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2021-11-07 10:32:37

From skincare products that use artificially created human enzymes to reduce dark spots, to lipstick printers that create products tailored to a customer’s skin tone, global beauty brands are putting tech-enabled cosmetics front-and-center at the fourth China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai this week.

The turn to new technologies is designed to help global firms maintain an edge in the vital Chinese market. China has the world’s second-largest cosmetics market, but competition in the sector is heating up. 

A new wave of Chinese brands has started to gain traction, especially among younger consumers who no longer perceive foreign products as inherently superior. Around 40% of beauty products bought by Gen Z Chinese are now domestic brands, according to data aggregator CBNData.

A visitor tries out the YSL lipstick printer at L’Oréal's booth at CIIE in Shanghai, Nov. 7, 2021. Courtesy of L’Oréal

A visitor tries out the YSL lipstick printer at L’Oréal's booth at CIIE in Shanghai, Nov. 7, 2021. Courtesy of L’Oréal

Beiersdorf AG, the owner of skin care brands La Prairie and Nivea, says it’s investing heavily in research and development in China. Last year, the German firm opened a new research center in Shanghai — its second-largest R&D facility worldwide. It’s also working on plans to launch Nivea Luminous 630 — a skin care product that treats dark spots by recreating the enzymes that order cells to produce the pigment melanin — in China.

“We have made a lot of efforts in technological innovation,” Vincent Warnery, CEO of Beiersdorf, said during a video interview at the expo. “We hope to bring Luminous 630 … to China soon to answer consumers’ needs.”

Japanese beauty group Shiseido, meanwhile, exhibited its “second skin” technology, which works to remove eye bags by forming a thin layer surrounding the treated areas. The company also gave a global debut to its new ingestible beauty line — Inryu — at the expo.

Visitors wait in line at Beierdorf’s exhibition area at CIIE in Shanghai, Nov. 7, 2021. Courtesy of Beierdorf

Visitors wait in line at Beierdorf’s exhibition area at CIIE in Shanghai, Nov. 7, 2021. Courtesy of Beierdorf

L’Oréal, the French cosmetics firm, set up an area for visitors to try out its Yves Saint Laurent “lipstick printer,” which can also be used via Chinese e-commerce platform Tmall. Visitors can feed a selfie into the printer via an app, and the machine will then create a lipstick matched to the person’s skin tone out of a selection of 1,000 different colors.

The company is also running a “Big Bang” beauty tech competition for startups in China and France, with the results set to be announced Monday. The contest has already received more than 400 entries, according to Fabrice Megarbane, president of L’Oréal in North Asia.

“As livestreams become part of the mainstream, a lot of startups in China are innovating on that front, and we think there will be a lot of good suppliers in this area,” Megarbane told Sixth Tone Friday.

(Header image: A visitor tries out the Yves Saint Laurent lipstick printer at L’Oréal's booth at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Nov. 7, 2021. Courtesy of L’Oréal)