China’s Beauty Cheat Sheet for 2022

The China market holds a particular allure for international names given its vast opportunity and love of beauty. However, it’s dynamic and changing fast. And as the country continues to decouple, international names need to realign their strategies with the values of a less predictable consumer set. Meanwhile, domestic C-beauty names accounted for half of the total cosmetics market in 2020, and this continues to rise according to a recent report by consulting agency Fabernovel. 

As we enter Q3, here’s a must-see round up of the mainland’s ever-evolving beauty arena six months on, to prepare global cosmetic brands to finish 2022 on the right foot. And for each trend, we’ve spotlighted the breakout local company giving it steam. 

Anti-aging is unmissable 

La Terapia offers scientifically crafted hair care products that empower women. Photo: La Terapia’s Weibo

During the 618 festival, searches for anti-aging products among all consumer demographics rose 500 percent year on year. But those under 34 made up one third of health-related shopping in 2021, while in June 2022 Chinese Gen Z consumers actually overtook shoppers in their 30s and 40s in terms of buying and searching for anti-wrinkle items on Tmall. A consumer insight study conducted by retail investment firm GenBridge Capital (with a sample size of 400 consumers younger than 40) revealed that the top health concern of young consumers were hair loss and graying hair, which together came in at 55 percent

Breakout star: High-end scalp care brand La Terapia/了于 has been making headway in the hair loss department. Founded in 2020, it scientifically crafts hair care products that offer effective and clean solutions tailored to Asian hair types, uniting the finest Italian quality with clinically-proven, cutting-edge biopharma technology.

Micro-ecological skincare

Herborist’s T’ai Chi masks contain more than 20 active ingredients from plants. Photo: Xiaohongshu

One consumption trend from e-commerce platform JD.com’s 618 festival was an uptick in imported beauty and personal care. Since then, the turnover of related categories such as “pure skincare” and “micro-ecological” have increased significantly. Essences, cleansers, toners, sunscreens, and other products featuring natural, organic, and non-allergenic ingredients received the most attention. 

Breakout star: Although now an elder statesman (founded in 1988), Herborist or 佰草集 is enjoying a wave of popularity as clean and green beauty names trend among domestic shoppers. From its restrained branding and visual aesthetics to its mainly plant-based extracts, Herborist’s output also features TCM and anti-aging properties. Its most popular product on Xiaohongshu is its purifying multi-beneficial T’ai Chi mask, which is composed of a black mask for purifying and a white mask for moisturizing.

Locals continue to crave beauty food 

Buffx is best known for gummy supplements that help improve energy, immunity, digestion, and other health aspects. Photo: Buffx

A smart move for luxury would be to tap the growing demand for beauty food. This sector is predicted to enter a period of rapid development, reaching $3.8 billion (25.5 billion RMB) this year. As the thirst for results achieved through dietary changes such as collagen drinks, antiglycation tablets, and anti-melatonin pills increases, western-style nutrient supplements are also on the rise. The consumption of traditional Chinese health-enhancing snacks is up 89 percent as per retail investment firm GenBridge Capital’s consumer insight study. 

Breakout star: There are many new disruptors in the health space. TCM-inspired food companies TipsYou, LF Herbify, and Hope Water (好望水) are making herb gummies and soft drinks to strengthen blood and Qi, the vital energy that animates the body. But the top spot has to go to Buffx, founded in 2020 as a Chinese functional food specialist and well known for its gummy supplements. Its recent foray saw it move into TCM-concept breakfasts aimed at consumers in third- and fourth-tier cities.  

TCM

Tong Ren Tang’s collaboration with Tea Maker combines TCM ingredients with milk tea. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Ancestral wellness practices, as well as TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) philosophies and natural therapies, have become powerful tools for C-beauty to build the necessary cultural capital to stand out. In addition, a strong PR effort by state media to promote traditional culture has played a critical role in shaping the young public’s rising interest in these areas. Here, they have a natural and very strong cultural advantage over their international counterparts. 

Breakout star: Local company Tong Ren Tang 同仁堂, a pharmaceutical outfit founded in 1669, is now the largest producer of traditional Chinese medicine. Even though the pharmacy is 353 years old, that hasn’t stopped it innovating. It recently partnered with bubble tea brand Tea Maker 制茶司 which focuses on oriental herbal philosophy, natural health tea. Of its best-selling signature products, the top three also tap the growing demand for beauty food, including Yangchun Jasmine Turtle Cream, Staying Up Late Night Water, and Collagen Rose Fresh Milk.

Makeup Imitation 

Douyin users recreate the Jibaro siren’s looks from “Love, Death & Robots.” Photo: Douyin screenshots

International TV shows like Love, Death & Robots (Netflix) and Euphoria have spawned a new genre for Gen Z: makeup imitation 仿. Images of these edgy recreations have flooded platforms, especially of the Death & Robots siren character — these alone have over 15 million views on Xiaohongshu. This craze is also popular on video sites like Douyin and Bilibili. As Fabelnovel suggests, it is not to be overlooked by players seeking to inject a community aspect into their KOL and KOC marketing. 

Breakout star: A niche brand founded in 2018, Girlcult is now a template example of homegrown names tapping the zeitgeist. It has found its sweet spot with Gen Z by foregrounding culture within its romantic and eccentric DNA. 

Sophisticated Categories

Fengsi’s shampoo is infused with Chinese herbal medicine to nourish the scalp. Photo: Fengsi’s Weibo

China tops Asia’s wellness economy with an $682.5 billion (4,578 trillion RMB) spend and therefore offers many prospects for luxury, especially as consumers move to more sophisticated beauty-adjacent categories. Fabernovel found that hair, perfume, and makeup, as well as subcategories like eye shadow, are booming. Its study showed that in 2020, for the first time, product efficacy ranked higher than cost effectiveness in the purchase factor.

Breakout star: The emerging C-wellness label Fengsi (丰丝) has launched shampoo lines informed by ancient Chinese hair care practices which have been challenging the conventional formulas rooted in modern Western science. 

Brick and Mortar

The J Shop officially launched its first flagship store in Chengdu on July 2. Photo: JD.com

Finally, while young consumers’ attention shifts towards more advanced beauty content such as sonic marketing, video, and diversified endorsements, brick and mortar formats are still a big draw if you want to connect with the market. Luxury house Dior opened a beauty retreat to leverage the wellness sector which shows that your footprint doesn’t have to be ordinary. 

Breakout star: JD.com’s department store brand The J Shop opened for business in Chengdu. The store was co-designed by Perfect Diary, which also introduced a new series of beauty products at the store. The store is over 1,000 square meters large and hosts over 2,000 domestic and global groups that cover beauty, homeware, fitness, and luxury wristwatches. It also features an open livestream zone to promote online consumer interactions.

Additional reporting by Lisa Nan 

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