Medical beauty has become a hot topic in Chinese society over the past decade or so. And today, Chinese authorities have decided it’s high time to tighten the reins on the country’s medical beauty industry as the lucrative market has moved from “extreme” to, well, mainstream.
Mirror, mirror on the wall… The pursuit of beauty is unprecedented in contemporary China–circa 1.05 million people lent their physical appearance a surgical hand in 2020; the majority of them women under 30, according to Statista.com.
The country’s younger generations often see beauty as a mark of upward economic mobility. Surging demand for medical aesthetics in China had already turned into a 200-billion-RMB (28.3 billion USD) business in 2021, and is projected to rake in another 200 billion RMB by 2025. But this lucrative market does have a dark side–a mole, if you will… It has generated a host of social problems over the past few years: addiction to plastic surgery, the mushrooming of illegal procedures and, more dangerously, the fact that patients are getting younger and younger.
In that operating light, Chinese authorities decided the time had come to rein in the medical beauty industry to ensure the health and rights of those seeking to sip from the fountain of youth, looking to lift their social media profile, wanting a glowing makeover, you name it.
Beijing Review reporter Lü Yan, and a colleague of this lil’ shindig’s editor-in chief, did a deep dive.
Ever since she was a young girl, Ge Shuhui, from Heze, Shandong Province, had been unhappy with the appearance of her eyes. She believed her monolids–a skin fold on the upper eyelid that makes it appear that there’s no visible crease line below the brow area–made her look, well, lethargic. She’d dreamt about getting double-eyelid surgery that would make her eyes pop. And so, one day in 2015, her vision became a reality—marking her first dabbling in the world of medical beauty treatments.
Today, the now 34-year-old office worker has upped the ante as she’s become somewhat of a pro when it comes to beauty salons and cosmetic surgery hospitals. She regularly injects Botox to make her face look smaller; she’s also experimented with forehead fillers to have a nicer-looking profile.
But one of the biggest obstacles in her pursuit of beauty was finding qualified doctors and service providers. “It’s a profitable business and the market is mixed with good and bad ones. I always spend a lot of time doing research before deciding on a trustworthy hospital or surgeon,” Ge told Lü. “Even so, I, too, have still encountered bad services and products.”
But on May 4, China had some good news for beauty seekers like Ge. A guideline on the further regulation of the medical cosmetology industry was jointly released by 11 ministerial-level departments, including the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), the National Health Commission, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the National Medical Products Administration.
Strict and efficient management is essential for the sustainable and sound development of medical beauty that directly relates to the health and safety of the people, according to the SAMR.
“More regulatory measures from the authorities are very reassuring. I’m looking forward to the good changes their implementation will bring about,” Ge said.
Filling the gap
Strict regulation, consumption upgrading, the flourishing beauty economy and technological progress together promote the booming of the medical beauty industry in China, a report released by consumer research firm iResearch Consulting Group late last year stated.
Liu Xing, Vice Chair of the China Anti-Aging Promoting Association, a national non-profit organization, however, pointed out the fast-growing industry has seen its fair share of problems.
According to Askci, a consulting firm based in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China had over 10,000 registered medical beauty institutions in 2019. Other data from the Chinese Association of Plastics and Aesthetics shows that currently only 28 percent doctors of in the industry are certified practitioners; the number of uncertified ones exceeds 30,000.
“We must further strengthen industry self-discipline, improve safety standards, as well as offer high-quality services, to ensure the health and rights of beauty seekers,” Liu said at a conference hosted by the association in Beijing on May 19.
In recent years, authorities like the SAMR have been introducing policies resulting in a persistent crackdown on illegal activities in the medical beauty sector. The new guideline released in May adds to these previous efforts.
Moreover, industrial training will also come under tight supervision and unauthorized organizations are prohibited from issuing certificates–which can be used to con consumers.
Zhang Zhenshan, General Manager of MY LIKE Aesthetic Plastic Hospital Group, a medical beauty organization in Beijing, believes that due to the limited popularization of relevant knowledge, some consumers have a hard time distinguishing certified service providers and products from uncertified ones, which may lead them to use counterfeit products.
The key for medical beauty organizations to stand out from the fierce market competition and enjoy long-term development lies in their compliance with industrial requirements, as well as the safety and efficacy of their products and services, Huang Luping, head of the cosmetic and laser center at the Plastic Surgery Hospital Under the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said.
Many industry organizations have already shown their support for stricter government regulation. For example, 39 companies and hospitals in Beijing, including MY LIKE, signed a commitment letter as an assurance to use genuine medical products at the event on May 19.
Legal protection of consumer rights, too, is on the up. Yingbao County in Jiangsu Province recently investigated the local medical aesthetics industry and uncovered a myriad of problems. These involved unhygienic eyebrow tattoo practices and offering minors water-shine injections, an intradermal injection treatment using hyaluronic acid and other nourishing ingredients which are widely used provide liquid-like, healthier skin complexion and tone, without parental permission. Sometimes representatives of medical beauty institutions even talked customers into taking out loans for the sake of getting plastic surgery. All violations and those found responsible for them were punished in accordance with the law.
The procuratorial organ of the county has also initiated campaigns in multiple primary and secondary schools plus residential communities to enhance medical beauty procedure-related safety awareness among the public, and that of minors in particular.
According to the iResearch report, the attitude toward physical attractiveness of the surveyed beauty chasers, most of whom were women born in the 1980s and 1990s residing in large cities with relatively high incomes, has only seen a few tweaks here and there. Compared with the agency’s research in 2020, the concept of whiter, brighter and flawless skin was still very much the primary objective. The old Chinese saying “white skin covers up a hundred flaws” remained deeply rooted in their hearts in 2022.
But the attention those surveyed paid to neck lines and nasolabial folds, signs of aging, had significantly increased in 2022. Fillers to plump up the cheeks, for example, had gained increasing popularity as well.
By comparison, previous penchants for a small V-shaped face or a super slim body are no longer as hot as they used to be. “This reflects how the consumers’ sense of aesthetics is becoming healthier and leans toward a more individualized beauty,” the report read.
The trend of Chinese medical aesthetics and the preferences of beauty seekers are always shifting and, it added. The principles of facial aesthetics, for example, have become more specific and diverse. Over the past decade, the development of social media and mobile Internet technology has given birth to a new media model–we media. Beauty-wise, this model is more inclusive than its predecessors. Whom people deem “beautiful” has become a reflection of their personal values.
“But it’s difficult to not be affected by social media and the aesthetic information and values coming from other people,” Ge said, adding she’d also noticed the trend of upholding one’s own physical distinctiveness and cherishing everyone’s unique beauty.
“I’ve been reducing the frequency of injecting things into my face because it seems like a never-ending game,” Ge admitted. “Instead of being trapped in some kind of appearance anxiety, largely created by beauty product ads, I now prefer listening to my heart and recognizing my own beauty while enjoying medical aesthetics services every now and then.”
And whether one sees a mark or a mole, after all is said, done, filled, frozen and photoshopped…
beauty is still in the eye of the beholder.
THIS IS AN EDITED VERSION OF Lü YAN’S ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED IN BEIJING REVIEW, VOL 66, No. 22 (June 1, 2023)
FEATURED IMAGE: LITTLE RED BOOK SCREENSHOT TAKEN BY THE AUTHOR
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