The Crazy Hair Removal Device Market in China

TMTPOST

TMTPOST

· 2021.12.31

The drive behind the rise of the hair removal market is to meet beauty standards. When societal norms dictate what beauty is and reward those who live up to the standards and penalize those who don’t, it is natural for women to invest heavily in cosmetic devices.

Image Source: Visual China

Armpit hair is a beauty taboo in South Korean and Japanese culture. It is internalized in South Korea and Japan that it is impolite for girls to not shave their armpits. This is why it is a norm for Japanese and Korean girls to start removing their body hair from a very young age. For them, it is an essential part of their personal image. Girls that are better off will often go to beauty salons to undergo laser hair removal procedures.

A survey conducted in Japan in 2021 showed that over 30% of the female respondents had undergone full body hair removal procedure, while nearly 70% of female respondents had considered trying full body hair removal. Having no body hair has become a beauty standard for young women, the survey concluded.

In comparison, body hair removal is still relatively new for Chinese consumers. Less than 2% of consumers who are in school have used a hair removal device in China.

As companies realize that they can capitalize on beauty standards, we are seeing an increasing number of hair removal-related advertisements on the Internet. The demand is surely increasing in the country. Consumers are getting used to spending hours at beauty salons regularly just to get rid of their body hair.

The drive behind the rise of the hair removal market is to meet beauty standards. When societal norms dictate what beauty is and reward those who live up to it and penalize those who don’t, it is natural for women to invest heavily in cosmetic devices. 

However, an emerging and lucrative market also comes with safety issues.

In China, very few companies that are making hair removal devices have a medical device qualification on laser devices. Many laser hair removal devices that consumers are using at home were assembled at shabby factories that only employ a dozen of people. Many companies in the hair removal field will soon go out of business if they continue with their opportunistic operation, some entrepreneurs commented.

In this article, we will take a dive into some stories in this emerging industry in China.

Gen Z’s craze for hairless bodies

“It is convenient and cheap. And they do bring good results,” this is how some young people think about hair removal devices that they can use at home.

Living in Beijing, Zhang Yue has many Gen Z friends who have demands for hair removal-related products and services. They would for example go to a beauty salon to undergo cryotherapy for removing armpit hair or full body laser hair removal.

Recently, they have started buying up hair removal devices to remove body hair at home.

Zhang purchased a hair removal device herself as well. She purchased the device during last year’s Double Eleven Festival when she was thinking about going to learn swimming. She believed that body hair and armpit hair would make her look bad and her skin rough, and therefore she started to look up hair removal devices on the Internet. “It cost me 1,859 yuan. But I like it,” Zhang said, recalling that SmoothSkin and Ulike were both having discounts at that time.

Zhang does not like to go to beauty salons or clinics for body removal because it is just simply inconvenient. “This type of hair removal device can get the job done quickly. It would take me around six minutes in the shower to finish it (removing body hair),” Zhang explained, saying that it is very inconvenient to go to beauty salons for hair removal because it is crowded and requires appointments in advance. “I would use it once or twice a week in the beginning. Then I started using it less frequently.”

Besides the inconvenience, the higher cost is another reason why consumers tend to choose hair removal devices that are generally cheaper over going to beauty salons.

At beauty salons, different prices are set for hair removal based on the body area. The prices for removing hair on the face, arms, armpits and thighs are different from one another. In general, the bigger the area and the more difficult to remove hairs in that area, the higher the price will be. Laser hair removal services would cost even more. At most beauty salons, full-body hair removal would cost between 5000-10,000 yuan.

“I tried cryotherapy for armpit hair removal before. Full-body hair removal is too expensive. I could remove the hair on many areas of my body anyway,” Wang Jingjing said, who purchased a hair removal device from Silk’n in 2018. “The device cost around 700-900 yuan at that time. It worked well. But you need to use it regularly. I was more up for it in the beginning and would use it once a week. Now I use it once a month. My hair does become softer.”

It is apparent that people purchase hair removal devices in hopes of becoming more beautiful.

“Now I don’t have any hair on my arms and legs. My skin looks smooth and radiant. The body hair that later grew out became thinner as well,” Liu Qian said, who started to pay more attention to her appearance after entering college. She noticed that her peers in college would wear miniskirts and look so much more beautiful than her classmates back in high school. “Then I started to pay attention to my image as well. I started to wear miniskirts and tank top crops. But I figured it didn’t look very good when I had body hair on my legs,” Liu recalled.

Liu felt embarrassed by her body hair. “My boyfriend also talked about it sometimes. I was mad. So I took my boyfriend’s shaver and shaved my legs,” Liu said, who quickly found that the hair on her legs would grow back looking even thicker. She then used her red packet money to purchase a 1,500-yuan hair removal device recommended by her friend.

“Hair removal device has the most long-lasting effect. After using it for a while, you would find that your hair would grow back slower. You need to form a routine and reinforce the results,” Liu explained. “Having a hair removal device allows me to remove my hair at my dorm. It’s totally worth the money.”

Hair removal device has become an essential beauty tool for Gen Z girls.

The hair removal market has witnessed some exponential growth, hair removal device brand SILKPRO’s founder Yang Lin said. “Consumers couldn’t go to beauty salons during the pandemic. Hair removal devices were all sold out like crazy,” Yang commented.

During the 2021 Double Eleven Shopping Festival, vendors sold more hair removal devices than shavers, registering compound growth of over 40% in sales. SILKPRO started selling hair removal devices in 2017. Every year, the company has been able to achieve a growth rate of 100%. “And we didn’t even do commercials,” Yang said.

The growing popularity of hair removal devices is jaw-dropping. According to sales statistics from Chinese e-commerce platform Tmall, 4.151-billion-yuan worth of hair removal devices were sold between April 2020 to March 2021, showing significant growth. Chinese hair removal device brand Ulike, for instance, sold over 80,000 products in less than one hour during the first day of this year’s Tmall presale event, accumulating a sales volume of 100 million yuan in 40 minutes.

Hair removal device users in China are predominantly female. According to the 2020 Online Consumption of Beauty Devices Report released by CBNData and Tmall Global, female consumers that were born between the 80s and 2000s accounted for 73% of the total consumers of beauty devices for home use. Hair removal devices were one of the top beauty device choices for consumers, the report shows.

Evidence shows that hair removal devices for home use have become more popular in the Chinese market due to the increasing influence of beauty standards and the fact that people tend to stay at home more.

A slowly emerging market

The rise of the hair removal device market was connected with heavy promotion from a number of top brands, celebrities and influencers.

“I have been using a hair removal device for over three years. I don’t really need a new one. But I am always tempted when I see new hair removal devices on the market,” Wang said. For example, Ulike has partnered with Focus Media to advertise its hair removal devices in elevators. The elevators at Wang’s company are packed with Ulike’s commercial posters. “Ulike has Jun Ji-hyun as its brand ambassador. There are also commercials outside of the elevators at my friend’s apartment,” Wang said.

In hair removal device commercials, celebrities’ smooth and hairless skin and promotional lines such as “permanent full body hair removal” immediately capture consumers’ attention.

There are over 100,000 research results involving hair removal devices on Chinese lifestyle app Xiaohongshu. More than 1000 hair removal-related products can be found on the platform as well. Many celebrities and influencers like Viya and Austin Lin have promoted hair removal devices before.

The increasing exposure of hair removal devices enabled brands to see consumers’ pain points.

Ulike had done commercials on online platforms such as Alimama, Xiaohongshu and WeChat before when the company entered the Chinese market in 2014.

“In the beginning, consumers would hesitate about buying products from new brands like Ulike. We displayed our technological capabilities through online commercials and influencer promotion to increase consumers’ trust in our brand. We then gradually penetrated the market. The hair removal device industry was relatively small back then without too much competition. So it was easier back then.”

However, hair removal devices remain to be something new and unfamiliar for consumers despite their rising popularity driven by marketing strategies.

In 2013, Yang Lin, with a dual Ph.D. degree in physics and electronics from Berlin Institute of Technology and Huazhong University of Science and Technology and extensive experience working in the laser industry, rejected a job offer from an American laser giant and decided to kickstart a startup company focusing on laser solutions for beauty and medical purposes. “I think laser beauty devices for consumers have vast market potential,” Yang said.

During a business trip to Japan in 2003, Yang discovered that a Japanese company specializing in laser hair removal devices made huge profits from selling laser hair removal devices for consumers. “The company sold tens of thousands of hair removal devices that were priced at over 3000 yuan,” Yang recalled.

Back in 2012, laser hair removal devices for home use already enjoyed a massive market in Japan. By contrast, consumers in China could only have access to laser hair removal services at big medical institutions or beauty salons. There were still service providers in the country who continued to offer hair removal procedures such as waxing and photon hair removal that could damage the skin.

“Very few people knew about hair removal devices for home use. It wasn’t a mainstream product,” Yang said. After eight years, laser hair removal devices for home use still have not achieved the level of popularity that Yang expected.

“I have observed that only 25% of airline stewardesses would remove body hair,” Yang stated, noting that as professional talents working in the service sector airline stewardesses would wear uniforms with short sleeves, which shows their arms. “In Japan and South Korea, nine out of ten women who work in an office would remove their body hair.”

In contrary to public perception, there are not that many registered companies that focus on hair removal devices in China.

Statistics on enterprise record platform Qichacha show there were only 153 companies specializing in hair removal devices that were established between the year 2016 and 2020. In 2021, only 20 new hair removal device companies were founded so far.

The good news is that investors have started to eye this particular sector.

A total of six investments have taken place in the hair removal device sector, involving two brands – CosBeauty and JOVS. CosBeauty completed four rounds of financing, with the latest million-dollar B+ round funded by Shunwei Capital, Shenzhen Xinzhiyuan and Xiaomi. JOVS has completed two rounds of financing. Its latest 200-million-yuan A round financing was invested by Jinding Capital and Orchid Asia in July this year.

“Since last year, four industry foundations and listed companies have approached me to talk about potential investment in my company,” Yang said, stating that he does have a financing plan but has not made up his mind yet.

Laser VS IPL

Fast development also comes with issues.

At present, hair removal devices on the market are all marketed as laser hair removal devices. However, home hair removal devices generally adopt IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) technology.

Laser hair removal and IPL hair removal techniques both utilize light to heat up the hair follicle and prevent regrowth.

810nm semiconductor laser hair removal devices and IPL devices work under the same mechanism. But 810nm wavelength is the gold standard for laser hair removal devices. Laser light with 810nm wavelength can be well-absorbed by melanin, which allows it to remove hair better.

IPL devices are pretty much high-intensity discharge lamps, or one can say, flashlights, with a  spectrum of 500-1200nm. This means lots of lights will be absorbed by the skin, which results in low efficiency in hair removal and causes pain. In addition, home IPL hair removal devices have low energy density. It would take IPL devices over one hour to effectively remove body hair. Using IPL devices for a long time also causes discomfort to users’ eyes.

“Many brands on that market that claim that their hair removal devices can permanently remove body hair within minutes or after a few times’ usages are not telling the full story,” Yang said. It takes an actual laser body hair removal device over 40 minutes to get the work done. And it does not cause much pain. IPL devices, on the other hand, cause strong pain when removing hair. That’s why some brands would tell consumers that they should only use their devices for a few minutes each time.

Although many hair removal devices are sold as home devices, they are still essentially medical equipment. Laser hair removal devices fall into the third category of medical equipment, while IPL hair removal devices are classified as second category medical equipment.

The laser medical equipment industry has high thresholds for entry. Product registry generally takes at least three years in this sector, while the process from product R&D to product launch would take more than five years, Yang explained. “It took us three years to get the qualification for the third category medical equipment. Some companies actually do not have the qualification in the market,” Yang said.

The hair removal device market in China is very chaotic. While one can only find a limited number of companies with proper qualifications on enterprise record platforms like Qichacha, there are still lots of hair removal devices and brands on the market. On Chinese e-commerce platform JD.com, for example, there are over 10,000 hair removal device products priced from less than a hundred yuan to a couple of thousand yuan. Even products that are sold at around 100 yuan are also marketed as laser devices.

“There are at least two or three hundred hair removal device OEMs in the country. Even a team with less than ten people can form a small factory and start making hair removers. And they can receive a decent amount of orders,” Yang said, explaining that many brands’ hair removal devices are actually made by foundries. “Many small factories have poor management. They will immediately ship away the products once assembled, without testing them.”

Using these hair removal devices inevitably creates risks. On complaint site Heimao, there are 355 complaints on hair removal devices. One consumer complained about getting burned by a hair removal device when trying the device. Some consumers also reported cases of swollen skin and allergic reactions from using hair removal devices.

The National Medical Products Administration of China has stressed that businesses that have not acquired proper medical equipment registry qualifications are prohibited from producing, importing and selling IPL hair removal devices since January 1, 2023.

“Many companies will go out of business when that time comes,” Yang said. Laser hair removal devices will be the mainstream in the consumer market. Many companies that specialize in IPL devices will eventually be eliminated by the market. “I think there is going to be a technological revolution in the hair removal device industry in the future,” Yang commented. “IPL devices will vanish from the market in three years.”

A technological revolution will no doubt transform this emerging market in China.

(The article is translated and edited with authorization from the author @创业最前线, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce. The original article can be found here.)

Translator: Garrett Li

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