EDITED 15th May to put back the formatting, cheers WordPress, appreciate it.
Living in the UK isn’t a utopia, you know. Sure, we have the National Health Service, which provides free medical care to anyone regardless of income. Yeah, we gave the world a couple of cool people like Shakespeare and this Northern band called the Beatles. Oh, true, while we may not all love our
robotic overlord Prime Minster, we aren’t run by a terrifying screaming Cheeto who thought the Handmaid’s Tale was full of great, really good, superb ideas.
But really, it’s hard sometimes. For example, when I want to spend my money on frivolous gloop to smear on my face skin, I… I… I sometimes have to get on a bus.
Sometimes I have to change buses.
The struggle is real, fam.
Obviously this is a London-centric post as a) we think the UK revolves around us anyway and b) I live here. I totally get the frustration of trying to buy certain brands of skincare if you live in a tiny Aberdeen sheep farming community. But week after week I see comments on IG, Reddit etc that it’s impossible to buy Asian skincare in London. Or, it’s too expensive. Or, rather amusingly, I once saw a complaint that the shop assistant had a heavy accent.
Think of it like a treasure hunt, but better because you can post pictures of your treasures on IG and not worry about being haunted by the spirit of a dead pirate.
Let’s start with the obvious, so we can get it out of the way. TK Maxx has a random selection of Asian beauty, with an emphasis on the random. I’ve found Dr Jart sheet masks for £3 but my God, get used to sifting through some crap to get there. When I buy random sheet masks from TK Maxx, it’s very rarely a delight. Know your shit before you get your credit card out.
In my experience the TK Maxx stores with the highest gold to shit ratios are:
But you never know! Just don’t feel you have to buy a Tony Moly I’m Real mask just because you’re there. It just encourages them. Same with the major stores carrying a few brands here and there – Oxford Street Top Shop, Urban Outfitters and Selfridges. Top Shop has a huge capitalist boner for DHC weirdly- I bought a couple of minis of their deep cleansing oil at a remarkable 150% mark up… and then lost them somewhere between Soho and Green Park.
The Selfridges counter caused quite a stir online when it launched earlier in 2017. However, after visiting twice, I rate the counter as a solid “meh”. I was so excited and so, so drunk when I made my first late night visit. It’s next to Soho, come on! Yes, I spent money there. Yes, I made a new friend in the security guard, who told me I “wasn’t like those snobby bitches” that usually shop there. But if I ever spend £5 on a Tony Moly Panda’s Dream Eye Patch, you need to call the community mental health team because I’ve had a psychotic break.
The range is mainly Tony Moly, Too Cool For School, Leaders and Oh K. Worth picking up some Too Cool For School minis and I do adore Leaders, but overall? It feels like shopping in an abattoir. Bright lights, loud noises, an impending feeling of doom. No, thank you.
Okay, now you need to get the fuck off Oxford Street. Nothing good ever happened there. Take a couple of turns and boom, you’re in Chinatown. Start off on Gerrard Street, and if you don’t take pictures of the beautiful lanterns I’m afraid you will be deported. Sorry, it’s the law.
Oriental Delight usually has a table of skincare upstairs – I buy My Beauty Diary masks from there and if I didn’t like my moisture barrier I’d pick up some of the Shiseido range too. The MBD are about £12.99 a box BUT the shop often has a buy one get one free deal running. Even without the deal, that’s cheaper than Amazon, so go nuts.
Oh, and don’t forget to look behind the counter, they sometimes display items on the shelves, for some reason. To make it more exciting I bet!
After Oriental Delight, head down to New Loon Moon supermarket – and bring your sharpest elbows because this can get pushy. I do love the fact that tiny little Chinese grandmothers will look at me, towering over them and shrug as they jab their elbows in my ribs. These women know no fear and they do NOT like being held up. Move it.
There’s sometimes a small range of products at New Loon Moon and again, the prices are comparable with Amazon. Just check the expiry dates, I’ve been caught out once before and no, you are not getting a refund if you take it back.
Tired yet? I hope not because we are coming up to one of my favorite places in London – p2bus.
“It’s too expensive!”
“There aren’t always price tags!”
“I didn’t get a receipt!!!”
Every review of p2bus will include one or more of the above bingo cards. It makes me roll my tired old eyes. Yeah, it’s not cheap at all. Some of their prices are ludicrous in fact. Nope, not always price tags. Oh, and you get a receipt if you ask for one. It’s often crowded and you might be followed around the tiny store by one of the sweet af assistants. NEWSFLASH. They are not “watching you”. They want to help you and can tell you prices of things!
This irritates me no end. I grew up in Singapore and Hong Kong and this is the service I would expect. I feel comfortable there in a way that I don’t feel in say, Selfridges. I’ve never been misgendered or insulted in p2bus – in fact, they are always friendly, helpful and because they use and love their products, they will tell you anything you need to know, with recommendations. Compare that to Selfridges, when I bought a snail sheet mask and the counter assistant literally recoiled with horror.
But it’s so expensive! Yeah? Okay. It’s not cheap. Cheap is going home and ordering from jolse.com or any of the countless online stores and receiving your order 2 – 3 weeks later. I am so, so happy to pay a premium to walk to an actual store, rifle through literally hundreds, if not thousands of products and walk out with something new I’ve never seen before in my sticky little hand. I am super happy to pay for the experience. Again, compare to Selfridges. £5 for a TM Panda Dream Eye Thingy is not good value to me as there is no value added by purchasing in store.
In summary, I love p2bus and I will not hear anything said about my beloved. If I didn’t go there I wouldn’t have found this terrifying cocoon mask and then how would I scare small children?
Still with me? Okay! The fun doesn’t stop there! Now it’s time to visit the long forgotten paradise of… New Malden, Surrey. Technically London, in the way that Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice are technically royalty, you’re probably going to have to make a day of it.
Did you know that New Malden has the highest population of Korean expats than any other place in Europe? FACT. This means excellent food choices and not one but two huge supermarkets to rifle through.
Also, while you’re here why not visit the Jurassic Encounter Adventure Golf? In fact, please do this and send me pictures.
Korea Foods is huge. You will spend a lot of money here, I promise. And that’s before you get to the beauty section. Again, it’s a gamble, sometimes you hit the jackpot and sometimes you are staring down that smug little girl on the Etude House eye patch box. Good for boxes of sheet masks too, and the prices are comparable to online. You’re not going to find Oolu’s orchid toner for £1, but you will not leave without spending at least £20, with other £10 on shrimp flavoured crunchy snacks. Think volume not quality at Korea Foods, at least when it comes to beauty.
Wipe the shrimp dust off your hands and head over to H Mart, my preferred location. This place is where you want to be when the apocalypse comes (and it will, my friends. It will). I could live in their fruit section quite happily for at least a month. Much of the usual Innisfree, Etude House, Tony Moly but also items that you just can’t get anywhere else, and in boxes of twelve.
A lot of the UK resellers on ebay and Amazon shop here – I see you, with your carts piled high – and there is a reason for that. It’s cost-effective. I live two hours away by public transport and writing this has made me need to go again and post my hauls as proof. My last visit was sadly undocumented, which makes me think… if a haul goes without mention on Instagram, did it even happen, or was it just a tree falling in a lonely forest?
Okay, if you read all of that, I like you, I admire your dedication and I think we are friends now. I’m so nearly done but! A little list of tips for UK tourists or people new to the Asian beauty snailfest.
- Super important! AMERICANS. When we in the UK say Asian, we don’t mean what you mean – we’re talking about South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc). Don’t go down Chinatown asking for Asian skincare. That will get you weird looks and directions to Drummond Street.
- When shopping in Chinatown, bring cash. Sure, there is a sign saying they take cards, but trust me. Take cash.
- Ask if you can’t see prices. You’re not bothering anyone. And ask for your total. It’s cool, I promise.
- If shop assistants are watching you, it’s probably not because they think you’re a thief (UNLESS YOU ARE!), but because there is a real interest in knowing what people are looking at. Be cool.
- Bring your own bags because when larger stores started charging 5p, some of the smaller ones did too.
- Don’t be a dick and obviously price check on your phone. I saw someone do that in New Malden awhile back. He had a box of Pocky thrown at him and those boxes are sharp, with a high velocity.
- Opening hours on the website? Yeah, that’s no good to you when you’re staring at a locked and bolted door. Get there before closing because those times are extremely flexible.
TL:DR? Here you are:
TK Maxx – always a gamble, usually a disappointment
Selfridges Oxford Street – the most well lit place you’ll ever be mugged
Department stores like Top Shop, Urban Outfitters – is it worth being deafened by the noise young people call music nowawadays for a £10 Etude House kitty hair band?
Gerrand Street Chinatown – New Loon Moon, Oriental Delight, p2bus, bring all your money
New Malden – K Mart and Korea Foods, worth the journey into suburbia, just be home before dusk or you might never leave