QINGDAO – This summer season, Chinese beach-goers are actively packing up the usual gear: swimsuits, sunscreen, towels and a unique kind of cover-up.
At first glance, masked figures on the sand and in the water could easily be mistaken for bank robbers, or Mexican wrestlers perhaps.
But the reality is much less threatening.
The ‘facekini’ is a trend taking beaches and pools in China by storm.
Designed to protect the wearer from the sun, algae and even jellyfish stings, the facekini resembles a balaclava typically worn during the winter months. The nylon masks takes the place of sunscreen, completely covering the wearer’s head, face and neck, with the exception of strategically placed openings for the eyes, nostrils and mouth.
A Chinese swimwear shop owner created the functional and colorful design of the first “facekini” in 2004, prompted by requests from women for a garment that would protect pale, fair skin. The appearance of porcelain skin is revered in Chinese culture, whereas dark, tanned skin is associated with farm and outdoor laborers.
Since then, the inventor claims to have sold more than 30,000 in the past year alone. Sold in stores and online, the now mass-produced swim garment typically retails for the equivalent of less than $10.
While the covering carries many health benefits, there is price to perfect skin. When worn on public beaches, the facekini tends to have a frightening effect on other sunbathers, especially children.
As more and more studies reveal the harmful and long term effects of sun burns and exposure, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the facekini takes off in other parts of the world.