The 'face-kini' hits the beach

The 'face-kini' hits the beach

Qingdao, China Cultural Atlas

Tanning products, tanning salons and just plain, old-fashioned tanning might be all the rage in the West, but trends have moved in the opposite direction in China, where the pale face is seen as prettier.

So in order to help beach-goers keep their complexions light, a radical new product has taken off: the 'face-kini'.

Slideshow

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Looking like a cross between a balaclava and a wrestling mask, this new item of swimwear has proven a hit in China.

Looking like a cross between a balaclava and a wrestling mask, this new item of swimwear has proven a hit in China.

REUTERS/Aly Song

Made out of nylon, the masks help protect people's faces from the sun's rays.

Made out of nylon, the masks help protect people's faces from the sun's rays.

REUTERS/Aly Song

The masks have proven popular and are now under mass production.

The masks have proven popular and are now under mass production.

REUTERS/Aly Song

The masks were invented by a woman about seven years ago, making them a recent addition to the Chinese market.

The masks were invented by a woman about seven years ago, making them a recent addition to the Chinese market.

REUTERS/Aly Song

They are available for sale in local swimwear shops.

They are available for sale in local swimwear shops.

REUTERS/Aly Song

One beach-goer wearing a mask told Reuters TV, "It is ok if our body gets sun-tanned. But if women's faces get tanned too, we would look ugly in our clothes."

One beach-goer wearing a mask told Reuters TV, "It is ok if our body gets sun-tanned. But if women's faces get tanned too, we would look ugly in our clothes."

REUTERS/Aly Song

However, another resident told Reuters TV that she didn't like the masks. "They look like ghosts and witches. Very ugly."

However, another resident told Reuters TV that she didn't like the masks. "They look like ghosts and witches. Very ugly."

REUTERS/Aly Song

A woman wearing one of the masks strolls on the beach.

A woman wearing one of the masks strolls on the beach.

REUTERS/Aly Song

The mask does not prevent this woman from having fun as she plays in the sand.

The mask does not prevent this woman from having fun as she plays in the sand.

REUTERS/Aly Song

A group of women wearing masks socialise together.

A group of women wearing masks socialise together.

REUTERS/Aly Song

Witness

"I could imagine these women coming onto the beach and starting to fight."

10 Jul 2012. Aly Song, Reuters Photographer

This wasn’t what I expected at all when I arrived at the beach of Qingdao city in China’s eastern Shandong province.

I was on assignment with Reuters to shoot pictures for a story about a Chinese airline, and we had planned to board an aircraft with the company CEO and photograph him and other passengers on the plane. So I booked myself a 24-hour round trip from Shanghai to Qingdao, thinking that during the half day in Qingdao I could shoot the green algae that appears along the beaches almost every summer.

But my plan turned out to be a failure. The weather wasn’t hot enough, so there was very little algae. I was about to head back, disappointed, when I saw these women swimming in the ocean. They were wearing full-size masks covering their heads, which looked a lot like wrestlers' masks to me. I could imagine these women coming onto the beach and starting to fight.

I laughed for a while and took some pictures. But I discovered that this phenomenon didn’t look strange to the locals at all. Consulting with some other swimmers, they told me that these nylon-fabric masks were invented by a woman about seven years ago and were believed to be good at blocking the sun’s rays. It’s easy to buy one at local swimwear stores, because they are now mass produced.

That was how I came across this interesting method for beach-goers to prevent their skin from getting burned. I believe that there could be a wider market for these masks because most of the swimmers, especially women, would love to spend as much time as possible on the beach without getting a serious tan.

To me, it’s much easier and cooler to put on a mask than to put on lots of sun-block cream.

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