The Economics of Beauty in Asia

28 Feb 2013|Tessa Brown

For the last decade, Asia has been leading the world in terms of growth, with some Asian countries posting remarkable double digit growths.  In the backdrop of the Eurozone woes, Asia is managing to hold up and is turning in positive numbers.

Intriguingly, however, this optimism and confidence has not translated to how Asian women view themselves in the area of beauty. In an online study conducted by Added Value Saffron Hill for Allergan (a multi-specialty global health care company with world-leading franchises in medical aesthetics, eye care and neurosciences) Asian women aged 20+ score their looks at around 6 out of 10.  Japan stands out as being most critical by scoring themselves only 4.8 out of 10; very much a low vote of confidence in their beauty.

All of this is about to change though.  Asian women may be under-confident in their beauty now, but they are definitely working on it. The aspiration of Asian women is to be an 8 out of 10. And ideally, even to ‘beat’ their age.  And here we see the “Asian drive” at work with women tackling this challenge head on. 70% of Korean and Thai women claim to think about improving their looks and beauty everyday. In line with beauty becoming a daily preoccupation, most women already claim to spend around a fourth of their salary on looking good yet interestingly, they are even willing to up that to a third of their salary.

This can only mean that the business of beauty will be booming big time in Asia over the next couple of years. In dollar terms, Chinese and Indian women are claiming they are ready to spend 37% and 28% of their salaries respectively on looking good.  This is understandably exciting for companies involved in beauty. Asian women are serious when they say they want to improve 2 notches on the beauty scale.

But how do brands and companies ride this big wave?

From a product perspective, categories such as anti-ageing, whitening, cosmetic and injectable treatments etc will naturally flourish.  But the bigger challenge will be how to stand out and get the lion’s share of the market.  Companies need to backtrack and really understand Asian women themselves and understand what resonates with this audience.  And perhaps more importantly, they need to understand  the evolving Asian ideals and definition of beauty across cultures; what women go through to be beautiful and what they consider to be ‘rewards’ for this journey.

It is becoming apparent that consumers no longer aspire to the fair complexion of Caucasian or Western women.  These days, Asian women desire the complexion of their other Asian counterparts.  For instance, Indonesian women aspire to have the skin colour and glow of Korean and Japanese celebrities.  And brands like L’Oreal and Make-up Forever are quick to recognize these sentiments by having celebrities like Gong Li and Kim Sun Ah become the face of their brands.

Localisation is also important.  A one size fits all model does not work in this region as Asian countries are in varying stages of development and have very varied heritage.  For instance, it is not just enough to have Asian ingredients but also local ingredients.  Recent offerings show that brands that incorporate local herbs, rendered in a modern way, connect with their local consumers more.  Examples are skin care products that are infused with local touches such as bengkoang (hikama) in body lotions in Indonesia, papaya in facial care products in the Philippines and pitera, a yeast ferment in sake, in a popular Japanese brand of skin care.

There are still many avenues where Asian women will assert their beauty needs. And as Asia continues to rise economically, the future will show us Asian women using their increasing prosperity to invest not just in tangible displays of wealth but also in themselves.


Tessa Brown is the MD of Added Value Saffron Hill in Singapore.

Photo source: Added Value

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