Anti-aging products and treatments are big news in beauty wherever you are in the world. Chinese women, in particular, are no slouches when it comes to their beauty regimes and keeping the visible signs of age at bay is a top priority in this market. China is starting to look like an extremely hot market for anti-aging beauty and one that’s growing at a strong rate.
China’s now emerging as the world’s largest market for anti-aging creams. There’s also a strong trend for consumers in this market showing interest in age-prevention at a very early age. Young consumers here often spend a high proportion of their salaries on beauty and see it as an investment.
There’s been an increase in spending from women in their 20’s and it seems buying into anti-aging beauty is a higher priority for this group than other luxury goods such as designer handbags.
Anti-aging is a dominant consumer interest in other markets outside Asia. The US remains a major market, representing 60% of anti-ageing spend in 2017, as does Japan. These markets share the characteristics of having aging populations, disposable incomes and high consumer awareness of anti-aging options.
But the anti-aging market involves far more options than just face cream. It includes preventatives and corrective procedures and surgeries (botox, facelifts etc), hair treatments such as dye, food supplements that promise to present youth from within, physical exercises such as face massage, as well as complex daily skin routines that involve various creams and serums.
Luxury spas offering arcane and exclusive treatments are popular. There’s also a strong emerging interest for high-tech beauty devices including ones for use in the home, salon and in-store to diagnose and correct beauty issues.
The anti-aging market remains constantly refreshed by innovation in this area of beauty. So-called ‘black tech beauty’ (where skincare and beauty technology combine) is a huge area of experimentation at the moment.
R&D teams are incorporating AI with technologies such as facial recognition to produce gadgets such as the Opté, a wand-shaped skincare gizmo that claims to scan skin using a built-in camera and then adjust dark spots using a tiny printer.
A lot of the tech is focused on giving the user a personalized beauty treatment, whether it’s Shiseido’s ‘Optune’ skincare system – which promises to administer a serum that’s adapted to the specific needs of your skin on a particular day – or Samsung’s S Skin which diagnoses issues such as skin dryness and uses microneedles to administer corrective procedures such as collagen injections.
Pressure to conform
Despite the shared interest in resisting aging, there are big cultural differences in the way these treatments are approached in China and the West. US consumers tend to see using beauty treatments as part of positive self-care. Although the West is far from a utopia of body acceptance, there’s at least some effort to celebrate beauty at any age.
In China, beauty tends to be much more regimented, there’s a narrow range of what’s acceptable, and there’s a regrettable culture of age-shaming women. Perhaps the biggest difference though is the amount of time and effort that Chinese women routinely put into their daily skincare regime. Ten stage nightly skincare routines are commonplace.
Combined with this high level of commitment to beauty routines, Chinese consumers seem to be less cynical about the claims made by beauty brands than their western counterparts usually are.
Chinese consumers may be wary of fraudulent sellers but it seems they also believe the product claims/results are achievable with enough commitment or outlay on their part. That certainly makes them a tempting audience for beauty brands keen to make promises to enhance their beauty.
As has already happened in the West, there are some nascent efforts to challenge China’s age-shaming and age-erasure culture that sees actresses scrapped after they turn 30. But there’s still a long way to go until this age-acceptance movement really gains mainstream traction. Until then, the high pressure on Chinese women to conform to skin ideals looks set to drive a thriving anti-aging industry.
There are other differences between Asian and Western beauty markets. There’s a strong emphasis on skin whiteness and hydration in Asia. Customers also have different beauty values – skin brightness is highly valued, whilst in the West, clarity is usually seen as more important.
In terms of specific products, Chinese women tend to prefer serums to creams and sheet masks are particularly popular in China, where there’s a big culture of women doing regular face masks.
The difference also extends to the salon. European women tend to expect procedures such as skin steaming and manual pore extraction, whilst in China, these are seen as too inflammatory.
Chinese consumers tend to favor South Korean brands when it comes to beauty buying, and a lot of the most innovative products and regimes come out of Korea. The anti-aging trend has also been beneficial for Western beauty companies including Estee Lauder, which does well online in China through sites such as Tmall and social media activity on WeChat, as well as dedicated brand sites for its brands such as MAC Cosmetics and Clinique beauty.
Estee Lauder has also used tried-and-tested marketing techniques such as using brand ambassadors and celebrities. It’s an approach that’s resulted in strong growth for the company across various brands in its portfolio.
Many skincare brands have also found success by engaging with customers in their own type of brand flagship store – the exclusive spa. French beauty line Biologique Recherche has enjoyed great success in China with its range of pigment-targeting products.
The brand has set up a network of exclusive spas in China’s major cities to cement the relationship with its customer base. It’s found Chinese women tend to attend salons more regularly than US and European ones, and that they expect greater personalization in their treatments.
What beauty brands really need to understand about China is how fast the market is moving. People here tend to be highly open to innovation and switched on about researching which products they want.
Trends such as pollution-combating products, interest in natural products, tech and instant beauty fixes for selfie-takers are all in full swing but new ones could emerge at any point. It’s really easy for brands to fall behind in this highly competitive market. Whilst there are lots of opportunities in China it’s not a marketplace for the faint-hearted.