Bordeaux leaves for skin care: HBN partners with Hallstar on custom active to stay ahead in competitive China market

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

HBN is collaborating with Hallstar to develop a custom active derived from Bordeaux leaves to give it an edge in the increasingly competitive Chinese skin care market. [Getty Images]
HBN is collaborating with Hallstar to develop a custom active derived from Bordeaux leaves to give it an edge in the increasingly competitive Chinese skin care market. [Getty Images]

Related tags China Skin care

Chinese beauty brand HBN is collaborating with Hallstar to develop a custom active derived from Bordeaux leaves to give it an edge in the increasingly competitive Chinese anti-ageing skin care market.

HBN was founded in 2019 and became well-known for its commitment to developing scientifically backed skin care products. Today, the company employs around 600 people.

“It was just the start of COVID which may not seem like the right time to start a brand, but it also seemed like an opportunity for us. More mature brands in China reduced their marketing budget and we had a different vision,” said ​Yao Zhenan, founder and CEO of the C-beauty brand.

He emphasised that hard science and data was becoming crucial to win over Chinese beauty consumers.

“Now in China, the science is the most important thing. People believe in nothing apart from the scientific figures. Everyone is checking documents for clinical testing and biological evidence. We were one of the first to invest in clinical testing and prove our true effects. From day one we started we were a science-based brand. In three years, we’ve become the youngest top-selling brand from China,” ​Yao told CosmeticsDesign-Asia.

The staunch focus on product efficacy has accelerated the brand’s success in a short period.

Yao told us that in 2023, the company’s annual sales surpassed USD400m.

He highlighted the role of social media in China for fuelling this phenomenon.

China has a distinct social media ecosystem with dominant platforms such as Xiao Hong Shu, Douyin, and WeChat which are highly integrated with other services.

Users are able to seamlessly move between functions such as entertainment, social networking, and e-commerce. This significantly influences the flow of information and how brands interact with consumers.

“It has been an information revolution. Chinese people can receive informational on new science, new technology faster than ever before. They are so heavily educated that everyone can be an expert,” ​said Yao.

The rapid spread of information, combined with the discerning nature of Chinese consumers, places immense pressure on brands like HBN.

“Reputation is so important. If you make a rubbish product, in a few days everyone is going to know it’s a bad product. You have to work to keep your reputation, otherwise, social media can kill you,”​ said Yao.

An exciting collaboration

Against this backdrop, Yao expressed that the Chinese skin care market will only become more competitive for brands.

“We have a very huge amount of investment in R&D. And we try our very best to collaborate with very strong partners.”

The company is currently collaborating with Chicago-based ingredients firm Hallstar to develop a “custom designed active ingredient” ​based on Bordeaux leaves.

“The target was to develop a global anti-ageing product and we chose Bordeaux leaves which are very rich in anti-ageing compounds. They can be a good alternative to retinol because it has so many valuable compounds,”​ explained Annabelle L’Hermitte, innovation manager, active naturals, Hallstar Beauty.

The company utilises its patented Oléo-éco-extraction technology, a green process that extracts the beneficial compounds in rapeseed oil.

Such green credentials are becoming more important to Chinese consumers, who are demanding higher naturality in their products as they seek safety and sustainability.

“A few years ago, you would not get a response to green science in China because naturality was not one of the concerns. In the last two to three years, we can say the trend has changed a lot. You need to bring the science, the performance, and the naturality. We cannot do without any of these three legs,” ​said Nathalie Lefebvre, business manager, active naturals, Hallstar Beauty.

The project is still ongoing, but the firm has been pleased with the results it has obtained so far.

“We’ve been very happy with this active ingredient and the plant is very promising​,” said L’Hermitte.

Hallstar CEO John Paro expressed his excitement in partnering with Yao and HBN.

“We’ve had this dream about pushing efficacy data and our eco-extraction methods, but the customers need to be sophisticated enough to do it. We’ve found a very good partner here. We’re looking forward to working together on this one.

“We don’t do custom design products just because we’re asked to do one. We only choose customers that we think are very sophisticated, very capable and know how to make it into a good product. And HBN is going to take this and do good things, we have no doubt.”

Paro added that the success of brands like HBN signalled new opportunities for the company in China and the wider Asian market.

“We’re seeing an increase in requirements for efficacy, naturally produced, upcycled products in Asia. It’s a good trend for us and it’s picking up very quickly and is evolving fast. HBN’s success is a tribute to that. It’s about the timing; I don’t know if 10 years ago this attitude HBN took in China would have been successful. The timing is perfect because the sophistication [of the market] has increased substantially.”

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