The male beauty industry is booming. In fact, it’s expected to garner over $166 billion by 2022, with a CAGR of 5.4% between 2016 and 2022, according to an Allied Market Research report.
Consisting of products such as aftershave, shower gel, skin care, hair care products and even makeup, it seems the rise of style-conscious men across the globe has created a shift in the male personal care market where male consumers increasingly use beauty products to look and feel good.
While Western markets make up the largest part of the male beauty industry, Asia Pacific (APAC) is the highest market for growth according to Euromonitor. It seems the increased number of educated consumers and the growth of urbanisation in countries such as China, South Korea and India, has given rise to a younger generation of men with greater economic prosperity and more liberal attitudes towards everyday grooming.
In China, male consumers born in the 1990s are the driving force behind the countries male beauty market and are considered just as important as their female counterparts. Much like consumers in the West, they’ve grown up with the internet, social media and consider their appearance just as important as indulgences such as designer clothes, luxury travel and technology.
Consumer analysts at Cinda Securities reported that products such as sunblock, acne treatment and oil-control are considered the top three products for the average male consumer in China, with L’Oréal Paris, Nivea and Clinique ranked as their favourite brands.
Furthermore, maintaining high levels of self-hygiene and improving one’s attractiveness are considered a major focus for young men in China today – it’s no wonder why the average annual growth of the male cosmetics market is expected to increase by 13.5% by 2019.
But this isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon in China. The use of cosmetic products dates back as far as the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), when men of high status would apply rice- and oil-based powder to their neck to cover wrinkles to appear youthful.
As the country progressed through its communist era, attitudes towards lavish and overt displays of one’s lifestyle and status were frowned upon. In fact, many practices common in the West were banned, including the use of makeup.
It wasn’t until early 1980’s when reform policies were put into place and China’s growing economy – mainly consisting of men in top-tier cities – was permitted to pursue acts of consumer indulgence – commonly known as xiaozi.
The rise of ‘little fresh meat’
While the term may seem undeniably sinister to some consumers in the West, ‘Little Fresh Meat’ (小鲜肉) is a popular internet buzz word to describe ‘handsome young men’ who are usually considered more beautiful than women. These young men are widely used by Chinese consumer brands as a marketing tool to sell their products.
From young movie celebrities to popular k-pop bands, these new influencers are commonly used as celebrity endorsements for female beauty products and the trend is currently driving the luxury beauty market, resulting in a significant boost in sales for brands.
L’Occitane achieved an 11% increase in YoY growth in 2017 along with a 49% increase in sales on China’s popular eCommerce platform, Tmall. Andre Hoffmann, president of the French beauty brand’s APAC division, attributed the increase in revenue to consumer confidence in China and its advertising campaign featuring local pop singer, Joker Xue.
Other Western brands including Lancôme, Estée Lauder and L’Oréal Paris have also followed in L’Occitane’s footsteps, seeking young male brand ambassadors who fit the “young fresh meat” trend, in order to appeal to their Chinese female consumers.
While the obvious logic of this marketing trend is to leverage their sex appeal against the female gaze, it also reflects on the shift in culture where young men who maintain a fresh clean-cut look, regularly using skincare products or even look overtly feminine isn’t necessarily taboo.
That’s a stark difference compared to the common hipster trend in cities such as New York, London and Berlin, where millennial men are usually adorned with a well-kept beard.
Young Chinese men who have increasingly more disposable income are beginning to develop regular skin care habits compared to their elders according to a study by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
For example, the use of facial cleansing products in high school is quite common. By the time they enter university and employment, using a large range of products such as moisturisers and serums inevitably become the norm.
With growing concerns over air quality in first- and second-tier cities and its effect on skin health, retailers have seen an unpredicted rise in the demand for night serums, BB creams, concealers and toners.
As a result, male Chinese consumers are investing in a diverse range of skin care products from from the US, Europe, South Korea and Japan. In fact, Amazon China reported brands including Biotherm, Lab Series and Kiehl’s are becoming as popular with their male customers as top ranking brands such as L’Oréal and Nivea.
We also can’t forget the growing global trend of beauty influencers online where Chinese male influencers make a significant impact in the local market.
Much like their female counterparts, these influencers produce content featuring product reviews, how-to tutorials and tips on improving skin health. One beauty blogger, Li Jiaqi, even went to the extreme lengths of testing over 300 brands of lipstick on a seven-hour daily broadcast to his fans – earning an astounding 10 million yuan ($1.5 million).
Despite the growth in China’s male beauty industry, there’s still a significant lack of choice compared to the female market. International brands based in the US and Europe are increasingly competing against their Japanese and South Korean rivals to be one step ahead of the game.
But as demand for specialist products and broader product categories increases, there’s definitely room for growth as international brands continue to enter the Chinese market and target the affluent male consumer.