Japanese Cosmetics in China Adds Insult to Injury Plus Nuclear Wastewater

Japanese beauty brands have clarified that the brands have carried out strict checks on the safety of raw materials and have undergone customs inspection and quarantine to prove the safety of their products.

Recently, P&G responded to the issue of whether there was nuclear contamination in SK-II. P&G said that it confirmed that SK-II products manufactured in Japan or shipped abroad are safe to use. Meanwhile, all SK-II products launched in China have undergone rigorous product safety testing at relevant laboratories under the designation of the Chinese government to ensure that the products comply with the relevant Chinese regulations and are filed/registered according to Chinese regulations.

Looking back on the cause, on June 13, a number of media reported that an area on the shore where the Kamo River and Lake Biwa cross in Japan had been stockpiled with large amounts of wood chips containing the radioactive substance cesium, which were part of the trees that were exposed to radiation during the Fukushima nuclear pollutant case. It is worth noting that Lake Biwa is the sole source of SK-II’s star product, SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. According to SK-II’s official public website, the factory and production line of SK-II Facial Treatment Essence are located on the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. The only source of water for the brand’s products with no other production channels worldwide.

A crisis of trust in Japanese cosmetics

This case caused anxiety among Chinese consumers. On the Chinese sharing platform Xiaohongshu, many consumers have had a crisis of trust in SK-II. Although the brand has clarified that the above news is not true, there are still consumers who are concerned about the safety of the SK-II products they buy. And some consumers have said that they are “boycotting cosmetics made in Japan.”

CHAILEEDO found that well-known Japanese cosmetic brands such as Shiseido, IPSA, ANESSA and Freeplus are receiving attention from consumers on Chinese social media in addition to SK-II. Now it is just the time for the Chinese mid-year shopping festival “618”. Many consumers have chosen to return products purchased during this promotion and have indicated that they will refuse to buy related Japanese cosmetics in the future.

CHAILEEDO noted that currently, Chinese consumers have two worries about Japanese cosmetics products: firstly, whether the factory is in the area of nuclear radiation contaminated. Secondly, whether the water and raw materials used in production are contaminated.

It is understood that the contaminated water from Japan contains more than 60 kinds of radionuclides, many of which do not yet have effective treatment technology. Some of the long-lived nuclides may spread with ocean currents and form a bioconcentration effect. The discharge of nuclear-contaminated water has transboundary effects. From the information available, it is expected to last for up to 30 years. Studies have shown that radioactive material can spread to most of the Pacific Ocean within 57 days from the date of discharge, and to global waters after 10 years.

Publicly available information shows that China has been an important exporter of Japanese cosmetics. According to a report released by the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Medicines & Health Products, the sources of China’s cosmetic imports are mainly concentrated in Europe, the United States and Japan and South Korea. According to data from the General Administration of Customs in China, the top five countries or regions in terms of import value in 2022 were France, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom, accounting for 83% of China’s total cosmetics imports. It is reported that Japan’s total cosmetics imports in 2022 saw a rare year-on-year decline of 9.12%, with its position being taken by France, but still ranked second.

This shows the importance of Japanese cosmetics to Chinese consumers. As to whether nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan will have an impact on human health, Chen Yanjun, Director of Dermatology at Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, recently said in a media interview that “if the materials that were contaminated water, or from marine organisms contain radioactive substances added to cosmetics or skincare products, it may trigger nucleic acid or cell mutations in our bodies. “

On the question of whether nuclear radiation affects product safety, CHAILEEDO consulted with several customer services of relevant Japanese beauty brands on the Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao as a consumer. Several brand customer service replies said, “The brand has gauged the safety of raw materials and has undergone customs inspection and quarantine to prove the safety of the products.”

(Credit: customer service response of Freeplus, ANESSA and IPSA)

Following SK-II’s response, Japanese beauty giant Shiseido also responded to the incident in question. On June 15, the person in charge of Shiseido publicly stated that Shiseido is always committed to providing consumers with safe, high-quality products and that every aspect of the production process is strictly monitored. “The products we sell in China all comply with the relevant national standards, and consumers can buy and use them with confidence.”

Adding insult to injury

It is worth mentioning that SK-II’s performance in China has shown a downward trend in recent years. As early as 2021, P&G mentioned a decline in SK-II’s performance. According to P&G’s latest financial data release, net sales in the beauty segment rose 3% to $3.494 billion in the three months ended March 31, with the weak performance of the SK-II market being the main reason for the slowdown in growth across the division.

In addition, Japan’s four largest beauty groups, Shiseido, Kao, Kose and POLA, have all said that they see China as one of their most important markets. However, as can be seen through their recently disclosed financial reports, Japanese cosmetics are not performing well in China today.

China, which is Shiseido’s number one market, has also shown a downward trend in its recent financial results. According to Shiseido’s results for the first quarter of the fiscal year 2023, China’s market performance lagged behind the Japanese market in this quarter, with sales of 53.244 billion yen ($376.9 million), down 3% year-on-year. POLA Group’s beauty care division revenue, on the other hand, has been shrinking gradually since 2018. In 2022, the group’s beauty care division revenue was 174.15 billion yen ($1.2 billion), down 7.2% year-on-year.

Kao Group and Kose Group did not record growth in the Chinese market, although they increased their net profit. Kao Group said that in the China market, sales fell sharply due to factors such as shipments and the launch of new products from Freeplus. Kose’s sales in Asia also fell by 10.1%, which Kao said in its financial reports was mainly due to the current weakness in Chinese consumer spending.

(Credit: Kose’s iconic brand Sekkisei)

CHAILEEDO noted that on the list of Top 20 beauty stores on the Chinese e-commerce platform Tmall during the first day of the 618 Shopping Festival this year, only four Japanese makeup brands – Shiseido, CPB, SK-II and Decorte – are on the list and ranked low overall. There were 11 European and American brands on the list and three Chinese beauty brands.

With the nuclear radiation contamination problem gaining anxiety among Chinese consumers and returning products during 618 promotion, it is not easy for Japanese cosmetics which want to resume success after a weak growth.



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