Notes From China

Behind the Mask

By Ally Dai, Happi China | September 27, 2013

Cosmetic facial masks are taking China by storm. Whether wandering around in beauty chain stores like Watsons, or visiting cosmetics trade shows, I have noticed more and more facial masks appearing on store shelves and tradeshow aisles. No wonder why some industry observers referred to 2012 as the “Year of the Mask,” due to growing number of emerging brands or new product launches.

The facial mask is widely regarded as the fastest growing sector in the Chinese cosmetics market. According to Euromonitor, retail sales of cosmetic facial masks in China rose 14.2% to nearly $1.1 billion last year. According to Nielsen data, cosmetic facial mask sales rose 33% to $685 million (excluding department stores and online sales) for the year ended March 31, 2013.

Why are cosmetic facial masks so popular now? According to many analysts there are two reasons. On the one hand, consumer perceptions of facial mask positioning have been gradually shifting from luxury toward masstige/mass and therefore the products are increasingly regarded as affordable daily necessities thanks primarily to active marketing campaigns by many brands. On the other hand, consumers are drawn to facial masks because their effects are instant and create an online buzz.

Taking a close look at this burgeoning market, there are three major types of cosmetic facial masks in China—peel-off, wash-off and leave-on. According to Nielsen, for the 12 months ended March 31, 2013, the peel-off type accounted for 70% of total facial mask sales, followed by wash-off (20%) and leave-on (10%). In terms of annual sales growth, however, it was the wash-off type that outperformed the other two (41% by wash-off compared to 35% by peel-off) during the same period, according to Nielsen.  

When it comes to product efficacy claims, cosmetic facial masks share a lot in common with other skin care forms. While the claims include moisturizing,  whitening/brightening, detoxifying, anti-acne, lifting and anti-wrinkle, moisturizing and whitening are most popular. As a result, ingredients that are well-known by consumers, such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and collagen, are found in the vast majority of brands, while novel ingredients, like extracts of red wine and bird nest, or even snail secretion, are also making their ways into this sector.

And, as in many other personal care segments, a natural/botanical claim is very common for facial masks. Alongside these ingredients, the substrates of masks are expanding into naturally sourced materials such as cotton, bamboo or even silk fibers from initial nonwoven fabric. At the same time, formulators are trying to make facial masks thinner to more accurately fit facial contour.

Stand Out Brands
Feeling optimistic about the market prospects, an increasing number of manufacturers have rushed to cash in on the growing popularity of cosmetic facial masks, by either expanding their existing skin care lines such as Olay, Garnier and TCM-based local brand Inoberb, or solely focusing on developing new facial mask brands, like MG, My Beauty Diary and Mask Family 1908.

Among numerous brands in this hotly contested sector, local companies totally dedicated to masks seem to perform particularly well with unique product concepts and highly diversified product ranges, as well as well-developed distribution channels. Those that top the current list are reported to include MG, My Beauty Diary and Inoberb.

Most likely benefiting from its ingenious slogan “stop to enjoy beauty,” MG has maintained its top position in China’s cosmetic facial masks market since 2009, with the largest market share of 26.4% in 2012, according to Nielsen. The firm currently markets 11 brands and 141 types of facial mask products, the vast majority of which are peel-off types. It is reported that its owner, Guangzhou-based Magic Holding, will enrich its mid-high end product portfolio by expanding into wash-off masks as well as diversifying into other skin care sectors this year.

Another leading brand, My Beauty Diary, is successful using a somewhat different approach. Unlike MG, which targets young women 25-30 years old, My Beauty Diary caters to a younger group, with its lower-priced and more frequently-upgraded products. By leveraging the well established retailing channels of its owner, Taiwan-based President Pharmaceutical Corp. (PPC), which also distributes some cosmeceutical brands, My Beauty Diary enjoys greater popularity among younger women. PPC’s rich product portfolio also includes masks and patches targeting eyes, nose and neck, as well as belly and feet to tap into ever-changing tastes of younger generations.

Masks that got their start as online brands are also worth mentioning. With rapidly growing e-commerce in China, the online brands have reaped the rewards of the internet revolution. For example, Royal Square Mud claims to have an average annual growth rate of over 30% during the past several years, while Mask Family 1908 is reported to achieve growth rate of over 50% within just three years of online development. Both brands are dedicated to marketing and selling natural-positioned wash-off facial masks online.

A Look at the Future
Similar rapid growth is expected for the immediate future. Just as Stephen Tang, chairman and executive director of Magic Holdings, pointed out at a press conference, the average annual per capital expenditure on cosmetic facial masks is a around $16.
“It is way, way below that of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. So we see huge upside potential to this business,” he said.

With new brands and product launches continuing to flood the market, the competition in the cosmetic facial mask market is expected to intensify. As a result, the market is expected to become more segmented, with more diversified products targeting particular groups or body areas, such as facial masks for men, slimming masks/patches for the belly and multifunctional masks.

Ally Dai
Happi China

Ally Dai is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Ringier Trade Media Ltd, responsible for trade publications including Happi China. She has more than 10 years of experience in the cosmetic and food industries. Happi China is a leading media for the China household & personal care industry. Published by Ringier Trade Media in strategic editorial partnership with Happi, it helps local manufacturers update their knowledge on formulating, testing and packaging, as well as providing market insight.