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Trends Driving Anti-Aging Skincare in China

Published September 1, 2021
Published September 1, 2021

If COVID-19 has taught Chinese consumers one thing, it is that health is earned rather than given. This applies to both physical health and skin health. The pandemic has fostered the overall awareness of self-care and extended the focus to skincare products, as consumers are paying more attention to skin health. Meanwhile, after the 2020 Chinese Census released preliminary results in May that the age group of 60 and over accounts for 18.70% of all population, “aging” has drawn unprecedented attention. Aging is unstoppable, yet anti-aging is becoming attainable. As average incomes in China continue to rise, advanced technology becomes more accessible and affordable, domestic e-commerce booms, and consumer behavior shifts towards becoming more health and quality conscious, anti-aging products are no longer considered a luxury.

According to a July 2020 Global Industry Analysts report published by market research group Research and Markets, the global market for anti-aging products, estimated at US$52.5 billion in the year 2020, is projected to reach a revised size of US$83.2 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 6.8% over 2020-2027. And China, the world’s second-largest economy, is forecast to reach an estimated market size of US$18.4 billion in the year 2027, trailing a CAGR of 10.5% through 2027, which accounts for almost 22% of the global market. Moreover, as the data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China suggests, despite the fact that growth of per capita disposable income in China is slowing down, people are still willing to pay for cosmetic products. Among all the keywords most searched for in the skincare category, “anti-aging” definitely has a place. According to a poll conducted by CBNData and Effectim, anti-aging ranked top among all skincare needs, followed by moisturizing and acne treatment.

One may think the majority of users of anti-aging products are senior citizens or the middle-aged. Well, not quite. According to a report by Forbes, in China, millennials and Gen Z have become the biggest consumer segment, and 39% of females aged 20-24 use anti-aging skincare products that can prevent and eliminate signs of early aging, especially anti-wrinkle products to prevent the occurrence of lines and wrinkles. Even though millennials and Gen Z are not considered aging populations, they still face premature skin-aging problems. Factors associated with this younger generation, including ultraviolet ray exposure, smoking, unhealthy diet, drinking, poor sleep habits, and stress, could lead to premature skin aging. Luckily, scientific studies have shown that physical signs of aging can be addressed with the right treatment or ingredients. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that people in their 20s or early 30s are already starting to tackle the aging problem.

Five consumer trends in the anti-aging market in China

The popularity of premium anti-aging products keeps rising. According to CBNData and Effectim, the percentage of consumers spending over RMB 1,000 on a single anti-aging product is growing rapidly. And among them, millennials take up the highest proportion. This uncovers an important fact: anti-aging still relies on advanced technologies that domestic skincare product companies are still trying to catch up with. It is fair to say that international big-name brands still are in a favorable position. Millennials whose anti-aging needs are more pressing than Gen Z’s are more willing and determined to pay more for effective ways to tackle the aging problem.

Aesthetic medicine, or “beauty from within,” is becoming a highly sought-after means to anti-aging. It is generally divided into surgical procedures (e.g., reconstructive surgery, liposuction, facelifts), and nonsurgical procedures (e.g., photorejuvenation, radio frequency skin tightening, chemical peel, Thermage). Based on a report by Deloitte and Meituan, the Chinese aesthetic medicine market is estimated to reach RMB 227 billion in 2021 and RMB 311.5 billion in 2023. Among all users, the 20-35 age group accounts for 3/4 of this market, and the 20-25 age group’s share is steadily increasing. As the market becomes more regulated and information and pricing more transparent, aesthetic medicine is no longer a lucky straw—it’s now easier to know what you are paying for. Compared to exercise, using skincare products, maintaining a proper diet, and taking supplements, aesthetic medicine could be the most efficient, albeit the most expensive, way to reduce the effects of aging.

Professional at-home beauty devices are becoming the new normal. The pandemic has kept people at home, accelerating the commercialization of professional at-home beauty devices. The consumption penetration rate of anti-aging beauty devices has continued to rise since 2018. Moreover, more and more consumers tend to purchase premium professional beauty devices that are over RMB 3000. Among all the key functions of anti-aging beauty devices, radiofrequency, thermolift, infusion, microcurrent, and ultrasonic rank top 5. These seemingly high-tech treatments are now becoming more affordable and tangible.

Niche single-ingredient products are winning Gen Z’s hearts. On the one hand, Gen Z was born with better living conditions and are the most-educated generation yet. For them, there can be no delay in beginning the anti-aging process—the sooner they start, the better off they will be. On the other hand, Gen Z is made up of digital natives who know how to search for information and share their opinions out loud via social media. They perceive that anti-aging is not a myth—there are feasible means and reliable ingredients to treat aging. With the mindset of “It’s never too early to start anti-aging” and digital tools at their fingertips, Gen Z has a more sophisticated appreciation of ingredients—although they can afford them, they are not obsessed with big-name brands. Correspondingly, purse-friendly brands such as The Inkey List and SkinCeuticals are able to raise brand awareness and gain more users.

Cutting-edge aesthetic treatments foster demand for anti-aging products. More and more consumers undergo aesthetic treatments in order to counter aging and rejuvenate. There is no doubt that they will keep using anti-aging products and even invest more in the future in their anti-aging trek. In regard to post-treatment skincare, be it a serious treatment in a clinic or using at-home beauty devices, the focus is healing, fighting inflammation, repair, protecting the skin from sun damage, and boosting nutrients. These approaches may not 100% align with anti-aging. Yet, the fundamental principles are relatively the same: refresh the skin by repairing damaged cells, stimulating cell metabolism, and preventing further damage. Thus, most aesthetic treatment users are starting to apply anti-aging skincare products.

Exclusive formulas vs. easy-to-get ingredients

It is fair to say that international big-name brands are still leading in the anti-aging market. Their R&D technology, patented formulas, and ingredients have entitled them to higher pricing. SK-II, for instance, centers around a unique ingredient called Pitera, which is the lifeline for the whole line. Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair is credited as the first product to use skin-plumping hyaluronic acid. La Mer is able to succeed with only one product worldwide because of its Miracle Broth. La Prairie’s Cellular Complex, Augustinus Bader’s TFC8…The exclusiveness of these brands is bound to raise their prices and limit the range of users to more affluent consumers. However, a large portion of millennials and Gen Z may not fall into this category. This is where brands with much more affordable, yet effective ingredients jump in.

One of the top three anti-aging ingredients is a class of chemical compounds called retinoids, made up of forms of vitamin A (retinol) or derivatives of the vitamin (such as tretinoin). Retinoids can reduce discoloration and stimulate the growth of new cells. RoC, Neutrogena, and Murad all launched products featuring this ingredient. Another category is peptides, proteins that stimulate the growth of new cells and facilitate cell turnover while you sleep. They can also stimulate the production of collagen. Emerging brands such as The Ordinary, NIOD, and Filorga all have star products containing peptides. A third top anti-aging compound is Pro-Xylane, a sugar molecule derived from the beechwood tree utilizing green chemistry, developed and created by L’Oréal Research and Innovation. It stimulates the production of proteoglycans, a water-absorbing molecule in human reconstructed skin, and thus can counterbalance signs of aging.

New brands also stand a chance as long as there is differentiation

Among the best-selling anti-aging products during 618 on Tmall, several brands stood out among big-name brands and domestic brands—one of them is Kate Somerville. Founded by Kate Somerville and originated in Hollywood, this brand is backed by clinic-level formulas and many Hollywood celebrities including Taylor Swift. The brand aspires to combine advanced technology and high-performance ingredients to deliver safe, efficient, convenient, aesthetic medicine-like effects.

Its top anti-aging product is +Retinol Vita C Power Serum, which has a spooky-at-first but then catchy name “Phantom Lady.” It combines 0.5% retinol and vitamin C to reduce discoloration and stimulate collagen synthesis to eliminate wrinkles, which also makes it possible to use it both day and night, as most products containing retinol can only be applied at night.

In terms of marketing, Kate Somerville has been working on PR seeding with all levels of KOLs and KOCs on social media platforms including The RED, Weibo, and WeChat. It also has launched free-sample trial campaigns and a livestream campaign with Austin Li. For brands that intend to enter the Chinese market with a limited budget, choosing a catchy and special name could be a good start. And a star product definitely helps with defining the brand positioning. In Kate Somerville’s case, the “Phantom Lady” serum indicates that this brand aims to deliver efficient and fast results, which suits the fast pace of modern life and is more likely to attract less price-sensitive consumers because, to some extent, they are willing to trade time with money.

In terms of marketing, content seeding and PR seeding is relatively slow in boosting sales compared with working with Austin Li, but keeping existing users and attracting new consumers is equally paramount. Consumers who feel they belong to a group tend to stick longer and are more willing to spread word of mouth spontaneously.

Another similar case is Amala, a German organic skincare brand with pioneering research and groundbreaking biochemistry formulas. After months of seeding, promoting, and a livestream campaign with Austin Li, it is now a rising premium skincare brand on Tmall attracting increasing attention from affluent consumers who desire organic anti-aging experiences.


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