Natural and organic cosmetics in East Asia are booming. According to a recent report by Organic Monitor, the Asian countries are amongst the fastest growing organic markets worldwide.

And China is the biggest regional market. The country has a strong and affluent middle class and natural cosmetics are becoming very popular amongst this demographic. Over the past decade mainland China has seen a string of ingredients scandals, primarily in the agricultural and food sectors but also in drugs and cosmetics manufacturing.

As a result, consumers are increasingly concerned over product safety and product authenticity. This has contributed to the rising demand for organic cosmetics. Natural beauty products are perceived as being safer than regular cosmetics, and international brands – especially European names, which are known for their strict quality control – have a solid reputation in China.

Because few Chinese companies manufacture organic beauty products the market is dominated by foreign brands. And although many international organic brands have left the Chinese market in recent years – current legislation requires animal testing on any foreign cosmetics brand that is retailed in mainland China – the demand for natural cosmetics in China continues to grow, especially amongst young urbanites.

Concept stores are the most important retail channel for organic beauty, with Western and Asian brands opening stand-alone stores or brand boutiques in shopping centers and department stores.

International organic brands available in mainland China tend to be premium brands like Aveda and Jurlique. There are few affordable organic choices.

Japan

Japan is the second biggest natural cosmetics market in Asia. The organic sector here is more sophisticated, enjoys well-established retail structures with a wide range of international and domestic organic brands. Organic beauty is a luxury category in Japan just as much as it is in China, and it is also very much a urban trend. However, the popularity of natural beauty products has little to do with concerns about product safety. Japanese cosmetics have an excellent reputation in Japan and the rest of Asia.

Instead, the strong growth of the natural beauty sector in Japan can be traced back to an increasing interest in organic products and a healthy lifestyle. Traditionally, Japanese consumers pay attention to ingredients and the regional heritage of a brand is considered to be very important. Over the last decade the focus on natural foods and ingredients has become much stronger and it is now extending to other categories, such as cosmetics. The Fukushima reactor disaster in 2011 has only intensified this trend.

There is no official retail data but the Japanese trade publication Diet & Beauty Magazine estimates that the Japanese market for natural and organic cosmetics has now reached some 116-124bn Yen. The most important retail channels for organic cosmetics are specialty stores, stand-alone boutiques and brand concessions in department stores. Companies like Aveda, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Jurlique, Melvita and John Masters Organics are present with their own brand stores and counters whilst German firms like Weleda and Dr. Hauschka are also popular among Japanese customers.

Increasingly, domestic brands like ShiGeTa, Amritara, Do Organics, Chant a Charm and Naturaglacéare also appearing on the scene. Another reason why the Japanese organic market is strongly developed is the presence of organic retail chain Cosmekitchen. Founded in 2004, today the company operates 28 stores in Japan, mostlyin the larger cities. Cosmekitchen in the market leader in organic beauty retail and its outlets carry a very wide range of natural and organic cosmetics; primarily European and Western labels but also Japanese beauty brands. The success of Cosmekitchen and its strong market presence has contributed to shape the organic sector in Japan.

Korea and Taiwan

In Korea and Taiwan, organic brands and ingredients are also making their presence felt. As a rule Korean C&T products tend to be functional. Consumers are often more interested in the anti-ageing, whitening or skin-refining aspects of a beauty brand than its organic credentials. However, even here organic labels are starting to appear on the market.

Korean beauty brand Whamisa was introduced in 2010 with a product range that carries the German BDIH and the French Ecocert seals. Vieco, an organic beauty brand launched last year, specializes in cosmetics formulated with unrefined organic ingredients. And in late 2014, LG group introduced The Remedy, a natural skin care range based on powdered roots and bulbs.

Korean cosmetics in general are getting greener. Amore-Pacific’s Innisfree was one of the first Korean beauty brands to highlight the regional heritage of its products. Innisfree cosmetics are formulated with ingredients sourced from the Korean island of Jeju, a popular holiday destination. There are a number of Korean brands that use Jeju ingredients, but Innisfree is arguably the best-known Jeju beauty brand.

Over the last few years Innisfree has also launched a number of eco-oriented product ranges and some of its products now carry the Ecocert seal. Other Korean brands are focusing on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and on traditional Korean ingredients. These products are called hanbang and although hanbang brands are rarely organic by European regulatory standards, they are popular among Korean and Asian consumers.

Taiwan’s organic sector is still in its infancy but the awareness for natural ingredients is definitely there. The country has been hosting the Asian Organic & LOHAS Expo since 2007 and although the trade fair is amongst the smaller organics shows in Asia, it is very popular for local visitors.

In Taiwan, the natural concept is most visible in the food sector – the majority of exhibitors at the 2014 LOHAS show were food and beverage companies – but there are also some domestic natural beauty brands. One of these is Evergoods, the first Taiwanese C&T firm to be awarded a European organic seal. Evergoods’s Naveen product range is certified by the UK’s Soil Association. The company also has two other non-certified natural products ranges and manufactures natural cosmetics for other Taiwanese retailers.

A question of standards

Certifications are starting to play a more important role in the Asian markets. According to Organic Monitor, one of the major challenges facing natural and organic brands in the region is the so-called green-washing. “Asia is rife with brands making false natural and organic marketing claims, with some placing fake logos and symbols on product packs. As a consequence, there is a high level of consumer confusion about natural and organic cosmetic ingredients.”

However, a growing number of organic brands are going in for official certifications, Organic Monitor says. “Ecocert standards are the most popular, having the highest adoption rate amongst Asian brands. Many organic food shops are requesting certification to ‘legitimize’ marketing claims of brands.”

This development is encouraging since it shows that consumer awareness of what constitutes an organic product is growing slowly but steadily. And although the organic markets in Asia still have a long way to go before they approach the maturity of the Western European countries, it
looks like the region is well on its way.