Re­viv­ing skin care ap­peal with TCM

China Daily European Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN YUANQING sun­yuan­qing@chi­

Re­cently car­toon was posted on Chi­nese instant mes­sag­ing app WeChat that told a spy story set in China in the early 20th cen­tury. Within 24 hours it had at­tracted more than 5 mil­lion views.

The post turned out to be a pub­lic­ity stunt by Pe­choin, one of the old­est homegrown skin­care brands in China, the aim be­ing to stir up in­ter­est in lo­cal beauty brands long over­shad­owed by their ri­vals from over­seas.

Like many lo­cal cos­met­ics com­pa­nies, Pe­choin, founded about 85 years ago, un­der­went a steady de­cline in the early 2000s when in­ter­na­tional brands started to make in­roads into the Chi­nese mar­ket.

It was 10 years or so ago that the com­pany it­self be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence a burst of re­ju­ve­na­tion ap­pro­pri­ate to the kinds of prod­ucts it sells. That was thanks to a man­age­ment de­ci­sion to di­ver­sify the prod­uct range, ex­tend the re­tail net­work in smaller cities and em­bed its prod­ucts in pop­u­lar cul­ture by ap­point­ing Karen Mok, a well-known singer, as its spokes­woman.

It be­came one of the ear­li­est Chi­nese brands to open a store on Tmall, China’s ma­jor on­line mar­ket­place, and in Novem­ber it be­came the best-sell­ing lo­cal skin care brand in the Sin­gles Day shop­ping fes­ti­val, fol­low­ing big names such as Mary Kay, L’Oreal and Olay.

Like Pe­choin, other Chi­nese brands are seek­ing to re­ju­ve­nate

them­selves by ap­peal­ing to younger shop­pers. What all these prod­ucts have in com­mon, too, is that they lean heav­ily on tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine in their man­u­fac­ture. Of­ten, rather than this be­ing a strong sell­ing point, it seems to have de­terred many prospec­tive buy­ers, par­tic­u­larly the young, but this is be­gin­ning to change.

Typ­i­cal of such shop­pers is Zhang Xuan, who says she has used many dif­fer­ent skin care prod­ucts over the years. Noth­ing seemed to soothe her dry skin, she says, un­til she stum­bled on a cos­met­ics brand that re­lies on TCM, and she is con­vinced that her search for re­lief is fi­nally over.

“I think it is health­ier and suits my skin bet­ter,” says the Shang­hai school­teacher, who is in her 20s. “I’d like to try other TCM-based skin­care, too.”

Cos­met­ics based on TCM still rep­re­sent only a small pro­por­tion of the prod­ucts avail­able at beauty coun­ters in de­part­ment stores but they have gained­mo­men­tu­min the past fewyears as both sell­ers and buy­ers dis­cover how po­tent they can be. Those who have given them any at­ten­tion have tended to be older shop­pers but now younger peo­ple like Zhang are voic­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion of their ef­fi­cacy and value for money.

The award in 2015 of theNo­bel Prize in Phys­i­ol­ogy orMedicine to the Chi­nese phar­ma­ceu­tic chemist Tu Youyou, to­gether with Wil­liam Campbell and Satoshi Omura, gave TCM a higher pro­file and may have helped in­crease sales of TCM prod­ucts, in­clud­ing cos­met­ics.

Chi­nese in­dige­nous brands like the one Zhang is now us­ing, Her­borist, have be­gun to at­tract more at­ten­tion and sell bet­ter as they not only use TCM as a strong sell­ing point but also re­main rel­a­tively cheap.

China’s cos­met­ics mar­ket was es­ti­mated to be worth 205 bil­lion yuan ($29.8 bil­lion; 27.2 bil­lion; £23.08 bil­lion) in 2015 and is fore­cast to be worth 361 bil­lion yuan in 2020, mak­ing China one of the fastest grow­ing mar­kets for cos­met­ics, mar­ket re­search firm Ibao­gao says.

A re­cent re­port by Alibaba and CBN Data on cos­met­ics sales sug­gested that, while West­ern brands con­tinue to dom­i­nate the top end of the mar­ket, Ja­panese and South Korean prod­ucts are also thriv­ing, feed­ing on the pop­u­lar­ity of TV dra­mas from those two coun­tries. At the same time, Chi­nese in­dige­nous brands have been emerg­ing with e-com­merce, many spe­cial­iz­ing in skin care and us­ing TCM both in their man­u­fac­ture and as a sell­ing point.

Apart from the core con­sumers, aged from 23 to 28, those un­der 22 are in­creas­ing rapidly, now ac­count­ing for about one-fourth of the con­sumers on Tmall, the on­line mar­ket­place. Men are also pay­ing more at­ten­tion to skin care than be­fore, the Alibaba and CBN Data re­port said.

Yue Sai, the cos­metic brand that be­longs to the French com­pany L’Oreal, has used TCM in its prod­ucts since 1992. Most of its cus­tomers are in their 30s and 40s, but the ranks of users in their 20s are swelling, says Stephane Wil­met, chief con­sumer of­fi­cer of L’Ore­alChina. In­deed, more than half its on­line store cus­tomers are in their 20s, says Wil­met, pre­vi­ously Yue Sai’s brand gen­eral man­ager.

“For a lot of peo­ple, Chi­nese beauty re­minds them of tra­di­tion rather than fash­ion. Young peo­ple­may at first feelTCMis not for them, but we have trans­formed the prod­ucts in terms of mar­ket­ing, pack­ag­ing and prod­uct range.”

The brand com­bines TCM in­gre­di­ents such as lingzhimush­room and gin­seng with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to de­velop prod­ucts tai­lored for the Asian skin.

“It’s not just about cul­tural her­itage,” Wil­met says. “The mild na­ture of the TCM in­gre­di­ents also caters bet­ter to Chi­nese skin.”

As many as 80 per­cent of its cus­tomers come from sec­ond-tier and third-tier cities and they are be­com­ing more in­de­pen­dent-minded, Wil­met says, know­ing which prod­ucts best suit them rather than sim­ply fol­low­ing the crowd.

Brands younger than Yue Sai are now fol­low­ing suit, look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the power of TCM.

Yuan Soap, a Tai­wan brand that spe­cial­izes in hand­made soap, uses Chi­nese herbs, olive oil and spring wa­ter to make skin care prod­ucts. It takes about 60 days to pro­duce a new batch, it says, ad­her­ing strictly to an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ap­proach.

The brand has at­tracted a large fol­low­ing of young peo­ple in their 20s with its or­ganic con­cept, as well as the mid­dle class who han­ker af­ter the finer things in life.

Wu Muyu, mar­ket­ing man­ager for Yuan Soap, says those­whobuy it are highly pos­i­tive about TCM, es­pe­cially the use of worm­wood, a com­mon herb that peo­ple use in their daily lives. Yuan Soap now has 19 stores and an on­line shop on Tmall.

These new brands are also very good at mar­ket­ing them­selves in new, flex­i­ble ways.

By the end of last year, more than 3,000 brands had opened stores on Tmall. The skin care in­dus­try is en­joy­ing great suc­cess on­line, the Alibaba and CBN re­port said.

Six­i­ang, a skin care brand us­ing Chi­nese soap­berry, was launched last year, and with pro­mo­tions on WeChat and Taobao it has built a solid base of buy­ers, es­pe­cially among those in their 40s who firmly be­lieve in the ben­e­fits of TCM.

It is not just the beauty brands that are warm­ing up to the idea of TCM. The huge po­ten­tial in the beauty and per­sonal care mar­ket in China has also at­tracted many TCM com­pa­nies.

Yun­nan Baiyao, a well-known Chi­nese med­i­cal com­pany, has pro­duced hemosta­sis tooth­paste based on what it says is a se­cret recipe. Ton­grentang, an­other ac­claimed TCM brand, has launched its own cos­metic line and May­in­g­long has de­vel­oped an eye cream based on its own herbal recipe.

How­ever, it re­mains to be seen whether TCM beauty prod­ucts can be as pop­u­lar as Ja­panese and South Korean brands.

Zhao Wei, founder of Cona­ture, an or­ganic hair prod­uct brand, says that one of the big­gest chal­lenges for emerg­ing TCM-based brands is that Chi­nese con­sumers lack the trust and con­fi­dence for in­dige­nous brands in the same way that Ja­panese or South Korean con­sumers have con­fi­dence in their coun­tries’ prod­ucts.

A former fash­ion editor at Harper’s BazaarChina, Zhao says she has al­ways wanted to have her own brand. She founded hers af­ter her mother could not find a hair sa­lon of­fer­ing au­then­tic or­ganic hair prod­ucts, she says.

Zhao im­ports in­gre­di­ents from south­ern France and Italy and works with sci­en­tists from the Chi­nese Acad­emy of Sci­ences to de­velop her com­pany’s own prod­ucts. The brand pro­motes the prod­ucts through its hair sa­lons and now has two branches in Bei­jing and one in Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince.

“The South Korean cos­met­ics brands are big be­cause their peo­ple are very sup­port­ive of their own brands,” Zhao says. “In China it still takes time for peo­ple to build aware­ness of lo­cal brands.”


Yue Sai, a brand un­der French com­pany L’Oreal has used TCMin its prod­ucts since 1992.

are seek­ing to re­ju­ve­nate them­selves by ap­peal­ing to younger shop­pers, with a heavy fo­cus on putting tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine in their man­u­fac­ture.


Chi­nese skin care brands

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