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Don’t try this in Chinatown: A facial lost in translation

Well+Good readers know that we’re devoted fans of bargain bodywork in Chinatown where you can get terrific, and terrifically affordable, walk-in massage. So we naturally wondered if a bargain facial ($35 for an hour) would offer the same satisfaction. Which leads us to Mimi.

Mimi is an adorable 30-something Hong Kong–trained aesthetician, who goes by her first name. In her six years in NYC, she’s built a word-of-mouth following as the Marcia Kilgore of Chinatown. Like Bliss’s founder back when she was giving facials in her cramped East Village apartment, Mimi commands a loyal following from a spa-room behind a jewelry shop. But the experiences couldn’t be more different.

What I thought I was getting

The speakeasy-like setting I could roll with. What caught me off guard were the two other clients who shared the room with us. Like a skin-care MASH unit, our three gurneys lined the walls. (Missing were the partitions used at the Mario Badescu and Sally Hershberger spas, where the facialists also multi-task, though on just one other customer.)

Mimi’s assembly line approach is made possible by a lengthy spell I spent under the face steamer (15 minutes) and a 30-minute mask—a thick pink ooze, the color of public bathroom soap and the texture of toothpaste, which immediately felt cool and tingly then turned to an uncomfortable cement-like shellac.

What I got

At booking, Mimi said she used Babor products, which is technically true. She did use one Babor moisturizer; the rest were dollar-store “French” products, or, more frightening, unwholesome-looking Chinese ones. When I mumbled through the mask about its origins, she proudly waved a pink packet of powder in my view and smiled. It had Chinese writing all over it. I tried to lay back and think of Babor.

Although the treatment included a fantastic ten-minute facial massage that lifted my cheekbones a full inch, and my face survived the mask (I vetoed extractions), I’m not about to become one of Mimi’s regulars. Chinatown’s reliable Reflexology and Shiatsu-to-go are safer bets.

Mimi, 128 Baxter St., btwn Hester and Canal, 917-682-3226, no web-site, $35 for a basic 60-minute facial

Have you ever had a facial in Chinatown? Please tell us about your experience here!