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China’s Cosmetics Market

I. Market Overview

1. The cosmetics sector on the Chinese mainland has been growing at a fast pace in tandem with the rapid development of the Chinese economy in recent years. Data from Euromonitor reveals that total retail sales of skincare products and make-up products in China reached RMB169.1 billion and RMB28.3 billion respectively in 2016, achieving year-on-year growth of 5% and 12% respectively. The table below shows recent years’ retail sales of cosmetic products by wholesale and retail enterprises above a designated scale.

YearRetail sales (RMB billion)

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China

2. Current structure of China’s consumer market of cosmetic products:

  • Skincare products: the fastest growing sector in the cosmetics market.
  • Shampoos and hair care products: a market niche becoming saturated, seeing growth decelerating.
  • Make-up products: the market far from saturated, particularly for enhancement items, such as colour correcting (CC) and blemish balm (BB) cream. Sales of eye make-up products recorded significant growth in recent years.
  • Products for children: sales of products designed for use by children continue to soar.
  • Sunscreen products: sunscreen products help ensure sales will not slow down during traditional quiet seasons.
  • Anti-aging products: cosmetic products that help consumers stay youthful and fight aging are increasingly popular.
  • Sports cosmetics: many consumers who love sports and fitness pursuits are keen to maintain an attractive appearance as well. They need sports cosmetics that can help prevent the loss of moisture and are anti-odour, anti-sweat, anti-bacteria, packaged in compact, portable sizes.
  • Cosmeceuticals: consumers have growing awareness of products which combine cosmetic and pharmaceutical features, such as spot lightening cream, acne treatment lotion and acne ointment.
  • Green/natural cosmetics: containing natural or nutritional ingredients, such as aloe and vitamins.

3. Currently, China’s skincare products market is trending towards the high-end. Euromonitor figures show that the 2016 market shares of high-end skincare products far outstripped that of mass market fast-moving alternatives. Consumers favour major international brand skincare products, and spending habits are switching from price-focussed to quality and brand driven.

4. China’s domestic cosmetic brands performed very well in 2016, the main reason being expansion into second- and third-tier markets. They have also been developing online sales vigorously and boosting advertising on new media platforms (WeChat and Weibo) to raise brand recognition.

5. According to China's Skincare and Cosmetics Market, a 2016 HKTDC Research survey report, Chinese women’s most important considerations for purchasing cosmetics include: “product benefits/efficacy” (66%), “brand” (64%) and “word-of-mouth” (60%). Young respondents were more influenced by factors such as “word-of-mouth” and “price”, while mature respondents were more attracted by “natural/organic/herbal ingredients” and “high-tech/biotech products”.

6. The main consumer groups for make-up products are the post-80s and post-90s generations, who value the appearance and trendiness of the products, and are highly sensitive of product updates. As a result, many brands are collaborating with film/TV stars and beauty bloggers, or placing embedded ads in films/TVs and entertainment events as a way to boost sales.

7. According to the HKTDC survey, women in China have gradually formed the habit of putting on make-up. This is particularly true for younger women, aged 20-30. The 88% of the age group putting on make-up is higher than that of 31-45 year old women, at 83%. Men are also beginning to care for their skin, with 63% of male respondents using cleansing milk, lotion or face cream.

8. The men’s cosmetics sector exhibits strong growth, in particular skincare products for men. According to estimates by Euromonitor, the male skincare products market expanded by 5% year-on-year in 2016 as more and more male consumers are receptive to men’s skincare and make-up products. In 2016, male accounted for 52.2% of mainland’s total population. However, the share of cosmetic products for men in the overall cosmetics market is relatively small. Oil-control and cleansing are the two major concerns. While facial cleansers take the lion’s share of the male market, demand for specialty products like masks, sun-blocks and those with whitening and moisturising functions is also on the rise. This demonstrates that male consumers are paying more attention to skin conditions such as aging and coarseness.

9. Cosmeceuticals, especially Chinese herbal cosmetics, are opening up a new territory in the cosmetics market. It is understood that more than 170 enterprises have tapped into China’s cosmeceuticals market to date, many of them renowned pharmaceutical companies in China, such as Tongrentang and Yunnan Baiyao. Cosmeceuticals only have a market share of about 20% in the mainland at present. In Europe, the US and Japan, cosmeceuticals take a 50-60% share. It is believed that China's cosmeceuticals market has much room for development. While cosmeceuticals have medical properties, they are classified as cosmetics since there is still no official definition for the term “cosmeceuticals” on the mainland. According to the Regulations on the Hygienic Supervision over Cosmetics, no medical jargon or claims of medical efficacy should be used in cosmetic items’ packaging or instructions.

10. In the cosmetics market, consumers’ attitude has changed drastically. Nowadays, consumers are more independent in making decisions. Instead of being influenced by advertising or promotional campaigns, they gather information through different channels and consider various factors before picking products. Consumers can be grouped into three major tiers, namely upper, middle and lower, based on their preference for brand, quality, and price, as well as consumers’ purchasing power. Buyers of imported brand products in the high-end market are mostly high-income earners in large and medium-sized cities. Most of them are young and middle-aged women who prefer famous cosmetics brands from Europe, the US and Japan.

11. People are increasingly aware of cosmetics safety issues. A series of problems arising from unsafe products have put consumers, manufacturers and regulatory authorities on alert. It is believed that the promulgation of the Hygienic Standard for Cosmetics and the Hygienic Standard for Cosmetics Production Enterprises can help regulate the behaviour of cosmetics manufacturers and protect the rights of consumers.

12. All-natural DIY cosmetics have gained popularity in recent years. Consumers purchase ingredients themselves and tailor-make cosmetics and skincare products with their own formulas. DIY cosmetics were intended for individual use to achieve self-sufficiency. Today, they are increasingly commercialised, mass-produced and sold through e-commerce platforms like Taobao.com and Tmall.com. Nevertheless, DIY cosmetics for online sales generally have quality problems. They do not meet the requirements stipulated in the Regulations on the Hygienic Supervision over Cosmetics and have not applied for cosmetics production and sales permits.

13. China’s imports of major cosmetic products in 2016:

HS CodeDescription2016 (US$ million)YoY change (%)
33030000Perfumes and toilet waters182-2.3
33041000Lip make-up preparations21847.7
33042000Eye make-up preparations961.2
33049100Powders, whether or not compressed9610.9
33049900Others (including preparations for the care of the skin, suntan preparations, etc.)3,58431.7
33052000Preparations for permanent waving33.9
33053000Hair lacquers3-63.9
33072000Personal deodorants and antiperspirants4-2.3

Source: Global Trade Atlas

II. Market Competition

1. According to China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) statistics, the number of enterprises qualified to produce cosmetics in China at the end of November 2016 was 4,798. Looking at the cosmetics market as a whole, domestic brands are mostly concentrated in the mid- to low-end segments, while foreign-invested enterprises and joint ventures dominated the high-end segment.

2. It is understood that foreign brands account for nearly 60% of the total sales of cosmetics in China, with sales value making up nearly 90%. Because of the rapid development of domestic cosmetics companies, domestic brands’ market share is growing gradually, posing competition to their foreign counterparts. To seek new sales growth, domestic brands are applying traditional Chinese medicine concepts and natural extraction methods in developing skincare products. Examples include the Taichi Beauty Retaining series and the Five Elements Skin Revitalising series from the Herborist and the Herbal Skin Whitening series from Pehchaolin.

3. Although there has been negative news about the quality of cosmetic products from world-renowned brands, mainland consumers still favour international brands. They believe that these well-known enterprises have been producing cosmetics for years, so even though problems have been reported in individual products, the overall quality is still reliable. Some young women also consider it trendy to use famous brand cosmetic products.

4. A number of mainland cosmetics producers, such as Chinfie, CMM, Houdy, Longrich, Herborist and Chando, are catching their international counterparts fast and have built up reputations in the domestic market. Some long-established domestic brands like Pehchaolin, Maxam and Bee & Flower are also actively carrying out research, rejuvenating existing products or developing new ones to meet market needs. They aim to regain market share by re-launching these upgraded and repackaged items at much higher prices. In the past, domestic brands emphasised value-for-money and mostly target second- and third-tier markets. Today, some large domestic companies have started to develop high quality products, aiming to meet the demands of increasingly discerning consumers in the domestic mid- and high-end markets.

5. The cosmeceuticals market is dominated by foreign brands. At present, major cosmeceutical brands filling the shelves of large drugstores include VICHY, La Roche-Posay, Freeplus and Simple. Domestic brands like Tongrentang, Herborist and Sanjiu have also ventured into the cosmeceuticals market and are gradually recognised by consumers.

6. Children’s skincare product is a market of huge potential. Frog Prince, Haiermian, Mentholatum, Yumeijing and Johnson & Johnson are major players in the children’s market. According to estimates, Johnson & Johnson takes more than 50% of the children’s toiletries and skincare products market on the mainland. More and more international childcare heavyweights are eyeing the China market and competition is becoming intense.

III. Sales Channels

1. Major sales channels for cosmetics on the mainland include wholesale markets, supermarkets and department stores, dedicated counters, specialty chain stores, drugstores, beauty parlours and direct selling. Online shopping channels have also recorded significant growth in recent years. Currently, department stores, supermarkets and specialty stores are the top three sales channels. It is estimated that retail sales of cosmetics through these three major channels account for approximately two-thirds of the whole cosmetics market.

2. The “dedicated counter” is a major traditional sales channel for cosmetics, adopted by most world-renowned cosmetics brands. Dedicated counters generate great return in terms of word-of-mouth publicity and are thus highly effective in establishing brand image. Top global brands such as Lancôme, Estée Lauder, Chanel and Dior dominate the sales of cosmetics through dedicated counters on the mainland. Just a few domestic brands like Herborist are able to compete with these giants.

3. Some brands expand their business by opening specialty stores, mainly in the directly-operated specialty store and franchise store formats. Many multi-national cosmetics giants prefer directly-operated specialty stores, since they can better display brand image, ensure the quality of service management and enforce unified, stable pricing. On the other hand, compared with other sales formats, opening franchise chain stores is regarded as the most effective format with the least input and highest rate of success.

4. Direct selling is a means of selling cosmetic products through distributors’ personal networks. Direct selling companies will award the distributors according to the quantity of goods sold through their respective networks. Avon was the first brand to engage in a pilot programme after the Regulations for the Administration of Direct Selling were promulgated in 2005. Subsequently, the authorities also granted direct selling licences to Amway, Perfect, Longrich and others.

5. Selling cosmetics through drugstores has become a major feature in China’s cosmetics market. While the cosmeceuticals market is now dominated by foreign players, a number of local pharmaceutical companies have already set foot in this territory. Domestic brand Longrich, for example, has adopted a two-pronged approach. Apart from distributing through shopping centres and supermarkets, it also launches its products in local pharmacies.

6. Cosmetic products can also be distributed through various types of beauty parlours, such as traditional, pampering and therapeutic beauty parlours; large and medium-sized high-end beauty spas; franchise chain stores; and grooming and hairdressing parlours, etc.

7. The retail concept of “cosmetics supermarket” or “one-stop shop” is gaining attention, with the entry of players like Watson’s, Sephora of France and Sasa.

8. Online cosmetics shopping has seen rapid growth, with some mainland consumers are beginning to buy cosmetics and skincare products online. According to the HKTDC survey, 69% of female respondents and 65% of male respondents would buy skincare products and cosmetics from online stores mainly because “online shopping is convenient/offers delivery service”. The survey also found that female and male consumers spent RMB2,158 and RMB1,681 respectively on online purchases of skincare products and cosmetics on average in the preceding year.

9. Many foreign brands have entered the mainland market by acquiring domestic brands and making use of their distribution networks. For example, MiniNurse and MG were acquired by L'Oréal, TJoy by Coty for a time, and Dabao by Johnson & Johnson.

10. Fairs held in China provide an ideal channel for industry players to gather the latest information and to meet dealers. Selected cosmetics fairs to be held in China in 2017-18 are as follows:

3-5 September 2017China International Beauty Expo (Guangzhou) Autumn (CIBE)China Import & Export Fair Complex Guangzhou
22-24 October 2017China Beauty Expo Chengdu (CCBE)Chengdu Century City New International Convention and Exhibition Center
3-5 November 2017Shanghai International Beauty Hairdressing & Cosmetics ExpoShanghai Everbright Convention & Exhibition Center
10-12 March 2018China International Beauty Expo (Guangzhou) Spring (CIBE)China Import & Export Fair Complex Guangzhou
22-24 May 2018China Beauty Expo 2018Shanghai New International Expo Center

IV. Import and Trade Regulations

1. The Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Regulations on the Hygienic Supervision over Cosmetics provide that, for cosmetic products to be imported to China for the first time, foreign manufacturers or their agents must obtain and complete an Application Form for Hygiene Licence of Imported Cosmetics from the hygiene administration department above the local or city level of the importing place. They must submit their applications directly to the hygiene administration department under the State Council. Upon receipt of the application dossiers, the hygiene administration department under the State Council will set up a cosmetics safety panel to inspect the product in question. Products which have passed the inspection will be issued with an Approval Document for Hygiene Licence of Imported Cosmetics and the number of the approval document. The approval document will be valid for four years. Application for renewal can be submitted to the hygiene administration department under the State Council four to six months prior to the expiry date of the approval document and attachment of relevant information is not required.

2. Pursuant to the Administrative Measures on the Inspection, Quarantine and Supervision of Import and Export of Cosmetics, in addition to obtaining an Approval Document for Hygiene Licence, an importer must also apply for a Verification Certificate for Chinese Labelling on Imported Cosmetics before reporting to the inspection and quarantine department. Normally, an application for verification of labelling for imported cosmetics should be submitted to a designated examination body 90 working days before reporting to the verification department. Imported cosmetic products may use printed Chinese labels on a temporary basis and the whole label should be affixed onto the original sales packaging box. The names and addresses of the dealer, importer, agent and contact person on the mainland who have legally registered in China must be clearly shown on the labels of the imported cosmetic products.

3. Once its label has been verified to be in compliance with regulations, the enterprise concerned should submit the related cosmetic product for inspection in accordance with the Regulations on the Application for Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine, accompanied by the corresponding Verification Certificate for Labelling on Imported Cosmetics. The inspection and quarantine authority concerned will carry out inspection on the following: the label, quantity, weight, specification, packing and logo as well as the quality and hygiene of the cosmetic product. It will also inspect the container for compliance with the functional, safety and hygienic requirements. For an imported cosmetic product which has passed the inspection, the inspection and quarantine authority will issue a conformity slip and supervise the affixing of inspection and quarantine labels.

4. Pursuant to Administrative Measures on the Inspection, Quarantine and Supervision of Import and Export of Cosmetics issued in 2011 for cosmetics subject to hygiene licensing or state archival filing the approval documents for hygiene licensing or a certificate of archival filing of imported cosmetics approved by the relevant supervisory department should be submitted. For cosmetics not subject to hygiene licensing or state archival filing, documents to be submitted would include the relevant safety assessment data on materials with a potential safety risk, and certification for allowing production and sale of the cosmetics in the country (territory) of production or a certificate of origin. In addition, a sample of a Chinese label, a foreign label and its Chinese version are also required. For finished cosmetic products without sales packaging, information such as the name, amount/weight, specification and origin should also be provided.

5. On 12 May 2017 a pilot scheme that allows the import of non-special use cosmetics on a “filing instead of approving” basis was launched in the Shanghai Pudong New Area. This is an innovation in administrative measures without a lowering in product safety regulation standards. At the time of import, no sample of such products needs to be submitted, instead, approval procedures will be carried out during or after importation. This new scheme will simplify the process by which foreign cosmetics enter the Chinese market, shorten the cycle for imported cosmetics and lower logistics and warehousing costs.

6. When assessing the mainland cosmetics market, foreign players should pay attention to relevant standards adopted by mainland authorities. Under the Standardisation Law of the People’s Republic of China (Revised Draft 2016), standards are classified into four levels, namely national, trade, local and enterprise standards, in order of descending precedence. National standards are further classified into compulsory and voluntary standards, represented respectively by standard codes GB and GB/T. Likewise, trade standards are classified into compulsory and voluntary standards. The cosmetics sector, classified under the category of light industry, is represented by the standards codes of QB and QB/T. Local standards are compulsory within their respective administrative regions. Enterprise standards are applicable within the respective enterprises. Industry players may refer to the standardisation website operated by the China Academy of Machinery Science and Technology and the Standardisation Administration of China website to look up relevant standards.

7. Pursuant to China’s WTO commitments, a final bound tariff rate of 10% has been applied to imported lip and eye make-up preparations and powders since 1 January 2005. As for other imported cosmetics, a final bound tariff rate of 6.5% has been levied since 2008.

8. Import tariffs of selected cosmetic products in 2017:

HS CodeDescription(%)
33030000Perfumes and toilet waters10
33041000Lip make-up preparations10
33042000Eye make-up preparations10
33043000Manicure or pedicure preparations10
33049100Powders, whether or not compressed10
33049900Others (including preparations for the care of the skin, suntan preparations, etc.)2, 6.5
33052000Preparations for permanent waving10
33053000Hair lacquers10

Source: Customs Import and Export Tariff of the People's Republic of China 2017

9. According to the decision of the State Council executive meeting on 28 April 2015, China will improve the consumption tax policies on mass consumer goods, such as clothing and cosmetics, and will also adjust the levying scope, tariff rates and levying process. Subsequently, consumption tax on ordinary cosmetic products for beauty and cosmetic purposes has been abolished, while the tax item “cosmetics” has been renamed “high-end cosmetics”. In this adjustment, cosmetics of the high-end beauty and cosmetic category and skincare category are defined as having a dutiable price of RMB10/ml (g) or RMB15/piece (sheet) and above. The consumption tax rate on cosmetics imports has been lowered from 30% to 15%. The import tariff for skincare products has been reduced from 5% to 2%.

10. The 2015 version of the Safety and Technical Standards for Cosmetics consists of eight chapters, namely: Summary, Requirements on Cosmetics Prohibited and Restricted Ingredients, Requirements on Permitted Ingredients, Physical and Chemical Testing Methods, Microbiological Testing Methods, Toxicological Testing Methods, Human Safety Testing Methods, and Efficacy Evaluation Methods in Humans. In the publication, the general safety and technical requirements for cosmetics have been refined. Revisions have also been made to the lists regarding prohibited/restricted and permitted ingredients as well as to the physical and chemical testing methods in the cosmetics inspection and evaluation methods.

11. According to the Regulations on the Administration of Cosmetics Labelling, which went into force on 1 September 2008, a complete table of ingredients must be shown on the labels of cosmetic products. The provisions further clarify the labelling requirements for cosmetic products, including the content allowed or prohibited to be stated in the labels, and the format of such labels.

12. China is soliciting public comments on the draft of Administrative Measures for Cosmetics Labelling, which concerns the following aspects. Adding Chinese labels will no longer be allowed for imported cosmetic products and all cosmetic products targeting the Chinese market should be packaged with product information in Chinese. In addition, labels for imported cosmetics must specify the name and address of the accountable entities, manufacturers and authorised manufacturers in China. An accountable entity in China shall take responsibility for product safety in the Chinese market. The list of expressions forbidden for use has also been modified. To use terms such as “sensitive”, “nano”, “additive-free”, “absolutely natural”, “pure natural plant”, “ecology” and “organic" in cosmetics labels, sufficient documentation should be provided to substantiate such claims during registration or record filing.

13. The Instructions for Consumer Goods General Labelling of Cosmetics (GB 5296.3-2008) which came into effect on 1 October 2009 provides that all locally produced cosmetics or imported cosmetic products to be registered for inspection and distribution on the mainland must truthfully indicate on the product package the standard Chinese names of all added ingredients in the cosmetic product.

14. According to the Naming Requirements for Cosmetics, which was implemented on 5 February 2010, the name of a cosmetic product should be concise, easy to understand and in line with the customs of the Chinese language. It must not contain anything which may mislead or deceive consumers. The Cosmetics Naming Guidelines, which were issued to complement the naming requirements, provide a list of expressions allowed or prohibited when naming cosmetic products. Eleven types of expressions are forbidden for use in the names of cosmetic products, namely: arbitrary expressions, such as “special effect”, “total effect”, “powerful effect”, “miraculous effect”, “super effect”, “extraordinary”, “skin renewing”, “wrinkle removing”. Expressions that falsely claim a product is “absolutely natural”; expressions that explicitly or implicitly indicate the medical effect of a product, such as “anti-bacterial”, “bacteria-inhibiting”, “bacteria-removing”, “detoxifying”, “anti-allergic”, “scar-removing”, “hair-growing”, “hair-regenerating”, “fat-reducing”, “fat-dissolving”, “body-slimming”, “face-slimming”, “leg-slimming” are also controlled. Names of celebrities in the medical field, such as Bian Que, Hua Tuo, Zhang Zhongjing and Li Shizhen; medical jargon; and six other types of expressions are forbidden.

15. The new Administrative Measures on Organic Product Certification (AQSIQ Decree No.155) came into effect on 1 April 2014. This document is compiled in view of the Organic Product Certification Catalogue which took effect on 1 March 2012. According to this catalogue, cosmetic products no longer fall within the 127 product types listed in the organic product catalogue. Only for those products included in the catalogue can certification agencies accept certification requests from producers and processors. For products which were previously certified but now excluded from the organic product catalogue, their certificates will automatically become invalid upon expiry. Under mainland rules, products without organic certificates may not display such markings as “organic product” on their packages and labels. Cosmetic products, therefore, cannot be offered for sale as “organic” items.

16. As stipulated in the Circular on Matters Related to Cosmetics Production Permit issued by the CFDA, cosmetics produced from 1 July 2017 onwards must use new packaging logos labelled with information on the corresponding cosmetics production permit while the “QS” logo ceased to be in use.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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