China Consumer

Well groomed

Younger Chinese men are becoming big buyers of cosmetic products


He’s Shiseido’s new China face

Han Wei takes about half an hour to complete his seven-step grooming routine every morning. At his dressing table there is facial cleansing milk, toner, serum, moisturiser, eye cream and an eye massage stick.

“The skin around my eyes is relatively dry. After all, there will be more crow’s feet as we age, so I tend to press more hydrating agent around the corner of my eyes,” the 36 year-old told Tianfu Morning Post, adding that he owns more cosmetics products than his wife.

Vanity is on the rise among urban Chinese men, especially those born after 1995. They have been a growing buyer of skin products for almost a decade (see WiC63 for our first mention of the trend). But they are increasingly using make-up too. Over 8% of men born between 1995-1999 use eyeliner and eyebrow pomade, while 18% apply lipsticks and BB cream (which stands for blemish balm and is generally used as a foundation-cum-sunscreen), according to a report by local consultancy iResearch and Vipshop in April. Skincare remains a priority: facial masks are the top-selling product among all cosmetics bought by men.

As a result, retail sales of male grooming products grew 17% and 43% in 2016 and 2017 respectively. A separate report by shows that the spending gap on cosmetics between Chinese men and women shrank to Rmb13.7 billion ($2.06 billion) in 2016 from Rmb26.6 billion a year earlier.

Advertisers often label products as buniang, meaning “not feminine”, to promote the perception that using cosmetics does not undermine masculinity. The idea is reinforced by brand ambassadors, usually drawn from various xiaoxianrou – literally meaning ‘little fresh meat’ and denoting young, fair-skinned singers and actors. Fan Chengcheng, the younger brother of actress Fan Bingbing, for instance, was recently hired by Japan’s Shiseido to promote its new product line WASO. Fan is a member of the boy band Nine Percent, which was formed in early April following the success of reality show Idol Producer (see WIC405).

According to beauty site, at least 13 foreign brands including Lancôme, L’Oreal and Maybelline have appointed a xiaoxianrou as a spokesman this year.

Aside from the lasting influence of the ‘Korean wave’ cultural trend, which made androgynous males with heavy make-up fashionable, the livestreaming craze in China has also fostered young men’s obsession with looks. “Active on social media, pretty-face wanghong [internet celebrities] can generate handsome income from their fandom,” a commentator wrote on tech portal Huxiu, calling today’s China “a society that judges by appearance”.

We wrote in WiC401 that a wanghong can make tens of thousands of yuan a month simply by livestreaming his or her daily activities such as eating cup noodles. And more often than not, the better-looking the internet celebrity, the more followers he or she has. A survey last year found 54% of the post-95 generation aspired to become a wanghong, so that they can make a quick buck and enjoy the perks that come with overnight celebrity.

Wang Xiaoqiang, for instance, got famous by teaching male make-up techniques online and has 2.16 million followers on the short video platform Meipai – as well as an e-commerce store selling cosmetics.

There is also tacit support from the government, which views the expanding male grooming market as another engine of consumption. An op-ed published by the People’s Daily last year justified male grooming by highlighting it was actually a normal practice during several dynasties in imperial China. It also noted that heightened male vanity was a global phenomenon. “Perhaps the male cosmetic market could seize the hearts of more men and gain more money out of their pocket,” said the newspaper. “That could help the economy boom,” it added. China’s narcissistic economy looks like it is here to stay…

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