Lonely Planet Writer

The facekini, China’s strange-looking summer beach trend, is having a moment

They’ve been around for a few years, but facekinis, those odd-looking sun protectors, are now having a little moment in the sun. For those who don’t know, facekinis are material masks worn over the head like a balaclava, and are designed to protect swimmers from both the sun’s rays, jellyfish stings and algae at the beach. While they are very popular in China, they look quite terrifying to those coming across them for the first time as they resemble a robber’s disguise.

Swimmers wearing facekinis for protection against sunburn, while swimming in Qingdao, China. Image: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The reason for their sudden popularity is two-fold. Firstly, the designs have become far more intricate and glamorous, which has seen them enjoy a boost in popularity among wearers. Secondly, the Western fashion world has noticed them and has incorporated them into its imagery.

Four generations of facekinis at Zhang Shifan’s stall in Qingdao, China. Image: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Facekinis were invented by Zhang Shifan in Qingdao, Shandong Province, back in 2004. Covering the entire face and head, with the exception of holes for the eyes, nose and mouth, they also serve a social function. A pale complexion in China is highly-prized and women there want to stay fair-skinned.

Facekini is China’s popular beach trend. Image: VCG via Getty Images

While her first generation of facekinis were plain, Zhang’s designs have developed greatly over the years. She now blends them with traditional Chinese culture embroidery and patterns like dragons, phoenix and peacocks. While the original facekini protected only the head, the new versions keep the head and upper body away from sunshine.

Swimmers wearing facekinis for protection against sunburn, while swimming in Qingdao, China. Image: Huang Xianjie/VCG

New York City-based fashion trade magazine CR Fashion Book brought the facekini to the world of fashion. It released a set of eight images featuring models wearing high-fashion swimsuits from designers like Gucci, Alexander Wang and Emporio Armani, adorned with glamorous jewellery and facekinis in different colours and patterns.

And then there’s the increasing awareness of the dangers of sun exposure, of course. People are beginning to realise that faking it is the answer when it comes to a tan.