Introduction to the Asia Pacific Beauty Market

Asia Pacific is an extremely important market for the beauty and personal care industry. It is also the world’s biggest personal care market, contributing 39% of the global total in 2018 according to L’Oreal’s annual report.

In addition to its massive consumption of beauty, in recent years Asia has also been a source of innovation for the beauty industry with the West particularly fascinated with K-Beauty (from Korea) and more recently J-Beauty (from Japan).

We are going to look at a variety of areas in this post from Macro trends fueling this boom in consumption to market specificities, the consumer and what product areas are most in demand through which channels.

Before we go into too much detail if you want to find out a bit more about me and my background see my story here.

Macro Overview

Before we do a deep dive into the Beauty sector it is helpful to look at some macro trends in the Asia Pacific region.

1. Growing Middle Class 

This is a phenomenon all over Asia with a huge expansion of the middle class especially in China and much of South East Asia.

China’s middle class is expected to grow to 400M by end of 2020. 

2. Appetite to learn, discover and experience new products and activities.

In Asia in general there is a thirst for knowledge, consumers do a lot of research before purchasing – they seek collective validation by using social media and reviews and in general need more touch points with a brand before purchasing – 8-9 touch points vs. 5-6 in the West.

This thirst for knowledge is increasingly manifesting in a demand for transparency of where the products are made, ingredients sourced as well as the more traditional proof of efficacy.

This is by no means isolated to the Beauty industry but it does benefit the Clean, Natural beauty market.

3. Proactive about health and wellness

Consumers everywhere are being more proactive vs. reactive about their health. The wellness industry is booming and beauty is no exception.

In China this manifests itself in an increase in the popularity of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as people look to the methods of the past to help boost circulation, blood flow etc. This is starting to come through in skincare as well – with brands using TCM ingredients like Yue Sai (owned by L’Oreal) as well as local Chinese brands like Pechoin.

APAC might not be the leader in terms of health and wellness but its share of the global market has sky-rocketed. In 2007 it accounted for 19% and last year it was 30% – this is an exciting trajectory for natural and clean beauty brands wanting to come into Asia.

Key Markets in Asia

Most markets in Asia are pretty large and each one offers its own opportunity but there are some key things to consider.

Many markets in Asia are mature – all are growing but some are much more stable than others.

Mature markets

Hong Kong & Singapore – These are relatively small markets with a lot of the business generated from non-local traffic. Both have market size of $2.5 – $3bn for personal care. Both markets are growing in the low single digits with Hong Kong growing faster than Singapore because of it’s proximity to mainland China. 

Australia – We often think of as a very small market but its a $3bn market for personal care. Again this is a market that gets a lot of non-local consumers especially from China buying products they can’t get at home.

Korea – is considered the queen of cosmetics in Asia. This is partly because when many people in the west think of Beauty in Asia they imagine Korea with large brands who have become successful outside of Asia like Amore Pacific, Dr. Jart+ and Sulwhasoo. Of course there is much more to the market than this!

The domestic market is worth over $7bn and it is still growing at +4%

Japan – not so evident from Western media coverage but Japan is actually much bigger than Korea in terms of overall market size of $12.5bn but the growth is slow at around 2%.

Emerging markets

Malaysia and Indonesia are growing fast. Malaysia has the fastest growth at over 10% with Indonesia at +6%. A big growth area for these two markets are Halal cosmetics.

Finally China – China as you can imagine is huge just from sheer volume of people but maybe you hadn’t appreciated just how huge – $50bn in 2017 and growing at +7%.

There are opportunities in all of these markets for Clean, natural beauty brands. It is all about finding the right tribe that are interested in what you are offering.


Who is the Customer?

The population of Asia Pacific is 4.5 billion people. So it will be no surprise that the Asian consumer is diverse – there is no one size fits all strategy.

A few points that are common across Asia and are different from the West.

1. Group vs. Individual – this is pretty fundamental to understanding the Asian consumer. Group identity has a higher importance vs. individual identity. Asian societies are generally less tolerant of diversity and difference than Western societies. This is particularly important for brands entering the Asian market – you need to consider how to get that credibility straight away through someone who is already credible! And it does make it more difficult for unknown brands but on the flip side if you get picked up by someone popular and credible your sales should roll in quickly. 

2. More touch points to make a decision – Especially in emerging Asian markets like China the consumer needs more reassurance before purchasing. They like to cross-reference multiple sources from social media, search, brand sites and reviews. In China, it is estimated a consumer needs 9 touch points with a brand vs. 6 in the west.

3. Very heavy online users – on average consumers in Asia spend between 4.5 hours to 8 hours online per day. With emerging markets being the heaviest users as they are thirsty for knowledge and new products.

4. Trust issues – There are many reasons that trust is a major factor in Asia, because there have been health disasters from unscrupulous brands like the Chinese infant milk catastrophe, or the scale of fake goods on Chinese e-commerce platforms. But what this means for brands is that consumers are increasingly well-informed because they don’t want to get duped so transparency and ingredients provenance is increasingly important for beauty market.

5. Complex Skincare routines – Something that you may already know but in general Asia skincare routines are complex, multi step approach. This comes from Korea and the 12 step skincare routine – although it is not set in stone it could be as many as 17 steps! This is all linked to seeing skincare as a personal ritual – taking time for yourself and placing a very high importance on how you look especially looking young!

What are they shopping for?


Skincare is by far the biggest category taking a 64% share of the market. However colour cosmetics at 26% share are growing fast at +14%. Fragrance is a very small proportion of the total pie at only around 8% and in some markets like China, it is in decline.

Korea has been well-established in terms of colour cosmetics for quite some time but as the emerging markets start to mature they too are getting increasingly interested in makeup and expanding outside of just lipstick although lipsticks in China are still driving a large proportion of the growth. 

Price points

Different markets in Asia have very different focus in terms of the price points of products they are looking for.

Premium beauty has seen a huge surge in China in the last couple of years with Premium beauty actually surpassing mass cosmetics. This is a direct result of the growing middle class – as consumers gain purchasing power they want start to buy luxury items and cosmetics is an accessible way in. And as more people become middle class those with more money want to differentiate themselves by buying higher price point and niche products.

Other markets that are more focused on premium are Hong Kong, Malaysia and Korea.

On the flip side you have other markets that are much more price sensitive like Australia, Singapore and Japan – these markets are more interested in value and place a lower importance on luxury brands.


Which channels are key in Asia. This really varies from market to market. The market is dominated by Department stores and perfumery chains. Independent chemists as a place to buy beauty is not common like in the west.

Online is a big channel – Asia accounts for 50% of the global beauty sales. In general, they are not afraid to buy something online before they have tried it – they do a lot of research and put trust in other people’s reviews but don’t necessarily have to touch and feel the product themselves.

However Offline is still a key channel especially when it comes to retaining a customer long term. If they buy from your offline store you are much more likely to keep them – up to 14X more likely according to one study.

Department stores are a key channel for large, established brands especially in Japan and Korea. In China departments stores have been struggling in recent years, the market is very fragmented and many of the mid range department stores have been heavily hit by the rise of the online giants – Tmall and JD.

There are many perfumery chains but most are market specific, very few cross multiple markets. And many have a discount model positioning like Sasa in Hong Kong. Sephora has a different positioning as a more upmarket chain with presence in South east Asia and in China, they are also planning to re-launch in Hong Kong.

These are all key things to consider when you are thinking about which market to enter in Asia.


This is a top-level overview of the Beauty market in Asia. One key thing to consider is the travelling consumer – looking at the weight of the global travel retail market Chinese are by far the largest consumer group making up 45% of the total travel retail market in value! Koreans are the next biggest group at 10%. So if you are not ready to launch in Asia think about how you can start to build up a fan base in your home market with the travelling Asian consumer!

If you want to take the next step to learning about the Asian beauty market and which market is best suited for you and your brand check out my masterclass. It gives a comprehensive overview of key APAC markets, the beauty sector, key retailers and consumer profiles – hard to find information, easily packaged up for you to kick start your Asia journey here.

Any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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