How Ancient Chinese Wisdom Is Revolutionizing C-Beauty

We are seeing a renaissance of indigenous Chinese wisdom. And, from this, a new generation of brands in the beauty and wellness space. From skincare to supplements, innovative C-beauty businesses are looking towards China’s homegrown systems of value to inform the concepts and ingredients of their products. 

HerBeast, a C-beauty outfit founded in 2020, is among the rising stars of today’s Chinese beauty market. With a 15ml bottle of essential oil sold at $73.58 (468 RMB), it is one of the few C-beauty players competing at the premium range with similarly priced Estée Lauder and Lancôme. Touting “skincare long-termism,” the label exclusively uses native herbs and plants as product ingredients and focuses its storytelling on indigenous insights.

In an effort to build an “Eastern lifestyle” empire, the company also produces journals to cover emerging plant trends. In January, HerBeast inaugurated an exhibition in Shanghai to showcase wellness practices among ethnic minorities in the southeastern Yunnan plateau. Although using traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) in beauty is not new, HerBeast’s contemporary packaging and refillable, sustainable design have made it a forerunner in the modern, GenZ-facing beauty industry. 

HerBeast is an indigenous C-beauty brand founded in 2020. Photo: Courtesy of HerBeast

Indigenous tradition meets aesthetic transformation at Shanchuan too. Founded in 2021, the skincare label was inspired by the rich flora and herbal practices in the country’s high mountains. Each of the brand’s core products is named after a regional ingredient, such as the wild mushroom from Meili Snow Mountains in the southeast and coffee extract from the Mekong River. The newly launched firm just received multi-million-dollar angel funding from Zen Investment this January.

Shanchuan, a C-beauty brand launched in 2021, makes products inspired by ingredients from indigenous communities in the country’s high mountains. Photo: @Shanchuan’s official WeChat

Such renewed respect for indigenous wisdom has had an impact far beyond beauty. The emerging C-wellness label Fengsi (丰丝) has launched shampoo lines informed by ancient Chinese hair care practices, challenging the conventional formulas rooted in modern Western science. 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 according to Chinese natural philosophy. 

If, a few years ago, a “proudly made in China” tag was enough to get young, patriotic consumers excited, success in C-beauty now relies on a far more complex range of factors. It not only requires brands to put pride in their Chinese background, but it also demands a more profound exploration of their rich cultural heritage. Ancestral wellness practices, as well as TCM philosophies and natural therapies, have become powerful tools for C-beauty to build the necessary cultural capital to stand out today. In addition, a strong PR effort by state media to promote traditional Chinese culture has played a critical role in shaping the young public’s rising interest in local, ancestral knowledge. 

Ever since the rise of Guochao the “buy Chinese” movement in the late 2010s TCM had started to appear more frequently in marketing campaigns as a trendy cultural element. But its real relevance came when COVID-19 hit two years ago. During the pandemic, the state’s official institutions endorsed TCM as an effective COVID treatment and promoted TCM education in mass media, further boosting its legitimacy and popularity in mainstream culture.  

As TCM, indigenous wisdom, and other elements of traditional culture garner public interest, C-beauty players will shift innovations towards this direction and use their cultural advantages to sell to the mainland’s increasingly more patriotic, heritage-proud consumers.

International companies must rise to the challenge. The C-beauty industry will continue to flourish, with both domestic investments pouring capital into the sector and the younger generations culturally embracing the rise of domestic businesses. As the current geopolitical turmoil further emboldens nationalist sentiment in China, brands need to realign their strategies with the values of a more inward-looking consumer set.