Reversing Beauty Ideals: Men’s Grooming Market Thrives in China

For many men, the simple act of walking into a store to shop for grooming products for themselves is loaded with embarrassment. Nevertheless, if beauty brands give up marketing towards men, their loss could be greater than the beauty industry’s gain. 

China’s male grooming market has shown solid growth in the past few years. According to iMedia Research, the retail scale of men’s beauty and skincare segment in China reached 15.89 billion yuan in 2019 and is expected to reach 16.72 billion yuan in 2020. 

Men’s grooming products—from basic personal hygiene items to skincare and cosmetics—have been surging in the Chinese retail market. From 2016 to 2019, the average annual growth rate of retail sales of men’s grooming products is 13.5%, which is much higher than the global rate of 5.8%, according to Zhiyan Consulting’s report

Going forward, how can beauty brands include men in the conversation? 

The Appeal of “Soft Masculinity:” Delving into Male Beauty Influencers

Li Jiaqi (Austin Li), known as the “Lipstick King” in China, is a live-stream influencer and the most outstanding seller of lipsticks. He once sold 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes by using Taobao live streaming. Holding the Guinness World Record for most lipstick applications in 30 seconds, Li has over 45 million fans on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok.

Li does not fall into the stereotypical men’s image. He applies basic makeup and wears all kinds of lipstick to showcase the product when he is live-streaming online. 

Hundreds of male influencers are now sharing beauty tips online as more young men have become more appearance-conscious in recent years. Audiences are more open to the diverse portrayals of gender roles. 

Ning Pan, a college student told Pandaily that he loved shopping for men’s beauty products. “Looking good has nothing to do with gender,” said Pan. “Wearing makeup makes me confident and there is nothing to be ashamed of for taking care of your appearance.” 

Lan Haoyi, a 27-year-old makeup artist, said in the interview that he spends up to 10,000 yuan ($1,528) on beauty products every month. Lan has more than 1.4 million followers on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. 

Female beauty brands jump on the bandwagon quickly and start inviting handsome pop stars to be their brand ambassadors. Singer and actor, 21-years-old Wang Junkai endorses Estee Lauder, popular TV star Zhu Yilong endorses L’Occitane. The 2016 Guerlain’s “Kiss Kiss” lipstick even directly named the color code #344 after Chinese actor Yang Yang for which the brand received positive market feedback.

(Source: Zhu Yilong Studio)

In fashion advertisements, portraying good-looking male pop stars is ubiquitous as it triggers consumers’ desire for beauty and perfection. 

Where Does Genderless Makeup Take Us?

For centuries, a man wearing makeup on the street was likely to get unwelcome glares. We still see vitriolic comments below male makeup artists’ posts, but sentiments around men wearing makeup has changed a lot in the past few years. 

Female consumers are no longer attracted to toxic masculinity. Distinctive gender idealogy in Asian cultures put South Korean’s “pretty boy” (Khonminam) in the spotlight. However, soft masculinity is not feminine. 

“The way they [K-pop stars] play with masculinity, what it means to be a beautiful man in a heterosexual or non-heterosexual way, it opens up possibilities for men on the street and eventually makes it more acceptable,” said Joanna Elfving-Hwang from the University of Western Australia, who has done extensive research on beauty and image in Asian cultures. 

(Source: Givenchy)

In this digital age, more young people are breaking gender prototypes. The frontier for the beauty industry will be genderless makeup, filled largely by generation-Z’s disregard of gender binaries. As more men shop for skincare products, the connotation of men’s beauty products will not make them less “manly.” Instead, they will take pride in looking after their appearances. Explicitly male-targeted marketing will completely end, and the portrayals of extreme masculinity will phase out.

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Whether watching makeup videos or shopping for men’s grooming products, gender will no longer need to be part of the equation.