Decoding Beauty Trends in APAC

While each country in SEA has its own beauty tastes, identities, and behaviors, shoppers care more than ever about product health, safety, and authenticity.

Written by
January 26, 2023
Decoding Beauty Trends in APAC

Table of contents

Southeast Asia’s beauty shoppers have demonstrated a knowledge and understanding that’s anything but skin-deep when it comes to their shopping preferences. A burgeoning middle class and surge in disposable income have led to a keen appetite for prestige products, homegrown labels, and sustainable offerings. Shoppers are also increasingly turning to locally-produced products for everything from food and ingredients to arts and culture, as they seek more representation. 

Aiding product discovery are social and ecommerce platforms, which account for 20% of sales, according to data from Flywheel. Major players like Shopee, Lazada and ZALORA represent the majority of online beauty and skincare transactions in Southeast Asia, home to millions of young and first-time Internet shoppers. 

Dissecting Southeast Asia’s beauty drivers and inspirations

Beauty shoppers care more than ever about product health, safety, and authenticity across all Southeast Asian countries, where unsafe manufacturing practices and counterfeit products pose considerable risks. 

The once-ubiquitous skin whiteners, now known to contain toxic chemicals, are being swapped for products that speak to diverse beauty standards. However, each country within the region is home to its own distinctive beauty tastes, identities, and behaviors.

Thai beauty lovers gravitate toward clean, natural, and herbal ingredients

Affluent and digitally savvy Thai shoppers value beauty brands that are trustworthy, ethical, and offer clean and safe formulations. Eager to learn more about the efficacy and potency of active ingredients used in skincare products, shoppers look to third-party certifications and clear labeling to help them with their purchase decisions.

Heritage-inspired products with a sustainability component have fared well with Thai consumers. Among these is Siam1928, which offers scents inspired by Thai folk stories and poems, created in collaboration with local artists, while perfume boutique Journal’s fragrances borrow heavily from Thai cultural artifacts like mango sticky rice, stir-fried basil, and galangal.

Holistic beauty, the result of Thailand’s rich heritage in holistic health, is seeing consumers seek out head-to-toe self-care products. Stress levels and burnout are also pushing Thai consumers toward wellness products like massage oils, foot baths, candles, and aromatherapy, all of which promote holistic wellness using natural ingredients. 

Thailand’s love affair with natural and herbal ingredients is leading more consumers to realize that their beauty decisions should positively impact the planet. Leading the way is Bangkok-based farm-to-face brand Moringa Project, which uses every part of the moringa plant to create sustainable products that do not overwhelm natural ecosystems.

Flywheel’s market share data from Lazada and Shopee Thailand revealed that sales for serums during March 2022 were split almost evenly between official brand stores and resellers on these ecommerce platforms, indicating a strong preference for consumer-to-consumer retailers. Names like Eucerin, Estée Lauder, Dr.Pong, La Roche-Posay, and Kiehl's dominated sales, highlighting consumer preference for international brands. The same trend is observed in moisturizer and cleanser preferences, with names like Olay, CeraVe, L'Oreal, Eucerin, and La Roche-Posay emerging on top.

Fuss-free, youth-centric beauty for Filipino consumers

Estimated to be worth $5.62 billion as of 2022, the Philippines’ beauty market has experienced a renewed consumer interest, mirroring the country’s gradual economic recovery. Western and K-Beauty elements have undeniably impacted Filipino tastes in beauty products, many of which are fun-loving, minimalist, and skin-inclusive. 

As the majority of Filipino beauty consumers are women aged 18–24, youth-centric products that combat acne, clear up skin, and are free of fragrance and alcohol are highly popular. Gen Z and TikTok-centric trends like “Clean Girl” aesthetic and ‘“no-makeup-makeup” styles - espousing effortless applications that fit into the busy lives of Filipino youth - are catching on. Another component of Filipino youth and beauty culture is nostalgic, Y2K vintage designs. NY-based Filipinta Beauty’s most popular offerings are its eyeshadow palettes, which resemble childhood snacks like ube cakes and iced gem biscuits. 

Breaking sexual taboos is also important to Filipino beauty shoppers and creators alike, some of whom have been taking a localized approach to sexual wellness. Local startup Jellytime has been creating safe spaces for Filipinos to have frank conversations related to sex, complete with podcasts and educational content.

Prestige brands, K-Beauty, and health-first beauty for Vietnamese shoppers

With a beauty market worth 2.26 billion USD as of 2022, shoppers in Vietnam are growing increasingly confident of their spending habits. Rising disposable income levels have driven consumers to invest in prestige beauty brands like FOREO and Shiseido. Online search volume for products like “face roller”, “facial washing”, and “facial massage machine” has soared in Vietnam. Given that the majority of Vietnam’s skincare shopper demographic is people aged 30-39, brands offering skin protection are gaining in popularity. 

Vietnamese consumers are also fans of K-beauty, which accounts for 48% of its import market, according to WGSN. Pale skin, which remains an aspirational beauty standard, has led many Vietnamese consumers to use products that brighten their complexion, similar to their South Korean counterparts. Local brand Lou Lou Cosmetics has earned the moniker “K-beauty for Vietnamese” after creating makeup formulated to suit the skin tone of Vietnamese shoppers.

“Sương sương skin” (which translates to “super light make-up”), promises a health-first approach, and has caught the attention of Vietnamese beauty lovers who invest in hydrating, brightening, and firming skincare and skin-cosmetic hybrids. By eschewing chemical and synthetic ingredients in favor of natural and organic ones, shoppers are letting brands know they prefer clean and safe products. Brands are delivering accordingly — local farm-to-face brand Stone Hill has its own cacao farm in Dong Nai, which uses ants to reduce the need for pesticides. A family-run business, Stone Hill offers handmade tree-to-bar soaps formulated with traditional ingredients and remedies.

What brands can learn about Southeast Asian shoppers:

  • Offer safe and certified products: In Southeast Asia, where counterfeit products and unregulated manufacturing processes remain a concern, brands need to be doubly vigilant about how their products are made. Keep customers informed about where your products’ ingredients can be traced, and look to credible third-party certifications to build consumer trust. 
  • Cater to country-specific needs: While there are some overarching beauty and skincare concerns uniting Southeast Asia, every country has unique beauty concerns. Brands looking to expand into multiple SEA markets need to understand the specific needs of their consumers. 
  • Embrace sustainability: Beauty shoppers in Southeast Asia are concerned about sustainability but are hindered by the lack of formal infrastructure around recycling. Products with sustainability built into them, like zero-waste formats, will appeal more to consumers.
  • Take your products online: Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s foremost ecommerce players, like Shopee, Lazada, and ZALORA. As more SEA consumers become confident online shoppers, brands need to create seamless omnichannel and offline-to-online experiences that aid product discovery and exploration. Use platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram to create valuable consumer touch points.

A deep-dive into the Chinese beauty industry

In China, beauty brands and content creators have taken to platforms like Bytedance-owned TikTok to drive discoverability and reach. K-beauty, a vertical estimated to be worth USD 13.9 billion in 2027 according to WGSN, is hugely popular in both China and across SEA.

Like other sectors, China’s beauty industry was affected by the pandemic and has been on a downward trend ever since. In 2022, sales for skincare products and cosmetics amounted to 68.9 billion RMB and 18.9 billion RMB respectively, leading to sharp year-on-year decreases of 16% and 21%. Men’s skincare sales, which have enjoyed great popularity in China over the last couple of years, remained relatively stable in 2022 and saw an annual decrease of only 2%. 

A deeper dissection of Chinese skincare and beauty trends reveals that consumers want the best of both worlds – domestic brands (Proya, Winona, HBN) with cost-effective ingredients, as well as high-end labels (La Mer, Clarins, CPB) known for their efficacy and stability. These insights reflect people’s polarising pandemic-era consumption habits, highlighting the delicate balance between prudence and indulgence. 

Chinese ecommerce giants Tmall and, major shopping channels for people to get their skincare fix, have seen annual sales worth 479 million RMB and 106 million RMB respectively, in 2022.

Case study: Chinese beauty brand Proya’s electrifying success, and key takeaways for brands in Southeast Asia

Over the years, Proya has emerged as a cult favorite in China. Its success can be owed to its ingredients; rich in antioxidants and peptides, Proya’s line of anti-aging products appeals mostly to older women with considerable spending power, outdoing established names like  SkinCeuticals, SKII, and Estée Lauder. 

Apart from winning the hearts of Chinese shoppers with its simple, safe, and effective formulations and competitive pricing, Proya’s qualitative attributes had people coming back for more. Research by Flywheel showed that Proya beat industry averages for brand favourability and authenticity, with consumers appreciating its promotion strategies and quality of service. Positive reviews from online shoppers lauded Proya for its antioxidant and anti-aging ingredients, as well as promotional activities on ecommerce platforms. 

Proya serves as a learning point for brands in Southeast Asia who may look to China for inspiration: 

Proya's Winning Strategies

Leveraging unique storytelling strategies

Proya’s innovative marketing efforts have found favor with female audiences. “Lion Dancing Girl” and “Only Mothers Can See” - the brand’s Women’s Day and Mother’s Day campaigns - tugged at viewers’ heartstrings with touching storylines. Instead of the usual celebrity endorsement, Proya took a different approach by shining the spotlight on everyday women. Now, the skincare brand has earned a reputation as one that cares for women, while lending credence to its corporate social responsibility goals. These factors helped Proya earn a dedicated customer base, with strong word-of-mouth marketing tendencies. 

Brands that want to stand out and be top-of-mind for consumers should explore attention-grabbing marketing strategies that are relevant and evoke a strong emotional response in their target audience.

Push winning product combinations during online mega-sales

Data by Flywheel identified three core Proya offerings that accounted for the majority of its sales during the year, either standalone or combined with other products: the “Morning C, Evening A” serum and essence bundle; the Double Antibody essence, and the Ruby essence. 

As a result, Proya has seen skincare sales worth 1623.2 million RMB from Tmall and during the first half of 2022, a 35% annual increase from the previous time period. While the brand’s facial essences account for nearly 40% of its sales, lotions and eye creams have also exploded in popularity. 

Brands looking to make it big during these online shopping festivals should identify winning SKUs and product combinations, and feature them heavily during promotional content. 

Appealing mostly to older women with considerable spending power, Proya’s antioxidant-rich essences outdo established names like SkinCeuticals, SKII, and Estée Lauder. 

Prepare for success with Flywheel’s Market Share solution

Flywheel can help CPG brands grow their online market share and presence with a digital shelf strategy that understands Southeast Asian consumers. Closely monitor market share, identify relevant trends and opportunities, and analyze product and portfolio health with Flywheel Market Share solution. 

Flywheel can help brands set up a meaningful digital commerce strategy that makes the most of market opportunities, leverages market predictions, and implements ecommerce best practices to optimize digital shelf health.

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