It started with a swipe to the right on Tinder. I matched with Astrid in mid-September. A friend said “hello” for me.

She didn’t respond right away, it took two weeks. But I was busy at a conference in Spain and the conversation only continued again another week later. We then switched to WhatsApp, and after an exchange of voice messages, friends encouraged me to ask her out.

We met at a coffee shop at the end of October and the conversation was bland. She was around 26 years old, and said she had graduated from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and was in marketing. She said it was a busy job so she did not have that many interests, aside from planning a trip to Japan, maybe Hokkaido at the end of the year for a few days.

tinder surprise

But I did notice she was wearing an expensive Rolex Daytona watch, and had a car key for a Tesla – which she seemingly enjoyed talking about, and said it was her reward for working hard.

In between conversations, here and there, she talked about having facial treatments with her mum.  She would also let slip that I had dark circles around my eyes, and my skin condition was not very good. I thought it was just girl talk.

The day after that, she asked me what would I be doing the following weekend. “I should be going for a facial treatment next week. You said you haven’t been doing that, so I wanted to ask you to come along,” she said in a voice message.

I asked her what she thought I should do. “They wouldn’t ask you to join some course without you trying it first. Try it first, see if you like it, if you don’t like it, it’s not important,” she said.

That’s when I got suspicious and checked her name and other keywords, namely “beauty treatment”, “sales” and “Tinder”, on Google. A long thread on the popular HKGolden forum popped up.

beauty hong kong
File photo: Mike Clarke.

Multiple users described their encounters with Astrid and other women like her. Some stopped communicating after they found out that they intended to sell beauty treatment programmes to them. One wrote: “The first two, three days [of talking] were normal, I thought I got to know a great [girl], but suddenly she sent me a photo saying I am doing a facial :(”

Some users even made a public list of more than 100 alleged beauty treatment salespeople who approached them through dating apps like Tinder, Happn and Skout, or Chinese messaging app WeChat. Astrid was featured, although the partial number on the list did not match the one she talked to me with. Her photo also appeared on the forum posts.

skout tinder happn

I spoke with my colleagues about a potential scheme behind all of this, and without much deliberation, we decided I should play along.

I was brought to a branch of the Neo Skin Lab in Jordan. It started well, as Astrid and I sat in a small office, a consultant asked me to read and sign a form including sections for personal details, the treatments I was interested in or had done, disease history and their privacy policy.

She then suggested a few treatments for me including those for my face and under-eye circles. We agreed on a total of four treatments for HK$1,388.

Astrid and I did not share the same room when I underwent the treatments. In fact, I have no way of finding out if she had any treatment herself. As for me, I was lying in a room for the next hour with a beauty technician who was chatty and seemed to do her job well. She didn’t try to sell any programmes or products during the procedure.

As the treatment ended, I was asked to stay in the consultant’s room, then waited for around 30 minutes with Astrid, instead of simply leaving.

The consultant started to try to convince me to buy long term programmes of at least ten sessions. I gave an excuse that sometimes I would be out of Hong Kong for a month or two so I would not want to buy any long term treatments.

“We only serve members. Is this your first time in a beauty parlour? We only serve members. All beauty parlours in Hong Kong only serve the customers if they have bought programmes, otherwise they would only serve them if it was the first visit,” she said.

Despite my constant refusals, she gave me the hard sell for a full 20 minutes before I finally escaped.

It then seemed that my disinterest in buying a programme had sparked Astrid’s disinterest in me.

neo skin lab
Neo Skin Lab did not respond to questions.

I messaged her two days after my treatment and got short non-committal responses as I attempted conversation, before she stopped replying altogether.

Neo Skin Lab did not respond to questions about whether they had a working relationship with Astrid, or about their sales practices. Astrid also did not reply to questions, but changed her name on Tinder after enquiries were made.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.