China’s Beauty Boom Has a Dark Side

China's obsession with beauty has a dark side. (Image:  Dick Thomas Johnson via  flickr  CC BY 2.0 )
China's obsession with beauty has a dark side. (Image: Dick Thomas Johnson via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

China’s beauty industry has seen massive growth in recent years. The burgeoning middle-class population combined with economic prosperity resulted in a huge class of people who had enough disposable income to spend money on expensive beauty products. However, it seems as if the Chinese obsession with beauty has gone a bit too far.

Obsession with beauty

In China, it is widely believed that beauty is the key to social success. A 2018 survey by multinational healthcare company Allergan ranked China as the country most focused on physical appearance. Seventy-four percent of Chinese women saw a link between success and beauty, far higher than the global average. The obsession with looking good and perfect is so much that young women in their early twenties have even started to use anti-aging products. These are often cleverly marketed with the argument that “the earlier you start, the better you can protect your skin from aging.”

“I have a bottle sitting on my dressing table! I originally purchased it for my grandma — and she uses it religiously — but I also decided to test it out myself. My dad had told me I was starting to get wrinkles around my eyes, so that made me start feeling slightly self-conscious… Younger girls are being prompted to start the aging prevention process early… I’m always reading articles or being told that it’s necessary to start using anti-aging products as early as when you turn 21 in order to keep the skin youthful,” a 25-year-old Chinese woman who spends about US$300 a month on beauty products said to iD.

Even young Chinese women have started using anti-aging products. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Many young women consider beauty a more ideal investment than clothes or bags since they believe good, attractive skin will not only get them a handsome, rich husband but also a ticket to a high-profile career. Many even get into debt buying expensive beauty products. A few years back, a Chinese beauty influencer had revealed in social media how her habit of buying top-of-the-range cosmetics put her in debt to the tune of 40,000 RMB. She ended up working as a call girl to earn 10,000 RMB. But instead of using it to pay off debts, she asked her followers whether she should invest it in more high-end beauty items!

Even Chinese men seem to be hopping on to the beauty bandwagon. “The male skincare products market expanded by 7.8 percent year-on-year in 2018, with men’s skincare and make-up products becoming increasingly popular. When it comes to cosmetics, men are mainly concerned with cleansing and dealing with oily skin. While facial cleansers make up the lion’s share of the male cosmetics market, demand for specialty products such as masks, sun-blocks, and those with whitening and moisturizing functions is also on the rise,” according to HKTDC Research.

Pollution products

Many Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai are some of the most polluted cities in the world. And with pollution, concerns about preserving skin quality also arise. Realizing that there is a huge market to tap into this niche, cosmetics companies have started marketing beauty products that they claim will help people protect their skin against air pollution.

China’s pollution has given rise to beauty products that help protect skin from its effects. (Image: Kevin Dooley via wikimedia CC BY 2.0 )

“To further emphasize their anti-pollution benefits, brands are now using more specific environmental language to target consumers, such as the Chinese brands Hua Niang and Fumakilla integrating the words“anti-PM2.5” directly on their packaging. However, no official tests can prove the real link between these products and their actions on PM2.5,” according to Marketing To China.

A study conducted by global market research firm Mintel found that about 30 percent of women in China had purchased beauty products that came with an anti-pollution claim. Around 40 percent admitted that though they have not tried such items, they would be interested in sampling these products.

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