Hair-care industry has anxious consumers coming and going

February 2nd, 2015 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Does he or doesn't he? Scalp stimulators on sale in discount drug store

Does he or doesn’t he? Scalp stimulators on sale in discount drug store

According to the Yano Research Institute, Japan’s hair-care products market in 2013 was worth a little more than ¥432 billion, a 2 percent increase over the previous year’s revenues, which is easy to believe. After cars and beer, hair-care items are probably the most advertised products on Japanese television, and the ones that saw the most growth (no pun intended) were those related to either hair-growth promotion (hatsumo/ikumo) or hair replacement, such as implants and hair pieces.

It’s hardly a surprising development demographically. As everyone knows, there are more old people in Japan every year, and thus more people with thinning hair in the population. What’s more, according to Yano, is that in line with these changes there is currently an entire “anti-aging” market that has materialized, encompassing everything from vitamin supplements to health club memberships.

Underlying it all is the sense among average Japanese, reinforced by popular culture, that they are likely to lose their hair. In fact, statistics seem to bear this feeling out, as they show that Japan is the baldest country in Asia (Czech Republic takes the honor for the world), and it isn’t just a concern for men. A large portion of the hair growth/replacement market is aimed at women.

Nevertheless, marketers mainly target men, especially younger men, who fret about any loss of hair. In surveys, when asked about the traits they most dislike in potential boyfriends, women most frequently mention being overweight, short stature and baldness. Obviously, there’s nothing anyone can do about being short, and a great deal that one can do about being overweight, but there is some confusion as to whether or not you can prevent your hair from leaving you, and that’s where hair-care product makers do their magic.

Manufacturers want you to believe that their products can either slow hair loss, stop it or even increase hair volume. Scientists tend to say that baldness is totally genetic, that there’s nothing you can do medically to prevent hair from falling out. However, in recent years there has been a theory that has taken on greater credence, at least among certain people, and which says that hair loss is the result of over-shampooing; that the less you shampoo, the less likely you are to lose your hair.

This theory has given rise to a no-shampoo movement whose adherents insist that hair loss was never as much of a concern until the modern age, when shampooing became a regular part of life. Before the 20th century, people rarely washed their hair, and then soap makers invented shampoo. In Japan, shampoo didn’t really take off until the bubble era of the 1980s, when asa-shan, or daily morning shampoos, became a fad. And since young Japanese women tend to have long hair, they needed more shampoo, not to mention more hot water, thus adding an environmental angle to the issue.

If, as reported, asa-shan took 20 minutes, that’s 240 liters of water and ¥78 worth of gas. According to a survey by consumer research company iShare, 84 percent of women shampoo every day in the summer and 68 percent every day in the winter. Men shampoo less, which would seem to contradict the belief set of the no-shampoo folks, but then there’s journalist Hiroyuki Itsuki who is almost 80 years old and has one of the fullest heads of hair in the country. He says he only shampoos four times a year.

In any event, if the no-shampoo crowd is right, then hair products makers get consumers coming and going, or, at least, their hair. They promote shampooing as an almost daily ritual, and then when those customers’ hair falls out as a result, sell them products to supposedly get it back.

It’s the perfect racket.

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