The rise of C-beauty in the West: What Chinese beauty brands should know about targeting western consumers

In recent years, Chinese cosmetics brands have been confidently gaining space in the international market. While “China” isn’t the first country to come to mind when western consumers think of “beauty products”, through social media and influencer marketing, brands like Florasis and Perfect Dairy have successfully penetrated the western market. Here is what C-beauty brands should know about entering the western markets.

Origin of C-beauty in the west

C-beauty brands tend to be reasonably priced with decent quality. This new generation of cosmetic brands grew out of the same cosmetics companies used by the Chinese when they could not afford the expensive Western cosmetics. As the quality of these Chinese beauty products increased, they became more main-stream including among more affluent consumers, even giving western brands a run for their money. After conquering the domestic market, C-beauty is heading west.

Until recent years, Chinese beauty brands had been imitating popular international brands for a lower price. Since 2019, C-beauty has been experiencing a surge in sales in the West, and it’s not for imitation products. Rather, new generation C-beauty brands are challenging the old “cheap” C-beauty stereotypes and producing unique, quality products..

Key customers of C-beauty in the West

The young and urban population is its main consumer. However, with an international audience, C-beauty in the West has additional challenges in the beauty industry.

How Chinese brands can adapt to beauty trends in the West

Eye makeup

While many Chinese beauty users aim to enlarge their eyes, Girls in the west, tend to make so-called “fox eyes“. A couple of years ago, girls had to go to the salons for eyelash extension to make “fox eyes” effect. But with the growing popularity of Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber in the beauty industry, the trend smoothly migrated into the field of plastic surgery. However, “fox eyes” can be created without the intervention of doctors. The main goal in creating a “fox look” is to visually stretch the corners with a line using a liner or dark shadows that will go beyond the outer corner.

Source: Teen Vogue, Bella Hadid “fox eyes”

Skin tone

Chinese girls’ obsession with white skin is such that the makeup industry sells products in China that are different from those in the West. In the West, people tend to prefer looking tan, some people think it makes them look slim, and on the body, more defined. Very white skin is often can be a sign of poor health in the West, which may surprise Chinese people. Hence, foundation and concealer brands need to include a wide variety of warmer and darker colors. Not to mention the diversity of skin colors in the west, for a C-beauty brand to fully penetrate the market, including more shades of face makeup is a must.

“Clean” beauty

The next trend is “clean” beauty. Western luxury brands have released products without parabens, sulfates, mineral oils and in eco-packaging. Although experts assure that the insignificant concentration in cosmetics is absolutely harmless, consumer phobia is still growing.

Eco-packaging is also very important in the West.  Empty jars and bottles can be brought to the store to refill, taking care of the environment and saving on budget.

Source: Cosmetics Business, Example of eco-packaging

Case studies of C-beauty brands in the West

HEDONE: Inspired by Euphoria

One of the key C-beauty brands in the west is HEDONE. This brand, like most  C-beauty brands in the West has become popular thanks to e-commerce. It is targeting Gen Z inspired by the show Euphoria on Netflix.

Source: SCMP, HEDONE cosmetics

The HEDONE brand views make-up as a way of self-expression, not as a simple tool for self-improvement. Its products contain glitter, eyeliner, bright eyeshadow and other elements that would be considered “overkill” in China. But for western Generation Z, HEDONE brings irony and playfulness to makeup.

HERBORIST: Herbal medicine in makeup

HERBORIST – the products of this cosmetic company are loved for their simple and clear formulas. The simpler the composition, the easier and better the skin can absorb it. From the name of the company, it is clear that it successfully combines modern technology with traditional herbal medicine in China. The Herborist brand has already won the attention of Europeans.

Source: China Daily, Herborist in French Sephora store

CAICUI: Cheap professional products for skin care

CAICUI produces a variety of cosmetics for skin care, among which the most interesting is the “snail” series and mask for skin care around the eyes with Osmanthus. In general, they have a traditional set of skin care products. The product line of this manufacturer includes serums, creams, gels, peels, masks, cleansing foams. Cosmetologists claim that CAICUI creams and serums are same quality as professional products in terms of effect, but several times cheaper.

Source: Amazon, Caicui brand

The importance of the ecommerce for C-brands in the West

Many C-beauty brands were born on the web. Because of this, they are closer to young consumers.  Small local Chinese players are creating a successful and competitive beauty product category by developing social, online, and low-cost brands that are well suited to young consumers.

It is currently a “fast growing phase” – the Chinese brands are gaining market share from global cosmetics companies, creating unique competitiveness and becoming trendsetters in some categories. 

While Western brands are cautiously exploring e-commerce or working with beauty influencers, some C-beauty brands have built their presence on all kinds of digital platforms. It includes not only shopping platforms but also social networks such as Instagram and TikTok.

Influencer marketing for C-beauty brands in the West

Florasis: An example of successful Chinese makeup brand abroad

Florasis uses Instagram to promote its products in the West. Florasis invites consumers to use the hashtag #FlorasisBeauty to share stories. At the moment, Florasis has 35 thousand followers on Instagram. In addition, the brand shares subscriber stories about unboxing or applying Florasis cosmetics. We can also see the events in which the brand participates. For example, China Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.

Florasis also collaborates with Western influencers on TikTok and YouTube. In early 2021 the brand even experienced run-away fame and its distribution hardly kept up.

Source: Instagram, Florasis Instagram account

EU beauty market regulations

When exporting cosmetics to the EU, Chinese brands must comply with the Cosmetics Regulation No. 1223/2009. Namely, a Chinese brand must have a product information file that includes a safety assessment. The ingredients in the cosmetic formula must be approved in the EU. Finally, as labeling and declarations are specific to Europe, brands must provide the appropriate labels.

The regulatory compliance process involves checking the formula in accordance with EC Regulation 1223/2009 to make sure the products are free of prohibited ingredients. Brands need to reformulate the product if it does not meet the requirements.

The EU cosmetics regulation applies to 31 European countries. You must translate product features, safety precautions into the language of the country you plan to export to. All elements required by the regulations must be on the label.