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Ampoules in China’s Cosmetic Sector: From Niche to Common

  •   20 Nov 2019
  •    Ye Chen
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    It took just three years for ampoules (a cosmetic product sealed in a small glass to ensure the efficacy of the active ingredients) to develop from a niche product to a popular beauty product in China. Many factors have contributed to the growth of this segment, including support from e-commerce giant Alibaba and consumer preference for scientifically substantiated active ingredients delivered using novel and innovative packaging. Although marketers pitch ampoules as medical products, China regulates ampoules as cosmetics as long as they are not injectables.

    An ampoule is a cosmetic product sealed in a small glass vial, protected from UV light and external oxygen. This specialized packaging technology can help ensure the high activity and effectiveness of the ingredients.

    Data from e-commerce sales data monitor, MKTINDEX [1], shows that the sales of ampoules saw constant and promising growth in 2019. Tmall set ampoules as a subcategory in March, while MKTINDEX started to monitor the sales of this product from June. Here is a graph to show the monthly growth of this product on Tmall.

    The turnover of ampoule reached 10 million RMB (about $1.4 million) in June. After a fluctuation in July, it increased to 11 million RMB (about $1.6 million) in August and has sustained growth since then.

    In September 2016, MartiDerm from Spain became the first ampoule brand to launch on Tmall Global. Its sales broke 20 million RMB (about $2.85 million) in five months. In the meantime, another ampoule brand, ISDIN, followed MartiDerm hit 30 million RMB turnover (about $4.27 million) in 2016.[2] These two brands are now regarded as the reference standard for ampoule brands in China.

    Reasons behind the popularity of ampoules

    The reasons behind the popularity of ampoules are multifaceted. Firstly, Tmall Global contributed significantly to the success of this segment. As the largest CBEC platform in China, Tmall Global focuses on bringing more foreign brands to China's market. Ampoules have been a success story for Tmall. To walk through the timeline, we can find that in 2016, when these ampoule brands first opened their official stores on Tmall Global, KOLs in Chinese social media started to promote the new concept. In mid-2017, ampoules saw explosive growth in sales after Tmall Discovery collaborated with the Spanish government, the Spanish Beauty Association, and six ampoule brands, including MartiDerm, ISDIN, Iacabine, Sesderma, Sensilis, Singuladrem to build a new laboratory. Beginning in May 2017, Tmall cooperated with these six brands, hundreds of beauty KOLs, and other media resources to launch a large-scale campaign to promote ampoules.

    China's New Cosmetic Research Laboratory

    Second, consumers, especially the young generation, in China, are willing to try new products mainly if they are delivered in original formats and supported by substantial scientific evidence. Ampules contain high-concentration essences such as fruit acid, Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and collagen, which are all trending active ingredients supported by a large body of scientific evidence. [3]
    According to a survey conducted by a CBO reporter (www.cbo.cn cosmetic business online, a financial news media focusing on the cosmetic industry), the top three attributes of ampoules attractive to consumers are:

    • rapid efficacy
    • single-use convenience
    • time-saving

    Most respondents indicated that they'd like to use ampoules in specific situations, such as having a job interview, having an important meeting, or after staying up late. [4]

    Third, ampoule brands have focused on promoting the rapid efficacy of the delivery form and the ingredients used. In China, most ampoule products emphasize specific functions, like Vitamin C for whitening, Vitamin E for anti-oxidation, or linolenic acid for repair. Brands also emphasize the rapid efficacy of the products compared to standard skin-care products.

    Popular ampoule brands in China

    As the first entrant into China’s ampoule market, Spanish brands have built an excellent reputation, especially Martiderm, which is synonymous with quality and efficacy in China. Martiderm has since expanded its product portfolio in China. Besides Spanish brands, German brand Balea has also gained significant traction amongst Chinese consumers.

    Four popular Spain brands: Martiderm, Isdin, Lacabine, and Sesderma

    A star product of Balea: Balea beauty effect lifting kur
    Some domestic Chinese brands are also competing for market share now. Watercode from DANZ launched its first ampoule product in May this year, while Perfect Diary, a successful and recent entrant to China’s cosmetic sector, also launched an ampoule product in September this year.

    Wetcode& Perfect Diary
    As for traditional cosmetic multinational companies, they aren’t missing this trend. The small purple ampoules sold by L’oreal are now also popular.
    Ampoule form L’Oreal

    Problems behind the hype

    Challenges have also emerged as ampoules become an everyday product for Chinese consumers.

    The first is legal problems. Although ampoules are described as medical products in marketing campaigns, they are regulated as general cosmetics, different from real medical devices. For example, ampoules that contain hyaluronic acid only need to file on NMPA's system while hyaluronic acid injections are regulated as medical devices and need to register for a medical device registration certificate.

    As for sales channels, most foreign brands, such as Martiderm and Isdin, sell their products through Tmall Global, a cross-border e-commerce platform. Ampoule products from domestic brands and multinational companies usually sell their products in regular channels, including traditional e-commerce platforms and offline counters.

    Some misleading marketing practices also threaten to undermine the integrity of the segment. Generally speaking, ampoules have two characteristics: they are sealed in a small glass container (so consumers can use one bottle at a time to prevent deactivation) and contain highly active ingredients. However, as ampoule becomes a popular concept in the market, some products rename their products as ampoules, but actually, they are just standard essences made using ordinary packages. Additionally, some products don't need to be sealed in the small bottles since their ingredients are steady in the air, but they also use small glass bottles so they can be sold at a higher price.

    A product claiming to be ampoule promoted by a singer on Red which is not an ampoule
    In spite of these problems, it only took three years to make ampoule grow from a niche product to a popular product in China. The rapid success of ampoules in China can provide brands with essential insights on how to develop and grow a novel product in China.


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    ChemLinked Editor

    Ye Chen is a cosmetic editor in the ChemLinked team, whose major job is to interpret, track and analyze the latest cosmetic regulatory and marketing changes in China and the rest of the Asia Pacific area. Her main focus is in mainland China, Taiwan (district) and Australia.

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