Cosmetics Trends in China: How Brands Can Adapt in a Trend-Driven Market

Last Updated on February 4, 2024

You may not know, but China is the second-largest cosmetics market in the world. And as Chinese social media platforms continue to rise, foreign brands find it much easier to enter and flourish within the country’s booming beauty market.

To this day, Chinese consumers still show great interest in local overseas cosmetics products. Because of this, the growth of China’s beauty industry has become more apparent in recent market insights:

 

  • China’s cosmetics market size reached 6 billion yuan in retail sales revenue in 2022. Experts predict that this growth will continue thanks to the high demand for cosmetics and Skincare products in second and third-tier cities.
  • More than half of Chinese beauty consumers prefer international brands more than domestic ones.
  • The cosmetics industry sees increasing demand from Chinese male consumers compared to the previous year, with a predicted market size of around 24 billion yuan in 2027.

 

If the continued advancement of the Chinese market stirred your interest, read along as we discuss the cosmetics trends in China and the suitable marketing strategies you can try to attract local customers into buying your beauty products.

 

How are cosmetics regulated in China?

Like in other countries, local and international beauty companies must abide by the regulations set by the Chinese government. The National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) aims to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework that governs cosmetics production, import, sale, and use within its territory.

With this regulation, cosmetics brands must ensure the safety, efficacy, and quality of beauty products to protect the health and well-being of Chinese consumers. Here are vital pointers beauty brands should remember as they enter China’s cosmetics market:

 

  • Product Registration

Before selling beauty products in China, you must register them with the NMPA. The registration process involves submitting detailed product information, safety data, and compliance with Chinese cosmetic standards.

 

  • Safety Assessment

The Chinese cosmetics market requires all cosmetics in China to undergo comprehensive safety evaluations, including ingredient analysis, toxicology testing, and risk assessment. Beauty brands must comply with the list of recommended natural ingredients and prohibited restricted substances in the country.

 

  • Animal Testing

Historically, most countries allow the testing of cosmetic products on animals. However, the modern changes in the cosmetics and skincare industry promote alternative testing methods, reducing the reliance on this procedure.

 

  • Labeling Requirements

The rapid growth of the personal care and Skincare market meant more Chinese consumers would ride the cosmetics trend over the next few years. And as new beauty brands dive into the Chinese market to capitalize on this demand, the local regulatory authorities ordered all cosmetic products to adhere to specific labeling requirements, including information in Chinese such as product name, ingredients list, usage instructions, precautions, and manufacturer details.

 

  • Imported Cosmetics

Foreign cosmetics in China require a Certificate of Free Sale (CFS) to verify their legality and compliance with quality and safety standards. Regardless of the product offered in the cosmetics market, beauty companies should designate a responsible agent in China for regulatory matters.

 

Complying with these regulations is part of understanding the needs of Chinese consumers. If you want your beauty products to flourish in the personal care industry, you must be up to date with the latest requirements and work with regulatory experts familiar with the Chinese market.

You may not know, but most Chinese people also base their purchasing decisions on the brand’s legal and safety compliance. Through this, your target audience will recognize your dedication to providing premium cosmetics products to local consumers.

 

 

How big is the cosmetic market in China?

Typical cosmetics products mainly satisfy the need for cleaning, grooming, and beautifying the human face and body. In China, the products cover skincare sets, color cosmetics, hair care, and toiletries. As of today, the cosmetics industry is one of China’s fastest-growing and most promising business sectors.

In 2020, China became the world’s second-largest beauty and personal care product market share after the U.S. Under the influence of urbanization, growing disposable income, and social media, the beauty and personal care market is facing a surge in demand for higher quality, premium brands.

 

 

Moreover, foreign cosmetics products are essential to the country’s booming beauty industry. According to Statista, 57% of consumers prefer foreign cosmetics brands in China. Four of the top five popular cosmetic brands that dominate the local beauty scene are overseas. The foreign companies with the largest market share in the Chinese beauty market are L’Oréal, Estee Lauder, and Procter & Gamble. Meanwhile, nearly half of China’s high-demand imported cosmetics come from Japan and South Korea. At the same time, brands from France, Singapore, and the United States account for more than 30 percent of cosmetic imports.

 

 

Market Share of Chinese E-Commerce Platforms

In 2020, around 84.2% of the total cosmetics retail sales in mainland China were from online channels or e-commerce platforms, increasing from about 78% in the previous year. Meanwhile, Chinese cosmetics accounted for 6.24% of total online retail sales in the country.

These numbers prove that Chinese beauty customers can maintain a high level of consumption in online retail. Moreover, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 boosted the development of China’s e-commerce beauty industry.

 

Where To Sell Cosmetics Online?

When selling cosmetics online in the Chinese beauty industry, businesses can consider several prominent e-commerce platforms[1] and channels. Here are some popular options:

 

  • Tmall Global

Tmall is one of China’s largest business-to-consumer (B2C) platforms, and Tmall[2] Global is its cross-border channel. It’s a gateway that allows international beauty products to sell directly to Chinese consumers.

Tmall Global has a dedicated section for beauty, personal care, and cosmetics, like acne treatment, hair care products, facial cleanser options, eye cream brands, and many more. Its highly varied cosmetics market makes this e-commerce platform attractive for premium brands to reach more Chinese consumers.

 

  • JD Worldwide

JD Worldwide is another central B2C e-commerce platform in China focusing on cross-border trade. It offers cosmetics advertising and marketing features to enhance brand visibility and retail sales.

 

  • Kaola

It’s another cross-border e-commerce platform in China known for its focus on high-quality imported products. Its current market size shows a significant presence in the beauty and cosmetics industry, offering a wide range of products from international brands.

Since Kaola has a reputation for authentic and high-quality cosmetics products, selling on this e-commerce platform can appeal to Chinese consumers.

 

  • WeChat Stores

It’s China’s dominant social media and messaging app that provides opportunities for brands to set up online specialty stores.

WeChat Stores allow businesses to create a personalized shopping experience within the app for their consumers, leveraging the platform’s vast user base and social sharing capabilities.

 

  • Douyin (TikTok)

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok[3], is one of the social media platforms with an e-commerce feature that allows brands to showcase and sell products directly to users. With its extensive reach and engaging content format, Douyin can be a valuable platform for promoting and selling cosmetics products.

 

  • Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu)

Little Red Book is a popular social e-commerce platform with a specified focus on lifestyle, personal care, and beauty products. It combines user-generated content with e-commerce, allowing users to discover, review, and purchase products.

Within the cosmetics market, this platform mainly works well for brands targeting younger consumers and those looking for product recommendations and reviews.

 

What Are The Cosmetics Trends in China?

As younger consumers continue to support unique concepts that drive transformative trends, today’s China cosmetic market has to innovate according to the factors that affect their purchasing decisions.

From skincare to make-up products, haircare to fragrances, understanding the cosmetics trends in China has become essential for brands seeking to captivate this dynamic market. Here are some beauty industry insights to help with that:

 

1.   The Rise of the Skincare Market

Skincare products are the largest segment among many cosmetics products in China, accounting for 55.2% of industry revenue in 2019. With the rising refined living and skincare consciousness, moisturizing, hydrating, whitening, and cleansing are female consumers’ most valued product functions. This trend becomes more apparent as cosmetic face masks saw a 44% increase in retail sales in the past few years.

 

Masks promotion live streaming for the 618 festival

 

Furthermore, anti-aging effects and pore-tightening beauty products are also growing, with an emphasis on Skincare products made from herbal and natural ingredients.

In 2023, retail sales in the Skincare segment reached around $16.79 billion. And with the continued popularity of Skincare products among young people, its market size has predicted annual growth of 5.75% until 2027. The statistics also show that the per capita spending for Skincare products is around $11.72 per person in 2023.

 

2.   Chinese Cosmetics Online Shop Over Physical Store

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in consumer behavior in China, with online specialty stores emerging as the preferred destination for cosmetic purchases. Platforms like Tmall and JD have witnessed remarkable success, dominating the distribution channel for cosmetic products in 2021. Tmall accounted for an impressive market size of 47.1%, while JD held a substantial share of 16.9%. These statistics highlight the prominence of e-commerce in China and signify the growing preference among Chinese consumers for the convenience and direct access offered by online shopping. Whether buying face masks, color cosmetics, or facial cleanser brands, Chinese consumers have embraced shopping for cosmetics through online stores for several reasons.

Firstly, the convenience of online shopping allows consumers to browse and purchase products from the comfort of their homes at any time of the day. This flexibility aligns well with the busy lifestyles of modern consumers, eliminating the need for physical store visits and providing a seamless shopping experience. And given that China’s beauty industry heavily values authenticity, consumers seeing online stores operated directly by cosmetics brands assure them of getting genuine products, eliminating concerns about counterfeit or substandard items.

 

Avene shop on Taobao

 

Another factor contributing to the popularity of online stores in China’s cosmetics industry is the information and resources available to consumers. These platforms offer detailed product descriptions, user reviews, and ratings, enabling customers to make informed decisions based on the experiences of others. These helpful features are one of the reasons why many beauty brands look for a cosmetics marketing agency[4] to handle their online promotions on social and e-commerce platforms.

While physical stores still hold significance for the in-store experience and personalized assistance, the convenience, authenticity, and immersive buying experience from online stores resonate well with the needs of today’s cosmetic market.

 

3.   The Cosmetics Market for Male Consumers

Men’s willingness to use skincare and make-up products and consequently spend on them has increased due to their growing consciousness about their appearances and looks in China. According to estimates, male skincare and cosmetics retail sales in China reached a 13.5% annual growth rate during 2016-2019. Those numbers are even more impressive than the global average rate of 5.8%. This data is also verified online.

 

 

For instance, in 2018, Tmall men’s skincare recorded the fastest growth as sales increased by 70% and makeup sales by 15%. It is a trend and a profitable opportunity, showing a huge demand that has yet to be answered. In today’s cosmetics market, male consumers are surprisingly younger than their female counterparts. According to Jing Daily, the male demographic for per capita spending ranges between 25 and 34. Around 46% of the male cosmetics market are consumers in top-tier Chinese cities born post-1995.  While the rise of the personal care market for men is nothing new to Western countries, this industry has potential growth in China.

 

4.   Rising Market Size of Perfume and Fragrances

Besides Skincare products, China’s beauty industry enjoys consistent retail sales for the perfume and fragrances segment. It’s not a typically tapped niche, but did you know its market size amounted to 4.1% of the perfume market worldwide in 2021?

While it’s not as mainstream as make-up products, fragrances have seen a substantial market growth increase of 21.4% in the last five years. Many experts believe that the premium fragrance market will continue to grow due to the luxury status of perfume and its availability for e-commerce. Indeed, the demand for fragrances is driven by the increasingly sophisticated tastes of Chinese consumers.

 

What Drives Chinese To Buy Cosmetics?

In this part, we discuss the motivators of consuming cosmetics products for Chinese people.

1.   Appearance Anxiety

As people age, wrinkles and dark spots begin forming on their skin. It loses elasticity and gradually shows signs of aging. While everyone has their distinct beauty from the moment they’re born, they’re naturally afraid of getting old and worry about premature skin aging. Moreover, with the development of social media, people are more easily influenced by good-looking celebrities and unrealistic beauty expectations.

Therefore, they will hope cosmetics can help them retain a youthful face. If a product markets itself as an anti-aging or antioxidant product, consumers will particularly like it. It is why anti-aging products are so popular.

 

2.   Vanity and Imitating Behavior

The China cosmetics market includes people with varying financial means, spending habits, and personal preferences. Because of this, not every beauty shopper can afford excellent personal care and cosmetic products.

As cosmetics in China continue to welcome new local and international brands, it’s only natural for consumers to follow the emerging trends. When they see their colleagues buy a premium perfume, they want to have the same, or even a more expensive one. If others purchase their favorite cosmetics product, they will feel the anxiety of not being seen as fashionable or in style.

Some consumers also base their purchasing decisions on celebrities or key opinion leaders they admire. They religiously follow their fashion styles closely. Moreover, following their aesthetic gives them a sense of identity, making others tell they belong to someone’s fan group. Sometimes, they want a similar kind and the same outfits. As a result, the imitating behavior shows up by copying popular and on-trend looks.

 

3.   “Little Fresh Meat Effect” – Chinese Internet slang

Andre Hoffman, president of beauty brand L’Occitane Asia Pacific, said the company achieved double-digit growth in China in 2017, with net sales up 11 percent and an impressive 49% increase on Tmall. He noted that this was due in large part to Luhan’s effect.

Luhan is a Chinese singer and actor. He is the face of China’s little fresh meat legion. This trend emerged a few years ago to describe a younger generation of Chinese male idols. Its origins can be traced back to Japan and Korea, and it has become popular with Korean pop music, Japanese pop music, anime, and manga.

 

LuHan on the cover of ELLE China, and global brand ambassador of GUCCI

 

Always beautifully dressed, with youthful looks and refined silhouettes, these boys with noticeably feminine charm have the most significant following on social media. Their attractive characteristics have also won them Chinese millennial women’s favor and purchasing power.

As brand ambassadors, they are highly sought-after, often appearing in campaigns that can cost millions of dollars. Luxury brands are quickly learning to capitalize on this trend as one of the shortest ways to sell their products to younger customers.

 

Top Digital Marketing Practices for Beauty Brands Entering China’s Cosmetics Market

China’s Digital Ecosystem is the playground (or battlefield) for Local and imported Cosmetics/Beauty brands. The diversity and uniqueness of online shoppers and digital channels in China make implementing a winning digital marketing plan hard. Here are a few best practices to remember while strategizing your China market entry.

 

Marketing Calendar Promotions

Like it or not, cosmetics in China have seasonal demands. It’s because people have different skincare and beauty needs as the climate changes and festivities arrive. People are more concerned about moisturizing and repairing in spring, autumn, and winter. Meanwhile, sun protection, whitening, and cleaning become the personal care priority as soon as summer comes.

However, there is almost no off-peak season for color cosmetics.  Besides that, the events that drive consumers to shop for cosmetics in China are these two marketing nodes.

 

  1. E-commerce shopping festivals: Annual 618 Shopping Festival (June 18th), Double 11 (aka, the Single Day, November 11th), Double 12 (December 12th), etc.
  2. Domestic or international festivals: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day, 520 (May 20th), Qixi Festival (aka Chinese traditional Valentine’s Day), Christmas, etc.

 

The promotion time of beauty brands should be consistent with the listed nodes above. Before each big promotion, cosmetics in China should do pre-warming and promoting to gain more recognition on social platforms. Brands should execute these strategies 1 to 2 months in advance.

 

Judydoll for Spring Festival, Valentine’s Day & 520 Festival

 

For example, Judydoll, a Chinese makeup brand, concentrates its postings on LRB from April to May and August to November. These times correspond to the 618 Shopping Festival, the 520 (May 20th), the Qixi Festival, and the Double 11 Shopping Festival, respectively. Another famous makeup brand, Perfect Diary, has similar marketing nodes to Judydoll, focusing on new products from March to April and August to September each year and doing extensive  KOL social media placement[5].

In addition, beauty brands’ promotional content should also align with the meaning and cultural attributes behind these holidays.

 

​​Influencers Promotion (Key Opinion Leaders)

In marketing communications, new personal care brands generally use different promotional techniques. For example, through celebrity endorsement overhead to create momentum, with the KOL experts to promote deep recommending, private domain operation of users to promote retention and repurchase.

You must include a systematic evaluation model in celebrity endorsement to understand whether the celebrity can achieve the company’s marketing objectives. Brands should execute this in six dimensions: brand fit, media buzz, development plan, business value, public opinion risk control, and cost-effectiveness.

According to a study by the Cato Consumer Index Personal Makeup Sample Group, girls aged 20 to 29 contribute 45% of the makeup market sales, although they only account for 28% of the population. Young consumers are more likely to be influenced by KOL’s recommendations on social media in their choice of functional cosmetics use and shopping decisions.

For example, under the premise of constantly announcing the spokesperson of each product category, Perfect Diary drives brand awareness through celebrity artists, which is conducive to communication cooperation with famous KOLs; at the same time, the famous KOLs will influence the willingness of small and medium-sized experts to cooperate.

 

KOLs for Perfect Diary on Xiaohongshu

 

Small and medium-sized experts can start promoting the trial by giving away products, which reduces communication costs. The complete communication chain composed of the above and below is conducive to creating the “whole network recommended” boom atmosphere.

 

Social Media Promotion for Beauty and Personal Care Market

Different platforms satisfy different marketing needs. According to China Cosmetics, short video platforms (32.3%) and social media (48.3%) are the main channels young customers tend to visit to get information about color cosmetics products.

In addition, live e-commerce (25.74%), short videos (15.19%), and private domains (12.66%) are new channels for younger audiences to purchase. Brands can focus on these growing trends to determine which platform their campaign can launch in.

For example, Lancôme Weibo uses celebrities and fashion hashtags to trigger traffic in stages and uses beauty and fashion KOLs and fan circle interest groups to generate UGC content for long-term promotion.

Little Red Book is a social media and e-commerce platform relying on UGC (User Generated Content).  Lancôme mainly conducts professional product reviews, makeup tutorials, and single-product promotions. For how to successfully start, market, and promote your brand on LRB, please see our LRB guide.

 

Lancôme tags on Xiaohongshu, generating UGC content

 

On TikTok, they mainly promote product features, coupons, themed makeup for different seasons, and corporate culture.

 

Using Live Streaming to Promote Cosmetics in China

From this year’s burst of marketing cases, cosmetics live-streaming marketing is experiencing new changes. Businesses have devised various ways to create a unique live environment and capture attention.

For instance, Herborist designed an ancient palace scene for its live broadcast and had the host and assistant dress up as concubines or kings. It was the first time viewers had the experience of following a drama in a beauty brand’s live-streaming room.

 

 

Through this live stream strategy, the brand’s followers grew to 214,000 from the previous count of 142,000. The number of real-time views has been maintained above 20,000, prompting it to enter the TOP 50 of the real-time viewer list of TikTok live by sales volume. Seeing this trend, many brands are also trying other new approaches.

If you can, avoid the blatant attempt to make products the main content of the live broadcast. Instead, they mainly present professional knowledge or share their personal stories (related to the brand or product) with customers in the live broadcast. These approaches have yielded promising results, so you can try more innovative ways to promote in the live stream.

 

Conclusion

China is the world’s second-largest cosmetics market with a fast-growing speed. For cosmetics brands, it is vital to seize the right time node and shopping festival. You must also partner with suitable influencers for your beauty products to gain positive attention in China.

As an agency with 13 years of digital marketing experience in China, Sekkei Digital Group can help your cosmetics and beauty brand enter and grow in China’s cosmetics market. Our consultants can help you strategize the most suitable approach for your brand in China. Let us know more about your project for China.

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