Nuclear fallout: Japan's Fukushima wastewater release sparks Chinese hesitation in J-beauty

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water has led to reluctance among Chinese beauty consumers to buy Japanese beauty products. [Getty Images]
Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water has led to reluctance among Chinese beauty consumers to buy Japanese beauty products. [Getty Images]

Related tags j-beauty Skin care China Japan

Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water has led to reluctance among Chinese beauty consumers to buy Japanese beauty products.

On August 24, Japan started the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant's wreckage into the Pacific Ocean.

This polarising move prompted China to immediately ban all Japanese seafood imports. Meanwhile, the release of the radioactive wastewater has had repercussions on the Japanese cosmetics sector.

Since June, chatter on social media platforms such as Xiao Hong Shu, or Little Red Book, emerged questioning the safety of Japanese cosmetic products.

“There’s been a lot of content [on the impact of the wastewater release] on Xiao Hong Shu and Weibo since June. It has continued till now, especially now that China has banned seafood imports from Japan,” ​said Allie Rooke, founder of Clean Beauty Asia and Chinese beauty market expert.

Social media commentators have been creating content mainly about ensuring the safety of products by checking barcodes, manufacturing dates and factory locations. Some posts also advise their followers on specific questions to ask customer services to get the relevant manufacturing information.

In particular, Rooke observed that Chinese consumers were looking for alternatives to Japanese sensitive skin care products.

“Quite a lot of the Japanese brands are known for sensitive skin products and now we are seeing some people looking for alternatives.”

Rooke observed that this issue has prompted nationalistic sentiments, with KOLs recommending followers to support local brands.

However, she noted that consumers are catching on that many brands, not just Japanese ones, have Japanese manufacturing facilities and use Japanese ingredients.

Short-term impact?

The Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011. The disaster was caused by a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami that led to a series of meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The crisis remains one of the most significant nuclear accidents in history and efforts to decommission and clean up the nuclear plant and its surroundings have been complex.

Rooke believes this will likely have a short-term impact on Japanese beauty brands.

“Short-term, it could be really quite painful, especially because it’s so public. With all Japanese seafood imports banned, then it'll have a knock-on effect to everything Japanese.

I don't expect it to be a long-term problem. People tend to forget quite quickly. Of course, if the Chinese government keeping bringing it up and the state media continues to talk about it, it could go on for much longer.”

She emphasised that Japanese beauty products continue to be highly regarded among Chinese consumers.

“Japanese beauty companies are held in high esteem because of their attention to detail, because of the science. In fact, there are people on social media saying its safe to use Japanese products now, but of course, it gets drowned out by the negative.”

Monitoring the situation

During its second quarter earnings conference on August 9, Japanese cosmetics firm Kosé Corporation told investors that some key opinion leaders (KOLs) were “reluctant to recommend”​ Japanese cosmetic brands because of the

The company added that this could impact performance in the second half of the year.

“Risk involving China may increase in the second half, including the issue of releasing radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The outlook is therefore unclear.”

Fellow Japanese beauty majors Shiseido Company and Pola Orbis Holdings have expressed that they would continue to monitor the situation on social media.

Kentaro Fujiwara, president and COO or Shiseido said: “We’ll keep a close eye on the what's on the Internet and social media. Accordingly, we will be flexible to adapt our communication and promotional methods.”

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