Deep Dive on Beauty from within Supplements in China

Ingestible beauty sales are surging in China. For example, Tmall Global reported a whopping 2,266% sales increase during the recent 618 Shopping Festival. Widely hailing the sector as one of the post-pandemic opportunities in personal care, most industry insiders attribute this booming category to two major factors: an increasingly clearer regulatory environment and burgeoning demand fueled by younger generations.

Since China’s over-arching New Food Safety Law was enacted in October 2015, the regulations on food products, including ingestible beauty, have been advancing steadily to ensure innovation and commercialization.

Under the current regulatory framework, food products are classified into two categories, ordinary food and special food, and the latter further into three subcategories: healthcare food, food for special medical purposes, and infant formula and baby food. These are subject to different regulatory measures with various levels of strictness.

Ingestible beauty (or beauty foods and supplements) in China actually encompasses two common terms: functional food and healthcare food. The former is indeed a vague marketing term and very often falls into the category of ordinary food; the latter, as a subcategory of special food, has a clear-cut legal definition and is subject to stricter regulatory mandates that range from registration and notification processes, naming, and labeling, to ingredient applications and function claims.

Legally, healthcare food is defined as food product that:

  • Claims having specific health benefit(s) or providing nutrient(s) including vitamins and minerals;
  • Includes functional healthcare food and nutrition supplements, intended for the ingestion by certain group(s) of people with the purpose of regulating body functions instead of treating diseases;
  • Goes through many vigorous approval processes by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR, previously SFDA) prior to being sold in the market. A Blue Hat sign is designated on the package of approved healthcare food to help consumers distinguish it from ordinary food and drugs.

As such, when talking about ingestible beauty in China, we refer to three different types by the local regulations and supervisions: Ordinary food that is not permitted to claim any health benefits (but packaging implicitly does so by highlighting nutrient and ingredient content), as well as functional healthcare food and nutrition supplements in a special food category that can claim specific health benefits based on detailed
regulatory guidance.

The approval procedure for functional healthcare food (registration) is more rigorous and time consuming than nutrition supplements (notification). Their health benefit claims are subject to different rules. These are laid out in the latest regulations including Healthcare Food Registration and Notification Regulation (2020 Revised Edition), Guidelines for Naming of Healthcare Food (2019 Version), and Administrative Measures on Healthcare Food Raw Material Directory and Function Directory (2019 Version).

Functional healthcare food benefit claims have been reduced from 27 to 24. According to the Directory of Health Function Permitted to Claim for Healthcare Food/Non-Nutrition Supplement (2022 version), the abolished claims include one that is beauty-related: improve skin sebum.

Those directly related to beauty include: improve acne (No. 12), improve melasma (No. 13), improve skin moisturization (No. 14), and control body fat (No. 9). Indirectly-related to beauty include: antioxidation (No. 2), better sleep (No. 6), relieve fatigue (No. 7), improve iron-deficiency anemia (No. 11), regulate intestinal microbiota (No. 15), relieve constipation (No. 17), and protect from ionizing radiation (No. 23)—all of which are often deemed to result in better skin complexion and texture.

A nutrition supplement must follow the Directory of Health Function Permitted to Claim for Nutrition Supplement (2020 version), which specifies standardized descriptions for the claims of 23 individual nutrients, mainly vitamins and minerals.

New Demographics

Functional food sales in China topped $45.4 billion, with an average CAGR of 9.47% from 2012 to 2020, according to Qianzhan Industry Research Institute. Another local research firm, AskCI Consulting, is even more optimistic. It expects sales to exceed $90 billion this year.

The consumer enthusiasm driving such strong growth can be traced back to medicine food homology (MFH), a concept deeply rooted and well accepted among Chinese people for thousands of years. MFH is also encouraged by the strategy of Health China 2030 implemented by the government back in 2016, the core of which is prioritizing healthcare and putting disease prevention first with TCM.

With this support, ingestible beauty sales started to pick up in 2018; the segment had suffered a setback caused by the high-profile row around collagen efficacy in 2013. By 2019, the sector surged judging by both the number of consumers and the amount of money they spent, according to a report by CBNData X Tmall Global. China’s ingestible beauty market in 2020 was worth about $3.5 billion and will approach $3.8 billion by 2025, according to Euromonitor International.

Similarly, the popularity of ingestible beauty has an ancient root: the concept of cosmetic food homology (CFH), which essentially means those edibles of the same source can be used as both food and cosmetic indiscriminately and, as such, conforms to a holistic approach toward beauty care. 

Fueling this are young consumers, Millennials and Gen Z. According to Tmall’s 2020 consumer data, approximately 40% of functional product purchasers were born in 1991 or later. Compared to their older counterparts who typically prefer healthcare food claiming generic disease prevention, the young generations tend to choose functional food featuring specific health claims, among which beauty and skin care come on top, along with sport nutrition and gastrointestinal nutrition.

More specifically, the claims of most purchased ingestible beauty reportedly are hair loss/thinning hair, overweight, and skin brightening/lightening among the youth, while sleep enhancing and immunity boosting are popular across all demographics.

Major Players

The pandemic led to a surge in holistic beauty care sales. As a result, there’s been a spike in the number of companies offering functional foods targeting beauty concerns. The manufacturers largely come from two industries: healthcare and pharmaceutical/medicine, and food/beverage and cosmetic.

In the healthcare food sector, the players are largely those specializing in health and medical care. They include locally-based Sirio PharmaBy-healthAland, and Weihai Baihe Biology, as well as foreign ones like Ayanda, Lipa, Pharmavite, and GNC, according to the latest report by a local financial service company Central China Securities.

This sector, while steadily moving toward concentration, is still largely segmented. The top 10 brands include Infinitus, Amway, Perfect, Deej, By-health, Herbalife, and Swisse among others. Yet they account for just 30% of sales, according to the report.

In the ordinary food sector, the top players of ingestible beauty come from both established food/beverage/cosmetic companies and startups. Even more segmented, this sector is witnessing more active players, including big drink companies like Coca-Cola and Genki Forest, snack brand BaiCaoWei, beauty giants like Shiseido, Fancl, and Pola, and startups.

Coca-Cola made headlines in 2020 with the debut of a drinkable supplement which features plant-based collagen peptide, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and traditional herbal and superfruit extracts. As indicated by its name, Premier Selection 28 Sleep-Recharged Face, the product is said to improve skin and sleep.

Joining the beauty drink trend are local dairy giants Mengniu, Yili, and Bright, and beverage giant Wahaha, as well as health-positioned beverage startup Genki Forest. All of them recently launched their own versions of ingestible beauty with formulas featuring collagen peptides, hyaluronic acid (HA), and anthocyanidin.

Among traditional cosmetic companies, interestingly, those making the biggest strides are primarily Japanese. Earlier this year, Shiseido launched Inryu, an ingestible beauty brand. Said to be specifically developed for the China market, formulas contain something called the Nutri-Vessel Network Technology, which promises to repair and strengthen capillaries. Inryu includes three SKUs and debuted on E-commerce platforms in China in March.

Local startups are worth watching, too. Some recent examples include G-Young whose flagship products claim anti-glycation and anti-aging with fermented vegetables and fruits as well as probiotics. JaneYoung’s major offerings include beauty drinks featuring anti-aging with fermented fruits and collagen peptides. Finally, Unomi focuses on ingestible beauty including a whitening SOD pill, a nicotinamide drink, and a collagen peptide drink.

Staple Ingredients

Relative to a flood of the ingestible beauty products, the featured ingredients related to beauty in the market are actually limited. This perhaps is due to regulations, among which the New Food Raw Materials Directory and Administrative Guidance of Tradition-Based Medicinal Food Materials Directory. Both set the tone for all brands seeking to stand out with ingredients.

Based on the New Food Raw Materials Directory, new food raw materials refer to newly researched and developed, discovered, or introduced substances with no traditional eating habits in China, but meet basic requirements of foods and are non-toxic and harmless to human health; it can be added to ordinary and healthcare foods according to specific guidance on limitations on application ranges, daily intake, and product labeling. It includes:

  • Animals, plants, and microorganisms;
  • Ingredients isolated from animals, plants, and microorganisms;
  • Food ingredients with original structure changed; and
  • Other newly developed food raw materials.

Among more than 150 listed ingredients so far, those often featured in ingestible beauty include: prebiotics like galacto-oligosaccharides, inulin, and citrus fiber; probiotics like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus; milk minerals and proteins; wheat oligopeptides, plant sterol and its ester, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG); chia seed; Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, aloe vera gel, GABA, and sodium hyaluronate.

Published by the National Health Commission (NHC) in November, Administrative Guidance of Tradition-Based Medicinal Food Materials Directory lists materials: having a long history (more than 30 years) as food in China; already listed in China Pharmacopoeia; passing food safety evaluations; and in compliance with other regulations related to TCM source, wildlife, and environmental protection. The guidance is expected to grow under the government’s continuous efforts to encourage TCM innovation.

Among the more than 100 MFH materials approved, those frequently featured in ingestible beauty include: E Jiao (donkey-hide gelatin), Chinese yam, Hawthorn fruit, Longan pulp, Jujube (including red, sour, and black), Ginger, Prunus persica seed (peach seed), Lotus seed, Kudzu root, black sesame, honey, Angelica sinensis, Panax quinquefolium L. (American ginseng), and Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or reishi mushroom).

In addition, those which are already well-recognized and most leveraged as hero ingredients in topical beauty are also offered frequently in ingestibles, such as vitamin C, niacinamide, and astaxanthin for skin brightening; sodium hyaluronate and ceramide for moisturization; L-cysteine, vitamin B5, and calcium pantothenate for hair loss/thinning. After a dip in 2013, collagen is popular again.

Regarding trending ingredients, hyaluronic acid is the most talked-about in ingestible beauty. Since it was permitted in 2021 to expand the applications from healthcare foods to ordinary foods (with RDI no more than 200 mg/day), there has been a sharp increase in its applications in ingestible beauty, ranging from dairy products to carbonated water drinks and candies. However, this HA ingestible boom seems to be fading; industry insiders blame high prices and bland taste.

Price point, taste, and ingredient aside, the product format plays an increasingly important role in the recent surge of ingestible beauty. Especially for those appealing to the youth demographics, product form has become more playful and convenient, moving from the traditional tablet and single dose oral liquid toward powdered drinks, gummies, and other snacks.

Where Is It Headed?

Looking to the future of ingestible beauty, current dynamics will sustain the market in China. After all, consumers have taken an increasingly holistic approach to personal care, which blurs the lines between topical and ingestible beauty. At the same time, regulatory restrictions have eased and there’s been widening adoption of advanced technologies like synthetic and fermentation biotechnology.

A combination of featured ingredients with proven beauty benefits and convenient product formats pave the way for the success of ingestible beauty. And while success might come relatively quick if targeting youth with eye-catching formats, standing out and breaking through the noise with ubiquitous ingredients might prove short-lived. (Source:

Visit HPA-China’s Information Hub, CLICK HERE