The anti-aging boom is underway in China

While China has always been a country that respects and values ​​its elders, China is in the throes of a national anti-aging boom. Observers note enthusiasm for anti-aging products across all demographic groups. The move opposes an overall slowdown in post-covid beauty market growth. Why the demand for anti-aging products? Growing anxiety over its appearance on social media and a rapidly growing aging population.

The fear of aging is not so new. A decade ago, a state media report revealed that Chinese people feared growing old the most. At the time, I was skeptical of the results; but, 10 years later, I am convinced of it after having witnessed many market transitions in recent years. For example, people in their 20s and 30s, freaked out about getting old, use social media names like: “Post-00 Old Girl” and “Post-90s Old Aunt.” These women see preventing aging as a top priority. On the other hand, women aged 45 and over are eager to reverse the effects of time and refer to themselves as “Forever Young Goddess”.

The aging of the Chinese population, which according to the WHO is one of the fastest growing in the world, is further fueling this anti-aging movement. These groups are more willing to spend time, money, and effort to look younger than their Western counterparts, largely due to cultural and societal differences.

An aging segmented market

Building on this macro trend, the anti-aging claim is everywhere here, ranging from cosmetics, foods and supplements to home beauty devices and professional services. These services include beauty salons and related institutions offering preventive and corrective procedures such as hyaluronic/botox injections and laser therapy. To meet increasingly diverse needs from different demographics, the market is also evolving and becoming increasingly segmented.

In the cosmetics sector, consumers already diverge between preventing early aging and treating mature aging. On the first, it’s young women with the common mindset of starting anti-aging regimens as soon as possible. These young women represent the majority of anti-aging product sales online. Their enthusiasm has rejuvenated many high-end brands in China.

According to iiMedia Research, women between the ages of 26 and 35 are the most interested in learning anti-aging information. And this trend is even younger. At the 2020 618 Shopping Festival, 25% of shoppers of products claiming prevention of early aging were 22 and younger, according to Chinese e-commerce giant JD.

At the other end of the spectrum, older consumers are beginning to be identified as the next big group in the anti-aging cosmetics industry. This is easily understood if we look at the latest official statistics: the Chinese population over 60 years old exceeded 267 million in 2021, or 18.9% of the total population. In 2030, people aged 60 and over will represent 25.5% of the population, or 330 million. And with the accelerated pace of adoption of digital technology and online shopping since covid, online cosmetics sales by older generations have skyrocketed in terms of number of buyers and revenue.

Social media and e-commerce are quickly acting on this trend. Alibaba launched its “Taobao for Elders” program in early 2018 to tap the generation’s online spending potential. Xiaohongshu (Chinese for “Little Red Book”) is a well-known online lifestyle community targeting Chinese youth. It recently expanded to include older people, launching the Laohongshu (“Old Red Book”).

Along with these consumer shifts comes product segmentation. Anti-aging facial skin care diversifies into specific areas of the eyes (even upper and lower eyelids), cheeks and lips, and also extends to hair and scalp, neck and hands /nails. Hair/scalp care, anti-hair loss/thinning in particular, are gaining a lot of attention. When it comes to benefits, sagging, fine lines/wrinkles, and pigmentation are still top concerns for all groups. On the other hand, dull complexion (mainly due to staying up late) is a concern for young people. In addition, enlarged pores and excess sebum are of growing concern. By product form, freeze-dried powder and essential oil, serum and eye cream lead the way.

“Dark technology” drives growth

Such segmentation is further driven by growing consumer awareness of the anti-aging category. Thanks in large part to KOL’s rigorous consumer education on social media, terms about the mechanisms of aging are becoming more familiar to everyday consumers. More and more buyers understand the meaning of words such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), glycation, “inflammation”, skin immunity and even cellular senescence.

While I guess most buyers are still digesting these terms, beauty brands have wasted no time using them in their marketing campaigns.

This, of course, aligns with an increase in science-backed efficacy claims in the cosmetics market. Very often, brands take advantage of so-called “dark technology” to promote their top position. Black technology includes transdermal delivery system, digital technology and biotechnology. In particular, nano- or micro-encapsulation is increasingly put forward to demonstrate the improvement in the effectiveness of products by improving the transdermal penetration of active ingredients.

AIs focused on personalized care are frequently spotted in the anti-aging segment, both in technical R&D and customer-centric marketing. And ingredients of natural or biotechnological origin, fermentation and synthetic biotechnology in particular, are the current hero ingredients.

What’s the trend?

Among the trending anti-aging actives in China, the most discussed are peptides (mainly acetyl hexapeptide-8 and copper tripeptide), c-xyloside (known as L’Oréal’s Pro-Xylane), ectoin, Bifida ferment lysate and nicotinamide. Of course, anti-aging staples like retinoids, vitamins C and E, and collagen remain popular. Emerging antioxidants like ergothioneine (EGT), astaxanthin and fullerene are gaining traction. Bevol, a local cosmetic review/ingredient query platform, recently published its lists of active ingredients in anti-aging skincare registered in the database between January 2021 and May 2022. Those who have the rates the fastest growing are retinyl propionate, tangerine fruit extract, tuber magnatum extract, camellia seed oil and saccharomyces ferment filtrate.

Looking young continues to be the dominant consumer interest in China’s anti-aging cosmetics industry. Ironically, to date, it is the younger generation that is driving the growth. But older consumers are expected to play an important role in the future. Although more open to innovative technologies and new concepts, Chinese consumers largely have less relaxed attitudes towards aging and tighter standards about looking youthful than their Western counterparts. This could explain why the idea of ​​aging well, which is gaining popularity in the West, is far from mainstream here, despite the nascent efforts of a few brands.

Overall, China’s anti-aging cosmetics industry is expected to be heading for a prosperous future, as it is long in terms of both audience and product ideas. However, optimism must be tempered by the latest news about a local brand being fined by the State Administration for Market Regulation for its “unsubstantiated anti-aging claim.” The fine should serve as a warning that the regulations could pour cold water on this hot category. As the official explained, anti-wrinkle and firming claims allowed in cosmetics are not equivalent to anti-aging because the latter is much broader and lacks evaluation methods in China.

So where are anti-aging cosmetics headed? Regulators will have the final say.

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