Haute Off the Press: South Korea Embraces the Power of Men's Cosmetics
Each week our no-holds-barred contributor Grace Gold picks apart a hot beauty topic. It’s our version of an op-ed—with hair, eyeliner and lipstick.
Ladies, the days of hogging all the space on the bathroom counter could soon be gone. It may be time to make room for your man's makeup products.
That is, if a male cosmetic buying trend in South Korea jumps an ocean. According to a recent story by the Associated Press, South Korean men accounted for the largest market in men's grooming last year, weighing in with nearly 21 percent of worldwide skin care sales stemming from a relatively modest population of 19 million.
South Korean males are not just buying eye cream. They are also reaching for items like foundation, concealer and brow pencil to put forth a polished image that many say gives them an advantage in professional, social and even romantic environments. Male grooming has become "a marker of social success," according to Korean studies expert Roald Maliangkay of Australian National University.
"I can understand why girls don't like to go outside without makeup—it makes a big difference," 27-year-old Cho Gil-nam told AP. The insurance fraud investigator has a morning multistep grooming regimen that is finished with a light application of makeup for smooth-looking skin. He keeps a cosmetics pouch on hand for touch-ups.
Makeup for men isn't a new concept. Jean Paul Gaultier launched a Monsieur line of men's makeup in 2008 that included concealer, brow gel, eyeliner and powder bronzer. Soon after, Clinique debuted M Cover concealer for men in the European market. Both turned out to be partly ineffective ventures. Monsieur is now confined solely to Europe, while Clinique discontinued M Cover in favor of a medicated concealer to combat acne. But has the grooming climate evolved so rapidly in the past few years that men's makeup could now catch on, and be something Americans would even consider?
I know the interest is out there. As a beauty expert, I (discreetly) field questions from men all the time on how to conceal zits, make undereye darkness disappear and overall look more luminous and well-rested. And once I share the joys of tinted moisturizer, concealer, and bronzer or gradual facial self-tanner that women have long enjoyed, even the most macho of men rarely looks back.
I've also discovered that many men are closet product lovers. I've heard from more than a couple girlfriends that a stick of concealer or powder compact can show telltale thumbprints or even go mysteriously missing every once in awhile. Hey, whether you're a man or a woman, no one wants to walk around all day showing off a pimple.
Skin is the body's strongest visual indicator of our health and state of wellness. While I don't think most men are interested in blending on a smoky eye or red lip, I think it's only human to want skin to look its best.
But if men want to look good, why have grooming lines and makeup products marketed to men done so poorly? Lindsay Pott, marketer with Amway's Artistry, has an opinion as to why. "Men are uncomfortable walking up to a feminine beauty counter and asking for help," she says. "It puts them out of their element, and this is why we've found offering men's grooming products through the direct selling channel an alternate fit."
Yet it's an arena where Kiehl's has done exceptionally well, with men comprising one-third of its customers, likely due to its popular unisex-branded products and stores. In the original Kiehl's apothecary in the East Village of New York, collectible motorcycles were on display in the main floor in the '70s and '80s as a quirky way to entertain the men whose wives and girlfriends came to shop in the store. Soon the perusing of bikes turned to the perusing of shelves. "They found the atmosphere inviting, and the simple, utilitarian packaging nonthreatening," explains Kiehl's U.S. president, Chris Salgardo, who adds that products aren't visually marketed differently to women or men.
Kiehl's is now rolling out shave bars in newer stores, as well as more anti-aging products geared toward the increasing male demand. According to the brand's consulting dermatologist, Adam Geyer, men are far more concerned than generations before them with wrinkles, oil control, pore size reduction and acne and shaving-related issues. Salgardo says that while Kiehl's considers itself a skin care brand, makeup wouldn't be ruled out. "Should our male customers request those types of products, we would certainly take those suggestions under careful consideration," he says.
Now that grooming advice might be just a YouTube video away and a product can be purchased at home, will we see American men more readily embracing skin care and maybe even makeup?
Only time will tell.
Do you think men should be more open to using skin care and makeup?