What is a 'facekini'? Bizarre summer bathing trend sweeps the beach

A stifling heat wave in eastern and central China this week has led to a run on the country's beaches — as well as the return of the "facekini."

These pictures show fashion-forward Chinese women packing the beaches in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao. 

The "facekini," a balaclava-style fabric head covering, has been a must-have for Chinese beachgoers since it first appeared in  2004. Covering the entire face and head — with the exception of holes for the eyes, nose and mouth — the facekini is ideal for protection from the sun's rays, as well as insects, jellyfish and other irritants.

Apart from its practicality, the facekini also serves a social function. Pale female skin is prized in China, long an agrarian society where a suntan was a giveaway that one performed menial labor as a member of the lower classes.

The woman credited with inventing the garment, Zhang Shifan, told Reuters in 2015 that approximately her shop had sold approximately 30,000 facekinis over the past year.

She's likely to sell more this week, with some Chinese cities recording temperatures as high as 122 degrees Farenheit. According to the Sun newspaper, some cities have resorted to opening their underground bomb shelters to residents wishing to escape the searing temperatures.