The Chinese saying “—白遮九醜” translates to “smooth, white skin can hide nine uglinesses.” It’s true: For centuries, Chinese women have been striving for light, bright, luminous skin, traditionally by eating strange delicacies like bird’s nests or fish maw. But more recently, they’ve turned to the science of Western luxury skincare and can’t seem to get enough of it.
Research from China Luxury Advisors on outbound Chinese tourists found that sales of beauty products were neck and neck with apparel for the most-purchased retail category of 2018. The number of travelers that bought beauty items abroad jumped from 66.2 percent in last year’s survey to 71.5 percent in this year’s. On top of that, 56 percent of survey respondents who expect to travel again in the near future said they plan to increase their overseas spending on luxury beauty, which would make it the undisputed top luxury category for overseas spending.
But as exposure to foreign prestige beauty products increases, how can these brands stand out? One key could be exclusive spa visits for clients back in China to help earn loyalty and create a stronger connection. Biologique Recherche, a French brand that is already popular in China thanks to its lotions, serums, and masques that target pigment, has embraced this strategy and is doing exceptionally well with it in China.
“Our Chinese customers prefer the lighter texture and therefore use more serums than creams,” says Rupert Schmid, Co-CEO Biologique Recherche. “This is the opposite of our clients in Europe or America. Most importantly, our Chinese customers love using sheet masks that brighten their skin complexion. For many Chinese clients, they are concerned with keeping their skin smooth, bright, and hydrated.”
Although headquartered in Paris, Biologique Recherche operates several Ambassade de la Beauté flagship spa locations across Greater China, including two in Beijing and one each in Shanghai, Wuhan, and Hong Kong. These spas exclusively use Biologique Recherche products and employ estheticians that are highly trained in Biologique Recherche methodology. Facials cost several hundred dollars depending on how they’re customized, and regulars come for weekly maintenance facials, as opposed to European and American clients who tend to visit on a monthly basis.
“Our Chinese customers are indeed used to coming more often to our institutes than in France and Europe,” Schmid explains. “They love the exclusivity of Biologique Recherche and the innovative methodology to our personalized treatments. The frequency is more a question of culture and service than a recommendation of Biologique Recherche.”
Biologique Recherche creates products based on a clinical approach to beauty by using raw, concentrated ingredients alongside innovative and rigorous protocols and procedures. Unlike a traditional European facial that utilizes steam and manual extractions, Biologique Recherche avoids anything that will inflame the skin, instead of relying on their potent natural products to target various skincare concerns. The BR method is based on the belief that each person’s skin changes numerous times during the day and throughout the seasons, so every facial is personalized after assessing a client’s current skin profile.
Trend expert Daniel Levine of the Avant-Guide Institute concurs that Chinese women tend to be more intensive about their skincare routines than Americans or Europeans. “In China, we have seen a market increase over the past few years in spa-based pampering, which includes facial treatments, peels, serums, masks, and microdermabrasion,” he says. “Plus, Chinese women’s nighttime routines are often more individualized than those of Western women. These serious nighttime regimens take advantage of the belief that skin repairs itself more actively while you sleep.”
This sounds like a potential missed opportunity for Western beauty brands that are willing to go the extra mile into China. According to GlobalData, the skincare sector in the country has been growing at a faster pace than the West, and skincare is the largest sector in the cosmetics and toiletries industry in China, both in value and volume. Despite Biologique Recherche’s success in China, it remains to be seen whether other prestige skincare companies will follow their lead by opening standalone spas to attract the premium customer and capture a share of this growing market.