China’s Pollution Obsession Gives Rise to a New Market Segment for Cosmetics Brands

Air pollution in China has become one of the most intensely discussed issues by its government for the past 3 decades. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang even declared a “war on pollution” at the Communist-controlled NPC parliament in 2014. Sadly after five years, average particulate levels in Chinese cities are still at least 10 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO)’s safety standard. However, the enduring environmental issues have opened up a new segment for cosmetics brands to develop skincare products that protect the skin against air pollution.


As air pollution continues to be a major concern in China, consumers are demanding protective skincare products. More than half of Chinese consumers wanted “to learn more about how to protect themselves from pollution” in 2016, according to a report by Mintel, a UK-based market research firm. The research also shows that 45 percent believe pollution to be a major factor in their skin problems.

Air pollution can be very damaging to the skin. It causes irritation, uneven skin tone, premature aging, and even cancer. Every day people in China face billions of pollution particles that damage their skin, clog pores and cause discoloration of the skin. Chinese consumers, especially the young and urban population, are well aware of and very worried about the damaging health effects caused by pollution.

Therefore, anti-pollution ingredients are especially attractive to young urban professionals who are more environmentally conscious than previous generations and willing to invest in high-quality cosmetics products to look healthier and younger for longer.

In China, around 30% women had bought skincare products with an anti-pollution claim and approximately 40% would be interested in sampling these items, according to Mintel.


Cosmetics brands, international and local ones, are investing in meeting consumer demand for improved skin health through anti-pollution ingredients.

In 2016, of all the new beauty products launched worldwide that came with anti-pollution claims, 38 per cent were launched in Asia-Pacific, up from 28 percent the year before.

  • Sephora already offers dozens of anti-pollution products such as Ren’s Pollution-Proof Kit, Murad’s City Overnight Detox Moisturizer, and UltraBeauty.
  • Kiehl’s, Dior, and Sunday Riley have also launched their anti-pollution product lines such as scrubs or anti-oxidant creams.
  • Since 2005, Elizabeth Arden’s Prevage line has offered several anti-pollution products, including its Detox Mask and Anti-aging Essence.
  • Inexpensive and colorful make-up brand, E.l.f Cosmetics, launched its Beauty Shield skin care series, including Vitamin C Essence and Night Cream.

And others.


There are many different anti-pollution skincare products carrying a wide range of claims, which makes it difficult for customers to determine which one is actually effective and suited to them.

Anything which contains antioxidant ingredients can claim to have some kind of environmental protection effect. Many cosmetics already contain botanical ingredients with antioxidant properties. Some brands have reformulated their skincare products by adding plant extracts and vitamins to make anti-pollution claims. The problem is that these ingredients have been familiar to cosmetics for years without carrying the anti-pollution claims. As a result, consumers find it challenging to distinguish between simple marketing strategies and real anti-pollution products.

To further emphasize their anti-pollution benefits, brands are now using more specific environmental language to target consumers, such as the Chinese brands Hua Niang and Fumakilla integrating the words“anti-PM2,5” (PM2,5 refers to a certain size of harmful particulate matter in the air) directly on their packaging. However, no official tests can prove the real link between these products and their actions on PM2.5.

This opens up opportunities for brands to rethink their communication strategy and give clear messages about the benefits of their anti-pollution ingredients to avoid losing consumers’ trust in their products.


We would like to introduce a few key things you should include in the marketing plan for your anti-pollution skincare products.

1/ Build your (nicely Design) Chinese website, mobile friendly

A website is the most important factor for any Western business looking to promote its products in China.

First thing first, it should be hosted in China and use natural Mandarin- the local language. In this way, Chinese customers will be able to read and apprehend what you want to communicate as well as your website can be optimized for the Baidu search engine.

Beside the language, the design should be appealing to Chinese’s unique aesthetic standards and the content should be a proper mixture of branding and educational information based on a thorough understanding of Chinese consumers’ concerns regarding skincare and beauty.

To succeed online in China, you can’t simply just add another language to your international site. You need to create a specific website, with its own domain name, its own localized content and integrate it with Chinese social media and e-commerce third-parties. Always keep the targeted user in mind when approaching how to design a Chinese website.

2/ Expand across social media platforms: because Chinese girls are WeChat addict

For all cosmetics and personal care brands, social media platforms have been very effective approaches to branding in China. These online channels have successfully built trust and reputation among Chinese consumers. Considering that more than 50% of China’s digital consumers use social media to do product research or get recommendations before making any purchase, social media platforms are essential to international brands in order to engage with local consumers.

WECHAT: build your close community on WeChat

Wechat is the most powerful social media in China, with more than 1 billion user accounts and 800 million monthly active users.

Wechat was originally a messaging app (just like Whatsapp) but then has developed a suite of various functions such as Moment (newsfeed similar to Facebook), online payment (Wechat pay), Wechat stores for e-commerce… and is connected to a wide range of 3rd parties, enabling users to perform multiple daily activities without leaving the app, such as buying movie tickets, ordering food or topping up mobile phones…

Despite diverse functionalities, Wechat’s core value lies in its “close-knit network” nature. You are only friends on Wechat when you know each other or have met at least once. That means Wechat communities are trustful and thus influential when it comes to advise, product reviews, usage tips, or brands comparison.

For brands, having an official account is the first step. Wechat allows brands to push information to their followers in a personal way just as friends message each other as well as enables followers to inbox brands directly if they have any concern. Therefore, Wechat is the best platform to engage and nurture customers’ interest as well as collect personal feedback from them.

Clinique’s Wechat official account

Besides, cosmetics brands should also find a strategic way to stipulate, involve and monitor all discussions as well as mentions revolving around them and related skin concerns.

On WeChat, the popular discussion is advice on picking products based on need, how to use certain products, and comparing different brands.

WEIBO: maximize your exposure on Weibo 

Weibo is the number one platform for beauty KOLs and cosmetics influencers. KOLs prefer to build their communities on Weibo thanks to the platform’s “open” nature with hashtag algorithm, convenient like/comment/share functions… Weibo allows brands and KOLs to reach a huge base of users as well as get their content viral (not the case of Wechat).

3 key types of content that work on Weibo

  • Celebrity-endorsed: Celebrity endorsements and participation are very efficient at attracting public attention to a brand or a product.
  • Reward-oriented: Giveaway campaigns are an efficient, common way to appeal to new followers and engage existing followers. In these campaigns, brands encourage followers to perform a certain action in return for a chance to win one of the brand’s products.
  • Information-oriented: When people are motivated to purchase a product, they seek feedback and product comparisons through keyword searches on Weibo. Therefore, brands can monetize on these searches by creating useful in-depth product information/reviews, usage tips… or cooperate with bloggers to produce these articles. One angle which can be further exploited is how your products can, clinically, protect the skin from air pollution, ingredients to look for in an anti-pollution cream, new skincare habits to fight against this environmental issue …

Brands can categorize and diversify their Weibo contents according to these 3 types to attract, engage and convert followers effectively.

More information on Cosmetics Branding in China

3/ KOLs are a driving force

In China, KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) marketing can represent over 30% of marketing resources for global/mature brands, and 80% of marketing resources for new smaller brands attempting to win the Chinese market. For international brands, KOLs are a huge part of modern Chinese product promotions. Consumers of the beauty sector are highly influenced by the shared opinions and experiences of KOLs. Many of these KOLs have a tremendous following in Chinese social media. In the cosmetics and personal care industry, they mainly consist of fashion writers and models, makeup artists, brand founders, and cosmetic formulators.

4/ Maximize online shopping trends in China

Supermarket and e-commerce have occupied half of the distribution share for cosmetics in 2017. E-commerce platforms make up 23% of sales channels, but this percentage is growing due to the expanding usage of online platforms, this channel is experiencing continuous growth.

Xiaohongshu is shaping online consumer discussion

Xiaohongshu 小红书 is a popular new social media and e-commerce platform. As of June 2018, the crowd-sourced review site has over 100 million registered users, 30% of which are under 30 years of age. It allows users to post and share product reviews, lifestyle blogs and articles using photos and short videos. It is also a very popular site for celebrity and KOLs endorsement, thus attracting many users looking for recommendations in the cosmetics and beauty care industry in China. The platform is especially popular amongst Chinese women as well and is a great way for brands to promote their products. By using mainstream social media and e-commerce platforms such as Xiaohongshu, brands can effectively build a good relationship with Chinese consumers by increasing trust and exposure within the Chinese community.

JD or Tmall are good Solution… 

Brands can sell on big e-commerce platforms such as JD or T-mall. People usually go e-shopping there when they are looking to purchase international brands since these 2 e-retailers ensure genuineness. Therefore, they have the highest conversion rate compared to other kinds of e-commerce such as brand websites, or collected brand sites.

However, setting up, an inland official store may be complicated. A lot of documents are needed to submit and lots of tests to process before a store can be opened. So, a majority of international brands may choose cross-border e-commerce option which is available on T-mall or JD/international area. This way shortens the application process as well as lower the set-up cost.

Additionally, some brands may choose to have a store on WeChat which is connected to their own official account to drive traffic and create sales directly from that traffic. Wechat’s mini programs is an interesting tool that brands should explore.


Case 1: ISDIN

Isdin is a Spanish cosmeceuticals brand, that develops in China via cross-border business.
To develop their Awareness and boost their sales in China, they asked GMA to launch a KOL Smart Marketing campaign on the hottest Social Commerce App of the Moment. Little Red Book
Promote the brand by cooperating with KOLs on the little red book.
The exposure of the brand rapidly increased and attracted nearly 2000 customers.

Case 2: Dr. RIMPLER

Dr. RIMPLER solution is the right care product for every type of skin. This German Brand is quite new in China. Context: German beauty salon/ Professional skin-care brand. they Contact GMA to leverage KOL for boosting their Branding in China.


  • Promote the brand by cooperating with KOLs on “little red book”.


Cooperate with 20 KOLs
Average KOL views 133,000
average KOL exposure is around 190,000

Case 3: Marti Derm

Jose Marti Tor created a Marti Tor pharmacy which custom-made antioxidant skin care products for clients in 1952. In 1989, antioxidant formula was promoted in the form of ampoules with high concentration VC and protein-polysaccharide to market. And it was so welcome that we could call it the earliest ancestor in cosmetics industry. Till now, it has 65 years development history.

In 1997, in order to promote products widely to the mass market, Jose Marti Tor had set up Brand “Marti Derm”. After discussing with the famous dermatologists and pharmacists, Marti Derm launched these ampoule products.

GMA Mission:

  • KOLs Marketing
  • Social Commerce
  • Create a Positive Image about the products

-20 Top KOL Reviews
-High quality Content & Testimonials
-Positive ROI (Return On Investment )

You can also read our full guide on the Top Marketing Strategies to Succeed in the Beauty Market


Gentlemen Marketing Agency is based in Shanghai. 

  • 70 Marketers in June 2019
  • 700 customers that already trust us.
  • Great experience in the Cosmetics industry
  • Results Driven Philosophy

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