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Personal beauty items for sale at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship department store in New York. (Bloomberg)
Personal beauty items for sale at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship department store in New York. (Bloomberg)

How two women became billionaires betting on beauty-boosting shots

  • Jian Jun, chairwoman of IMeik Technology, is worth $5.2 billion after shares of her company surged more than 500% since listing in Sept
  • Bloomage Biotechnology’s Zhao Yan added more than $3 billion to her fortune in 2020 as the stock rallied 76%

Fiona Cai is an internet host from Nanchang, China, who livestreams the nation’s pop songs to several thousand social-media followers. She’s 28 but spends about 1,000 yuan ($155) each month for a skin booster injection.

“It can help minimize pores and whiten my skin, and I feel my makeup works better," she said in an interview. She first tried the treatment a year ago. “But my body will process it in a few weeks, so I have to keep it up every month."

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The industry is big business in China’s fast-growing beauty market -- 13.7 million people use the treatments, and this could just be the start. It’s forecast to reach 25.5 million by 2023, boosting the market to 311.5 billion yuan, according to a report by iResearch. Globally, the business generated $86.2 billion in revenue last year and is expected to increase at an annual pace of almost 10% through 2028, Grand View Research estimates.

Two of the biggest beneficiaries are Chinese women.

Jian Jun, the chairwoman of IMeik Technology Development Co., last year amassed money faster than than any Asian female entrepreneur in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She’s worth $5.2 billion after shares of her company surged more than 500% since listing in September. Bloomage Biotechnology Corp.’s Zhao Yan, meanwhile, added more than $3 billion to her fortune in 2020 as the stock rallied 76%.

Their firms are top makers of sodium hyaluronate, a moisturizing substance used in skin fillers. Unlike botox, which freezes muscles to stop wrinkles and tends to cater to older customers, fillers are tiny injections of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that help improve the skin’s appearance, appealing to the younger crowds.

“As an entry-level project, sodium hyaluronate often becomes the first choice of consumers," said Neil Wang, president of Frost & Sullivan China, adding that the country’s idol-entertainment culture and growing internet influence is lifting people’s beauty standards. “Sodium hyaluronate can meet various needs of modern beauty lovers and can keep their youth, improve their appearance at an affordable price."

Representatives for IMeik and Bloomage didn’t respond to requests for comment and interviews with their chairwomen.

Jian became interested in cosmetology while working abroad, after discovering injection treatments with nicknames such as “beauty lunch," which only take one or two hours. After working at a U.S. trade company and a textile firm in Panama, she moved back to China in 2004 and joined IMeik the same year as a director, gradually becoming its biggest owner. The 57-year-old became the company’s chairwoman in 2016.

While only about 3.6% of the Chinese population had tried medical cosmetology by 2019 -- compared with 21% in South Korea and 17% in the U.S. -- that number is poised to grow, according to Kenneth Law, financial advisory director at Deloitte China.

“Female consumers in the age bucket between 30 and 40 are seen as the major spending group with high disposable income," Law said. “With stronger awareness and general emphasis towards a culture of personal well-being, rising demand for sodium-hyaluronate products was seen and is expected to continue."

Even Covid-19 proved temporary. After a drop in business during lockdowns at the start of 2020, activity picked up as China controlled the virus. IMeik revenue surged 17% in the three quarters through September, with profit jumping 32% to 290 million yuan. Bloomage sales climbed 24% in the same period as earnings rose 5% to 438 million yuan.

That’s in contrast to sales at cosmetics companies, which dropped last year as the pandemic and social-distancing rules hampered the need for makeup.

IMeik and Bloomage, for their part, plan to expand. The former is working on a botox product to help reduce wrinkles, while the latter is developing a skincare line with hyaluronic acid and other natural ingredients keeping tissues lubricated and moist to tap younger customers.

“Men and women are gradually increasing their acceptance and willingness to pay for medical cosmetology projects," said Frost & Sullivan’s Wang. “It has a lot of repeated consumption, and its consumer stickiness is also very high."

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