THIN SKIN – POLLUTION DEFENCE AND SKIN CARE

HOW POLLUTION DEFENCE IS BECOMING AN EMERGING SKIN CARE NEED FOR CONSUMERS

Bonus: In this article we feature our new Web Graph. A robust way of assessing normalised semantic links on the internet (including Baidu in China)

While health concerns around urban environments and airborne pollutants is not new news, the threat has often been limited to how this affects our lungs and respiration. Not necessarily our skin.

Yet, our skin breathes too.

WHAT’S INCLUDED IN THIS POST: VITAMIN I FOR INSIGHTS

Consumers in the UK (United Kingdom) and China have taken note that wellbeing and skin health is not limited to appearance and vanity – and is in fact an opportunity for personal care brands to be part of the first line of defence against pollution.

We will explore:

  • Part 1: How UK consumers are catching up on anti-pollution self-care
  • Part 2: What we can learn from a mature anti-pollution market like China
  • Part 3: What next and where should skincare brands look to win

PART 1: United Kingdom

STEP 1: LOCKDOWN AS AN ACCIDENTAL SPA TREATMENT?

While many wellbeing metrics eroded during lockdown, some consumers observed that their skin health had improved.

Skin care tweets

Unsurprisingly, consumers and news outlets tried to explain the potential drivers behind these changes and the negative impact of the world returning to normal:

As these themes become more prevalent and discussed, more consumers are getting curious and under the skin on what to do next (pun intended).

STEP 2: CONSUMERS PUT ON THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA LAB COATS

While more traditional themes on “natural ingredients” and in product “vitamins” continues to grow in consumer conversations (2% YoY and 3.3% YoY respectively), there is outlier growth showing an increase in fluency and knowledge in ingredients and formats from consumers.

To the expectation of brands, consumers, influencers, and news outlets have suddenly been amplifying discussions around:

  • Fundamental needs in active cleansing – over 4.4k mentions with 142% YoY growth
  • Benefits of Niacinamide – over 450 mentions with 125% YoY growth
  • Variety of formats being associated as specifically “anti-pollution” – 7.6k mentions with 33% YoY growth

An opportunity lies here for brands to not only educate against the risks, but also share how easy it is to include a skin

care routine that is conscious of the toils of pollution on skin.
This is particularly topical as workplaces begin to welcome employees back… which means the return of commuting.

STEP 3: I AM NOT SURE MY SKIN IS READY TO GET BACK ON THE BUS/TUBE/TRAM/TRAIN…

As people were brusquely reminded of the cost in time and money to commute back to work, many consumers noticed that not only was their travelcard balance affected… they saw changes in their skin.

Example antipollution product searches
Total sum of anti-pollution product searches

STEP 4: LET US TAKE A LOOK AT THE SKIN CARE WRINKLES OF THE INTERNET

Using our tool Web Graph, we can test and quantify connections based on how many pages are indexed within Google. The power of this tool is to test the tension between themes, display stronger semantic links, and reveal SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and content opportunities.

While pollution and anti-pollution content shares a range of themes around skin barriers, protection, vitamins, hair and threats – there are themes that are more polar.

For example, “anti-pollution” content leverages concerns about causes, effects, and the “Big Smoke” as the archetypical urban centre. “Pollution’ on the other hand leans into daily skincare routines including sun protection, cleansing, and antioxidants.

Yet, there is a revelation here that provides a framework and marketing roadmap to translate to anti-pollution care: UV and sun protection. The presence of “sunscreen” is a proxy for explaining how core protection needs to be fundamental in the formulation and benefits within the product.

The UK should watch this space (and protect your face!). What additional insight treatments can be found if we look to a more mature market like China?

Part 2: China

BONUS STEP 1: THIS IS ALREADY OLD NEWS IN CHINA

Hyper awareness and popularity of pollution tracking apps like Bluesky Map and familiarity with metrics like AQI (air quality index) and PM2.5 (fine particulates) lead to a broad populace fluent not only with pollution trends but already considering the personal impact on health and skin.

Impressively, the Web Graph shows a more polar and mature landscape across Baidu. We see a stronger set of unique themes not shared between “pollution” and “anti- pollution”. We see a growing distinction between outdoor and indoor concerns.

These Chinese consumer behaviours hint at how the UK could evolve as anti-pollution skin care products and routines become more commonplace.

BONUS TREATMENT 2: INGREDIENTS ARE “FEATURES” THAT CHINESE CONSUMERS UNDERSTAND

As seen in the UK, consumers in China have developed a glossary of expected ingredients and benefits to address pollution and skin care. Yet, Chinese consumers appear to be dramatically more fluent in different formulations, strengths and formats. Brand and press content is unabashed in sharing ingredient lists and strengths.

BONUS TREATMENT 3: THE RISE OF SKIN TECH WHEN OTC IS NOT ENOUGH

Interestingly, the Chinese market had several news and social posts advocating infrequent higher intervention skin care techniques. Some of the conversation focussed on seasonal prompts to “revitalise” and “reverse damage” in your skin.

While this conversation is nascent, and the technologies require a bit more investigation, there is growing interest in more advanced methods of skin care.

BONUS TREATMENT 4: SKINCARE BRANDS ADAPTING MESSAGING TO DAILY POLLUTION SIGNALS

Unlike the UK, consumers and news outlets regularly discuss pollution metrics as if sharing the weather report. Office lobbies often have digital signs updating on both the weather and pollution report.

Brands have a unique opportunity to adapt skincare benefits and routines to reflect these swings and further affirm how to prepare for the day or cleanse when you get home.

We see that Weibo is a dominant skin care sharing platform (analogous to Twitter) supported by the longer form Redbook.

Part 3: What next?

A FEW FINAL STEPS: WHAT’S MISSING AND WHAT’S NEXT?

There are a few consumer and product blemishes that surprised the team – and that create opportunities for skin care brands.

  • Where are the men?
    Both markets considered were dominated primarily by women audiences. While skin care has traditionally skewed towards females, the shared urban environment could create a novel entry point for male skin care.
  • Beyond hand sanitiser
    Consumers have grown accustomed to commuting with masks and travel bottles of hand sanitiser. With such strong associations between commuting and pollution, where are the travel size equivalents for anti-pollution skincare? A great vehicle for increasing trial and educating consumers on how they can be best prepared in protecting their skin on the go.
  • What about WFH care?
    Lastly, perhaps an adjacent use case is emerging. With uncertainty around hybrid working and concern in at home ergonomics – perhaps our at home desk life in front of monitors and a lack of vitamin D create additional consumer needs an innovative brand could deliver against.

CONCLUDING WITH A BETTER TOMORROW: WOULDN’T IT BE NICER IF THERE WASN’T ANY POLLUTION TO DEAL WITH IN THE FIRST PLACE?

While many consumers must compromise between access to urban opportunities and pollution, collectively we all benefit from lower levels of pollution.

At the very least, there is a growing fluency of how consumers can adapt their skin care to better protect themselves from city air, commutes, and travel. Skin care brands can make anti-pollution features as fundamental as SPF and sun protection – with the right insights that is.