The only desk that has more bottles and jars than a drugstore is a woman's dressing table, a male writer once claimed. It is no exaggeration.
Improved living conditions and pressure from the fast pace of urban life nowadays mean women's awareness of taking care of their skin and shaping their facial features has increased. They spend more money on their faces than ever before.
Beauty is not just a woman's privilege. Men have also begun to go to beauty salons to have facial or body treatments.
Some people even have plastic surgery to make star-like eyes or killer legs.
For me, as a fashionable career woman, I understand what good-looking means to women. It can help me build confidence in relationships - in the office and in society.
I therefore have no hesitation to spend half of my income every month on skincare and cosmetics, which relaxes me after a hard day's work and makes me look fresh every morning although I might have stayed up late the night before.
Face has become one of my biggest investments.
I do not realize that I have been contributing to the fast development of the so-called "beauty industry "or "beauty economy," to a larger extent, along with other belles and beaux interested in beautifying themselves.
The beauty industry covers salon services offering facial or body treatments, skincare and cosmetics, related training classes, research and development, even plastic surgery... every thing and measure that make your appearance more attractive.
It was Zhang Xiaomei, a member of the National Committee of CPPCC, president of China Beauty Fashion News, that put forward and defined the concept of the "beauty economy" in March this year.
At a forum during the China International Beauty Week held in Beijing from October 18-23, an annual report on China's Beauty Economy was released, in which some astonishing figures show the bright future of this sector.
The report claimed the beauty industry has become an emerging economic hot spot after real estate, cars, tourism and IT.
It is expected that in 2004, the beauty industry will contribute 84.72 billion yuan (US$10 billion) to the gross domestic product (GDP) and 5.6 billion yuan (US$675 million) in taxation. About 5 million people are directly employed in this sector. Another 3 million people are engaged in related jobs.
In 2003 and 2004, Chinese consumption on beauty services and products reached 160 billion yuan (US$19.3 billion) and is expected to increase by 20 per cent every year. Potential consumers make up 7 per cent of the country's total population of 1.3 billion.
Related financial sectors also pin high hopes on this sector and want a slice of the cake. Some banks have promoted beauty loans for any beautifying plan above 30,000 yuan (US$3,600). Insurance companies are also hatching plans for providing insurance to those going under the knife.
But despite a strong consumption capability and an immense market potential, people in the trade still have few smiles on their faces. They are plagued with low-quality products, backward technology, small-scale and ineffective management.
Their biggest worry is how to vie for a bigger market share from their foreign competitors.
Like the car industry, China's beauty industry is increasingly led by a few foreign beauty tycoons from Europe, the United States and Japan.
Some brand names have already been known in China's boutiques for years, like L'oreal, Estee Lauder and Shiseido.
In 2004, more brands have found their way into the Chinese market, including some extremely high-end products.
For example, La Mer, a branch of Estee Lauder Group from the United States, has reportedly shocked customers with its miracle-making facial cream and an incredibly high price of more than 1,000 yuan (US$120) per 30 ml.
Not the most expensive, but more expensive.
Shiseido has been promoting an all-over cream of 4,000 yuan (US$482) per 30 ml in China for three years. According to its beauty adviser, it has been welcomed by many young girls. This is consistent with the report's findings, which say people between 18 and 25 are the main force for the beauty economy.
But this generation fix their eyes on foreign products and seldom touch home-made ones.
As well as taking money directly from Chinese pockets, these foreign beauty giants have other more ambitious plans. They are beginning to show their interest in China's low-end but enormous market.
Last year, L'oreal bought Yue-Sai Asian Skincare and then Mininurses. What L'oreal want is their huge commercial network in China.
In these circumstances, if China's beauty industry wants to tap the huge market potential and win back the support of domestic beauties, the only way for them is to strengthen their research and development and upgrade the quality of products with high-tech.
When buying skincare products, beauties stress their function. Many famous brands have different branches for different requirements, including hydrating, whitening, anti-ageing, sun protecting, or even especially-for-baby products... every line covers products from cleansing materials, toner, creams, or essences.
But if we cast a look at home-made products usually found in supermarkets, the choices are limited, only having a cleansing foam or a cream, which might not meet customers' special demands. They would rather pay more for products like Olay or Biore, than taking the home-made Maxim brand, for instance.
Some foreign companies are adding healthy foods to their skincare product ranges.
Chinese traditional medical reports say there are many recipes for beautifying the skin that have not been tapped and adopted by domestic beauty labs.
In addition, some women are worried about the ingredients of domestic products. When buying foreign cosmetics, they will find a list of ingredients on the package, but Chinese-made products do not contain this. Ingredients help consumers understand better what exactly they're using, and can help them avoid anything they might be allergic to.
Packaging also needs a revamp. Packaging is known to encourage people to buy. Chinese-American designer Anna Sui has won fans from her packaging style alone.
Advertising and promotions are also badly needed for domestic products.
With improved products, sales in boutiques could rocket and beauty salons could attract more consumers.
The management of beauty salons must be strengthened. Hygienic conditions should be ensured. A pricing mechanism should be made transparent to consumers. Advanced and large-scale management should be introduced to stop the chaos of countless small beauty salons that operate without licences.