How did one of China’s most popular makeup aesthetics become a major trend across Western social media?
While Western beauty brands have dominated Asia’s markets for the past few decades, C-beauty aesthetics and brands may be poised to take over.
Over the past few years, China’s “Douyin makeup” trend has been making waves among Western users across social media platforms like TikTok. Both platforms are owned by Chinese tech giant Bytedance.
Featuring glowy, translucent skin, glittery eyelids, bright, concentrated pink or mauve blush, and oftentimes highly-pigmented glossy or semi-matte ombre lips, the Douyin makeup look has come to embody one of China’s most popular makeup aesthetics. Named after China’s top short video-sharing platform Douyin, the Chinese makeup trend has now become its own meta phrase.
Despite rising political tensions between East and West — anime, gaming, and K-pop culture are increasingly influential abroad. Gen Z and Gen Alpha audiences in the West seem to care less about geopolitics, as they continue to be enamored with the Douyin makeup aesthetics.
But first, here’s how the Douyin makeup first became so widespread in China.
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Chunyu and Douyin makeup: Multicultural origins
Over the past few years, Chinese makeup styles have been evolving, as the country’s fashion and beauty industries mature alongside the tastes of millennial and Gen Z consumers.
Given the major influence of neighboring South Korea’s K-pop, K-dramas and K-fashion over the last decade, it makes sense that China’s current beauty trends are also informed, in part, by K-beauty.
Some netizens have also talked about the lasting impact of Korea’s Ulzzang or “good-looking” aesthetic — a trend that originated in the early 2000s that is best-described as hyper-feminine with a heavy focus on youthful skin and “cute” features, such as large eyes with double eyelids.
Manhua, or manga-style eyelashes, are also part of the Douyin aesthetic. False lashes are applied in feathery clumps, to give the appearance of natural yet dramatic lashes. Meanwhile, highlighting areas of “baby fat” across the face — based on another Korean trend, called aegyo sal or “cute fat,” is also part of the look, with users highlighting the pockets of fat beneath their eyes.
Many Chinese consumers create these looks using popular domestic brands like Florasis, Hanshu, Proya, Catkin, Judydoll and Flortte.
“In China, this aesthetic is called chunyu (纯欲),” says Yaling Jiang, a Shanghai-based cultural analyst and founder of popular enewsletter Following the Yuan. “This term can be directly translated as ‘pure desire.’ It rose to prominence not solely for the makeup style, but because it offers young girls a complete look [via] fair skin tone and a youthful aura.”
Young Chinese women are expected to look alluring without revealing too much skin, Jiang says, hence the rise of looks like the Douyin makeup look or chunyu trend. “It’s a lot to ask of women,” she adds.
When the trend first became popular around 2019, Jiang says Douyin wasn’t the “beauty battleground” it is today. “Women got their inspirations mostly on Xiaohongshu, [but] I assume ByteDance wants to keep the trend relevant to its own platform, and possibly orchestrated this naming strategy [for Douyin makeup].”
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The big beauty winners on platforms TikTok and Douyin
In the US, beauty sales across TikTok are booming. While users of the Chinese-owned social media app are skeptical of the product recommendations they see — 76 percent of consumers believe “influencer recommendations are fake,” a recent survey found — 89 percent of the app’s users also bought makeup, skincare and haircare products based off of such recommendations.
L’Oréal was named a major winner on Chinese platform Douyin recently, having surpassed an overall Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of $10.6 billion (76.6 billion RMB); meanwhile the beauty giant came first in terms of brand sales, reaching $140 million (2 billion RMB) in GMV during the first half of this year.
And in the West, thanks to platforms like TikTok, the French beauty conglomerate also performed well. TikTok reviews for products including L’Oréal’s Nyx Professional Makeup Fat Oil Lip Drip, as well as L’Oréal Paris’ The Telescope Lift Mascara, all contributed to high sales growth for the brand’s consumer products division.
Established international brands like L’Oréal have reaped major profits on both Bytedance’s Western and Chinese platforms, Douyin and TikTok, respectively. The question on everyone’s minds now is whether popular Chinese brands on Douyin can reap the same rewards on TikTok.
Can guochao take Douyin makeup global?
As Jing Daily reported in recent weeks, Chinese exports of cosmetics reached $2.8 billion (20.9 billion RMB) in the first half of this year, a 32.5 percent increase from the same period last year.
Brands like Florasis are boosting their overseas outreach, as they see rising demand among global consumers. The Hangzhou-headquartered cosmetics brand plans to boost its online presence in the US, and launch its first counter at a department store in Japan.
Speaking of the fierce local competition in China, Florasis executive Gabby Chen told Jing Daily last month that while Florasis has consistently secured the top spot in the makeup category across Chinese e-commerce platforms over recent years, “it is a natural phase for our brand to seek broader markets and cater to diverse consumers from different regions and ethnicities.”
The brand has been seeking US relevance since 2020, when it launched ads across New York’s Times Square TV screens.
And now, TikTok users’ embrace and the Douyin makeup trend may be the platform’s answer.
“Western makeup styles just don’t mesh well with my features especially when it comes to the eyes,” one TikTok user posted on Reddit. “The Douyin makeup trend is more helpful to me than Korean tutorials because they’re a bit more adventurous and also ‘Western-style’ makeup has become popular in China so I have a lot to choose from.”