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china's skincare market

Emotional healing and beauty boom: How China’s skincare market thrived during the pandemic and beyond

Just like other industries, China’s skincare market has been seeing transformations in the past years, especially after the elimination of the Zero-covid policy. Since 2015, China’s beauty market has grown fast, becoming the world’s second-largest beauty market by 2019 at a market size of 425.6 billion RMB. It has seen steady growth throughout the past years too, even during the pandemic: China’s skincare market was worth about 9.2 billion RMB in 2021, recording a 17% y-o-y increase, and it is expected to reach 24 billion RMB by 2027.

The Chinese skincare market after Covid-19

Unlike other industries, the skincare market benefitted from the pandemic: a major change that happened within the beauty market is a larger focus on skincare specifically. In August 2022, the most-sold beauty items were facial masks, skincare sets, serum and lotions or creams. Products with “skin repair”, “basic skincare” and “first-aid care” functions saw increasing consumer interest, especially among younger shoppers. In particular, those born after 2005 boasted a particularly strong demand for eye essence, eye cream, and face masks compared to other age groups.

One major reason for growing skincare demand is the damage caused by continuous wearing of face masks. After months of strict anti-pandemic restrictions, many people started noticing their facial skin deteriorating. This led many people to look into skincare to protect their faces.

Another important reason could be consumers’ perception of skincare as an emotional support and psychological treat during the lockdown periods. “EMO”, a new buzzword, spread on social networks to symbolize the strong negative emotions experienced during the pandemic. Many skincare brands embraced this trend, offering “anti-EMO” product lines for customers. For example, Paula’s choice and Shiseido engaged in these campaigns. Indeed, skincare was seen as an effective instrument, with users searching for “emotional healing beauty and skincare videos” and using shopping as a way to deal with negative emotions.

Paula’s choice and shiseido marketing campaigns
Source: Weibo, Shiseido and Paula’s choice marketing campaigns

Prioritizing quality over price

The pandemic has indeed pushed forward a change of values, with many more consumers being preoccupied with health issues, and consequently, with the quality of the products they acquire. In 2021, health and family safety became the top concerns for half of Chinese consumers, and as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 65% of consumers expressed a heightened focus on product safety after Covid-19. This resulted in more careful choosing of skincare products, too.

Marketers have coined the term “skintellectuals” to symbolize buyers who pay great attention to choosing their skincare treatments, reading all ingredients and correcting the needed skincare steps to find an ultimate combination. They are interested in the so-called ingredient-based skincare, which allows customers to choose based on the specific chemical elements instead of the described effects of products.

The government is helping raise the quality standards of skincare products. In the past years, restrictions regarding these products have been tightened. For example, in 2021, restricted detrimental chemical elements from being used in cosmetics. The same year, rules were stiffened regarding the testing of skincare products.

Growing male skincare market

The size of the male beauty market in China reached 9.9 billion RMB in 2021, and according to Euromonitor International, retail sales in China’s male beauty market grew by an average annual rate of 13.5% from 2016 to 2019, much higher than the global average of 5.8%. As well as this, the number of men’s skincare brands on Taobao and Tmall increased by more than 10% y-o-y from 2019 to 2021.

Indeed, there are changing trends in the contemporary beauty scene in China. Men are becoming much more interested in skincare, inspired by numerous Korean and Chinese male celebrities. The term “little fresh meat” is used to define this group of men, often boasting white, glowing skin and soft face features. However, a broader audience is now getting used to male skincare, with male beauty bloggers accounting for more than 20% on the three major video platforms in China. Among the categories enjoying the largest revenues, there are facial cleansers and BB creams.

The unstoppable rise of local brands

Guochao is inspiring the skincare industry too. Although at the moment the top best-sold brands in the market remain predominantly foreign, Chinese brands are fighting their way through. The top-4 domestic companies already amount to 9% of the market share: Jala, Proya, Chicmax, Pechoin.

Apart from the market leaders, there are more niche and high-end brands in the sector. For example, Yina bases its products on the concept of “nourishing life” or “yang sheng” (养生) which embodies the spirit of traditional Chinese medicine. It was created by TCM practitioners and focuses on promoting wellness of the body and the mind. For example, their “Fortify” botanical serum is made with astragalus and peony, traditional Chinese ingredients.

china's skincare market: yina
Source: Yina, Fortify botanical serum

Main trends in China’s skincare market

  • The pandemic has boosted the skincare segment among the whole beauty market.
  • During the lockdowns, skincare became emotional support for some consumers.
  • Since then, many people pay more attention to the quality and healthiness of the products they buy, promoting the rise of ingredients-based beauty.
  • The market is becoming more diversified, with many more male customers showing interest towards it.
  • Although international brands are still dominating the sector, Chinese brands are attracting an increasing number of customers.

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