Growing up was a nightmare. I suffered major inferiority-complex issues coupled with never-ending family problems. I remember going for weekly counselling sessions in secondary school, thinking I looked like ET – big forehead and ugly. My eyebrows were non-existent – they were like a patch of wild grass.
At the age 12 I picked up my first pair of tweezers and an eyebrow pencil, and started out on my journey of making myself look good. I was lucky to have the opportunity to start my business at the age of 19, even with no formal education in this area. It was the trend back then in Singapore – we called it a makeover studio, where we turned real people into vavavoom characters, letting them experience their hidden beauty.
I strongly believe this background of working with real people helped me greatly in my perspectives on beauty. I first explored the local Singapore celebrity scene before coming to Hong Kong, where I began working with Asian and international superstars.
When I work with celebrities, my job is to create a “fantasy” and market it to the masses, making my clients look “perfect”. But with real people, my job is to help them find their hidden beauty, which they may not even be aware of. I often get asked what makes a person look good.
I answer that it’s not related to superficiality, and that to look good you must first have confidence. And to have confidence you need fully to accept that you must own all of yourself. Most of us are judgmental of others but our own harshest critic is ourselves. I always tell my private clients that if you like what you see in the mirror that’s great, but if you detest your own reflection, then get up and do something about it. I can never understand people who complain about how they look, while not putting in the effort to do anything about it.
We live in a youth-obsessed culture in which growing old means looking ugly and “not in the game” anymore. I believe there are no ugly people in the world, it’s just the way you see things. If you own it and you like to age gracefully, why not? To each their own. I, on the other hand, try my very best to slow down ageing, for the simple reason that I’m 100 percent superficial – and I own it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong about being superficial, but the difference is that I’m able to distinguish what’s real and what’s fake, what is important and what isn’t. Given the advances in science and technology, I refuse to let myself deteriorate with age. I’ll try my best to keep myself in the best possible state.
To get an idea of how you’ll look when you get older, just look at your parents; we can’t defy our own DNA. You’ll either resemble your mum or dad – or both – when you get older. So, based on that, you should fire up your engine and start doing preventative work.
Typically, most people begin to experience ageing around their mid-thirties – though, unfortunately, women age faster especially after they give birth. It usually starts with the eyes: the moment you feel you’re looking tired is when your eyes are showing signs of ageing. Among the most common issue are double eyelids becoming smaller, eye bags, dark eye circles, puffy eyes and tear troughs.
Both my parents have tear-trough issues, an extremely common area of concern which gives you a tired and hollow appearance as it forms a deep crease between the lower eyelid and upper cheek and casts a shadow below the eyes. This issue gets worse with age.
I’ve tried to counteract this problem with lots of fillers from various celebrity doctors around the region, who all recommended the same technique, which is to use injectables to fill up the missing volume. I ended up looking very unnatural in photographs and the contours of my face weren’t smooth.
“We live in a youth-obsessed culture in which growing old means looking ugly and ‘not in the game’ anymore”Alvin Goh
The thing about fillers is that they provide instant results but have a vicious effect. And because of my high metabolism, I had to top up every three months. Basically, at every session I’m at the mercy of the doctor, because the results are never consistent. I’ve tried all kinds of fillers – you name it, I’ve done it. But the results are never satisfying. It’s basically a road of no return, as you have to constantly top up. For some people it’s caused serious complications.
Losing collagen in the face is another major concern. Remember that volume and elasticity equate youth. But as we age we lose collagen, which exposes the bones beneath the skin, it pulls the skin inwards and makes the face look haggard. The golden rule when we age is not to have a chiselled face – we need to preserve the volume in our face and keep the skin tight.
And then there’s the weakening of the facial muscles. There are 43 muscles in the face, which we engage when making “bad” expressions, such as frowning excessively. It’s cute to frown when you’re young but I guarantee you’ll regret it when you get older as it ages your features. Botox may solve this issue if your muscles haven’t hardened excessively.
My prayers were answered when I discovered this amazing anti-ageing professor in Seoul. I was given a 40-minute presentation on his techniques and I was so blown away that I immediately paid for the package, which cost me around $300,000. That’s a crazy amount for most people, but I see it as my way of loving and investing in myself. The package includes three to four sessions, which are spread out over a year.
In essence, he did several things: fat grafting from my body to my face, threading, laser and botox. He first removed all the fillers from my face – he’s the only anti-ageing doctor I know who doesn’t use them. Then he grafted fat from my back on to the hollow areas of my face. Every session was underdone, not overdone – unlike fillers, which can be melted by hyaluronic acid, fat can’t be dissolved.
Other than not using fillers, he neither cuts the face (aka facelift) nor does he do full-body anaesthesia. I was wide awake while he did the fat grafting – and for someone who’s afraid of pain, I felt nothing. And the fat grafting insertion was so small. All the doctors I know put their patients to sleep for fat-grafting procedures, not to mention even Thermage or Ultherapy procedures. Never be put to sleep for any beauty procedure – it’s not worth risking your life!
He inserted more than 100 threads in my face (long and short, and at different layers of my skin), creating a net which then lifted my eyes and face without cutting, while also creating a youthful voluminous look that’s also defined. Sadly, I haven’t encountered any good local doctors who are good at threading. (I was recently sponsored at an upmarket anti-aging centre where the doctor actually told me she didn’t know how to do threading the way my Korean doctor does.)
Although I have nothing against Hong Kong doctors, I do feel their techniques are outdated compared to their counterparts in Seoul (not to mention that the price here is ridiculously expensive). I’ve also encountered egotistical doctors here who aren’t open to comments and become offended when I share with them the techniques I tried in Seoul.
All the doctors recommend derma fillers, but these only make your face look unnatural and make your skin sag. Think of it as constantly filling up the skin from beneath and, over time, stretching it. But doctors will never say that, as it’s a quick buck for them. To each their own, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend this technique if you’re trying to achieve a natural look.
And don’t get a Caucasian doctor to fix your face, unless your aesthetics are Westernised. Eastern ideas of beauty differ from those in the West. Choose your preference, but what I know for sure is doctors in Japan and Korea are the best.
Having a so-called eye for beauty is highly subjective, because everyone has their own perspective. Money and fame don’t equate with good taste or doctors, because most people don’t know what beauty is. Their standard of beauty comes from social media, a photo that’s either heavily retouched or of a 19-year-old model. Or it could be peer pressure – recommendations from people who have no idea of what beauty is.
Between 2017 and 2019 I was going regularly to my doctor in Korea, but then Covid hit and I haven’t seen him for almost two years. I think I still look fine, even though I see some collagen loss on the sides on my face. Fortunately I’d been religiously doing tightening laser treatments on my face – and since no doctor here can do threading like mine, I shall stay in view till the moment I can visit him again.
The concept of anti-ageing should be a lifestyle that begins with being open to science and technology when you’re young. Invest in a good doctor, because finding one is harder than finding a partner. Also, it’s important to have a youthful heart and a positive mindset. I’m 43, but I let my inner child out all the time.
I never deny my age and I don’t judge myself for “acting cute”, as other people might do. As I said before, we’re our own harshest critics. Ageing shouldn’t be feared – you should embrace it wholeheartedly and own it fiercely. My life’s purpose is to spread a life of beauty, inside out. Once the travel ban is lifted, I’ll be on the first flight to Seoul for some major and much-overdue rejuvenation.
Many of my high net-worth clients come to me for a very simple reason: they want help to discover their best part. Many are clueless on how to look good, while others just want a major makeover.
What I do is very different from other people in the industry because of my background in beauty and anti-ageing aesthetics. Some clients do not require major overhaul, they just need help with their image. But some clients want more, so I will bring them to professionals. What I always tell them is that it’s all about how bad we want something.
The transformation journey may take months, but once they get the look they want, they need to stay dedicated. We are always ageing and that’s why I put a lot of emphasis on an anti-ageing lifestyle, not just a one-off solution.
This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.