looking for bears only a passing relation to the thing you’re looking at. My favourite example for that was MAC’s holiday collection ‘Nutcracker Sweet’ that had the same special packaging, but consisted completely of permanent items. And no, it was a proper counter and not a fake one.
Another problem might be the language barrier – even in Shanghai, the most ‘Western’ of all Chinese cities, it’s often difficult to communicate if you don’t speak Mandarin. SAs often speak only basic English, and if you want to check the ingredients of a product, you’re out of luck – there’re stickers in Mandarin over that helpful (English) info.
Chinese beauty brands
BUTbutbut, you’ll say. What about Chinese products? I’ll go into that in another post, but right now there’re three factors that hinder me from buying Chinese beauty brands: Availability (again) – I know about two Chinese beauty brands on top of my head. That is because the Chinese mainly buy French and Korean beauty brands. Scandals – there have been so many scandals related to food and hygiene. Fake beauty products are everywhere online, too. Animal rights – beauty products have to be tested on animals in China. ‘nuff said.
Where to shop
If that doesn’t deter you or if you’re desperately searching for a product that you’re run out of, here’s where I shop in Shanghai. Please be aware that this is by no means a full list, Shanghai is much too big for that. This is my list, meaning you’ll likely to see me browsing one of those places!
The biggest Sephora is on Nanjing Rd (East), near People’s Square. Have a look at their online site to get a feel of their offerings and also read this great article on how it differs from the US Sephora (clue: more skincare, less makeup). I bought things there when I was absolutely desperate and also on Single’s Day (November 11th) when you’ll find the best discounts of the year. But usually, whenever I’m in a Chinese Sephora, I’m totally exasperated, because they don’t stock the products I want. But then, a regular German Douglas isn’t that much different – SAs who don’t help you, products unavailable – so yeah.
Department Store Beauty Halls
Of course there’re various department stores with beauty halls, just like at home. The one I like is in Parkson Department Store, and has a MAC counter, Origins, Clinique, Chanel, Dior, Guerlain (the Chinese for sure love the French brands), Estée Lauder, Lancome, YSL, MUFE, Fancl, Shu Uemura, Kanebo, Laneige, IOPE, just to name some. Again, same like with Sephora – if you’re on the hunt for limited editions products, you often won’t have any luck. The range is limited, BUT you’ll find some of the offerings for the Asian market there (Chanel’s whole Le Blanc range, for example).
Also, some highly prestigious Asian brands are there, too: SK-II and Sulwhasoo. Btw, L’Oreal is considered a prestige brand here, same with L’Occitane (and the price surely reflects that).
Shopping Malls/ free-standing stores
Near People’s Square, there’s Plaza 66, a rather high-end shopping mall that not only houses Shanghai’s only Chanel Beauty Boutique, but also has a MAC store, a fresh store, Bobbi Brown, Benefit and Burberry. It also has a large Watsons drugstore downstairs. Service at both MAC and Chanel is decent, SAs are reasonably friendly and also speak English.
In the former French Concession, there’s a plethora of shopping malls around metro station Xujiahui. Luxury mall Grand Gateway 66 will have you covered if you want to pop over to shop for a Burberry trench, a Bottega Veneta bag or a Rolex (you know, if the need should arise on a casual Monday morning), but also has a few beauty destinations. There’s a Sephora and an Innisfree store in the basement, but there’re also a Bobbi Brown, an Estée Lauder, a Burberry, a SK-II, a Jurlique and a Jo Malone store. There’s also a shop called Apothecary that carries more niche luxury brands like Dyptique, Byredo and skincare brands like Eve Lom.
In another part of the French Concession (metro stop South Shaanxi Rd) is iapm mall, which manages to be even more upscale than the Grand Gateway (De Beers store, anyone?). You’ll find beauty only in the basement, but there’s a Benefit store, a MUFE store, Shu Uemura, banila co., Fancl, Innisfree and Jurlique. There’s also a Mannings drugstore in the basement. (Generally speaking, cheaper stores are on the lower floors. Just so you know.)
Don’t scoff, high-end supermarkets like City Super and Olé will carry European beauty brands and also some organic options. I’ve seen Bioderma, Weleda, Lavera next to Nivea. Sometimes there’s even some makeup. Big chains like Carrefour also have some (rather limited) options – I’ll never forget my quest for nail polish remover during my first weeks in Shanghai when I couldn’t find any wherever I tried. (I finally found some at Watsons drugstore.)
Carrefour stocks some makeup, skin and body care, but remember, those will likely be the Asian line-up. So you’ll find Nivea, but not the body lotion or deodorant you know from home. Carrefour though offers some L’Oreal, Maybelline, Hada Labo, Tony Moly, Biore, Olay, Dove, Cetaphil and Vaseline.There’s also Pantene, Head & Shoulders and Vidal Sassoon for your hair care needs.
Oh, the drugstores. Similar to Sephora, I usually want to tear my hair out whenever I enter them. Biggest chain is Watsons, with runner-ups Guardian and Mannings. The biggest difference to Western beauty is that skincare is generally much more important than colour cosmetics to the general Chinese customer, and that shows everywhere. Drugstores in other countries are those big fun places where you can shop nail polishes for a few bucks. You can get a new eyeshadow palette while at the same time you can stock up on toilet paper and cat food. That’s simply not the case here in China. (No cat food at the drugstore, for starters.)
There will be some makeup brands, though. The most ubiquitous brand is Kate by Kanebo – and a mix of Asian and Western brands. (Here’re some that caught my eye: Missha, Mamonde, Dr. Jart, Hada Labo, L’Oreal, Nivea, Vichy, Avene, Neutrogena, Max Factor, and Maybelline.) What can be fun though is checking for Asian exclusives from Western brands – Maybelline cushion?! Yaaaawn, here you can get at least three different ones.
So here we are, at the end of my survival tips for beauty shopping in Shanghai, whether you live in the city or are visiting and forgot your moisturizer. Do say hi when you’re in the area!!!
Oh, and if you want to know how to move with a huge stash of makeup, read my account of my move from Germany to China here.