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In the mirror: Face of China's cosmetics market

By David Ho in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-18 11:00

Chinese women are splashing out more on beauty products, and at an earlier age than ever. As increasingly sophisticated consumers, they are pushing an already enormous global industry to new heights and reinforcing the rise of Asian-born companies in the sector.

According to a recent survey by OC&C Strategy Consultants, 88 percent of respondents increased their skincare spending in the last year. The study also found that 90 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 started using skin-care products before the age of 20.

In China in 2016 retail sales of skin-care products were worth 169 billion yuan ($26.8 billion) and retail sales of makeup products were worth 28.3 billion yuan.

Even with these numbers and very quick growth, China's skin-care spending per capita is still very low compared with other major markets. That means ample room for further growth, which is good news for those in the business of beauty.

Studies also suggest that these trends can unmask shifts in the consumer market that may be more than just skin deep.

The modern Chinese woman places a priority, and premium, on looking good and feeling great.

"China's skin-care market will continue to grow at a steady pace, fueled by the rising middle class and its increasing disposable income and sophistication," said Pascal Martin, a partner at OC&C Strategy. "As such, this market will remain a magnet for the most ambitious international brands for years to come."

Asian women, Chinese in particular, tend to spend more on skin care than makeup.

"Chinese women (are similar to) Korean and Japanese women in that they are buying a bigger proportion of skincare products compared with cosmetics," Martin said.

"It's different from the US and the European Union as (Chinese consumers') main concern is in protecting their skin. That accounts for why skin care is a bigger priority than makeup, as cosmetics could damage their skin."

Makeup is an area with varied consumption patterns, Martin said.

"It is treated as something akin to fashion, with trends coming and going with the seasons and a lot of innovations in colors, applications and so on. Women buy it like fashion wear, with a lot of purchases following trends."

For skin-care product companies this makes for a wider consumer base, since skin care is seen as an essential need while cosmetics are more of a choice.

China's growing middle class and the increasing wealth of its population have led to rapid growth in the consumer market.

"China has a long historical tradition of deriving beauty treatments from natural herbs and oils, rice water and powdered pearls," Martin said. "As Chinese women have gradually shifted to modern cosmetics they have maintained a high degree of sophistication in their skin-care consumption habits."

OC&C Strategy said Chinese women usually start out buying moisturizers and facial cleansers, the top two products in the skin-care sector, but are quick to add more steps to their daily beauty routine. They are turning to toners, eye creams and serums.

About 70 to 80 percent of respondents in the survey said they also used makeup removers, masks and sun protection creams daily, which leads to an average of six to seven steps in their daily skin-care routine. This creates a gateway for additional products such as whitening creams and brighteners.

Even though many factors point to a booming market, the investment bank Morgan Stanley said domestic purchases of cosmetics in China have been falling since 2014.

Consumers shopping online have contributed to this, as have those who buy makeup and skin-care items while traveling abroad.

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