Economist Dec 5th 2015
It has become the “essential item for every man’s bag”, says Kim Jin-ho, who runs IOPE, a high-end skincare line owned by AmorePacific, South Korea’s biggest cosmetics firm. Its male “Air Cushion” compact, launched last year, encloses a sponge steeped in tinted moisturiser and sunscreen, patted onto the face with a puff to cover blemishes and oiliness. IOPE is selling over 100,000 of the compacts a year—almost three times as many as it sells of its regular sunscreen products for men.
According to one survey, South Korean men use 13 grooming products on average a month, almost half the number that their female peers use (South Korean women follow multi-step skincare routines, involving cleansers, essences and ampoules). Almost all big South Korean brands have men’s lines. The country’s male skincare market doubled in value from 2009 to 2014, according to Euromonitor, a research firm. Its men are the leading consumers of male cosmetics per capita (and buy four times more than the next-vainest, the Danes), making up one-fifth of worldwide sales.
On the face of it, such preening is at odds with South Korea’s macho, socially conservative culture. Yet it is during their two-year military service that many men first dabble in make-up: girlfriends offer them camouflage face-paint kits, and moisturisers for the country’s dry winters and sizzling summers.
Innisfree, a high-street brand also owned by AmorePacific, has launched a range of Extreme Power Military Masks, facial sheets soaked with a gel that relieves skin, to be used “After field work” (soothing) or “Before going on leave” (whitening, long a popular beauty trend with women). Innisfree hands out samples of its male products at baseball games. The Face Shop, a cosmetics brand owned by LG Healthcare, advertises its “Neo Classic Homme” line in theGukbang Ilbo, a defence daily.
Yet many men still hesitate to go beyond moisturising. Few feel comfortable perusing shelves in department stores (and few sales assistants know how best to apply foundation to a stubbled face). Olive Young, a health and beauty retailer, has set up male product zones in-store. IOPE says it has focused on how to market its men’s products to sisters and wives, but is now beefing up its online store too. On “Every Man Is”, a forum showcasing LG Healthcare’s lines, men exchange tips. One asks: are you supposed to switch your make-up according to the seasons?
Most beauty firms also push their products through metrosexual brand ambassadors, celebrities from the world of K-pop or Korean television dramas. In the modish streets around Hongik University in Seoul, your correspondent glimpsed one male student looking fabulous in black eyeliner, eyebrow mascara and silver eyeshadow. But Wondin, a 16-year-old who gives male make-up tutorials on YouTube, says few South Korean men want to mimic the stars. He says they “just like to primp”: a polished look is seen as a prerequisite for success in work.
Wondin’s most popular tutorial is a six-minute clip on applying daily make-up. He is focusing on eyebrow tips at the moment because current male hairstyles reveal the forehead. In particular, he advises opting for a transparent brow mascara, which is more natural and easier to apply than a pencil. Male readers, you’re very welcome.