In South Korea, sales of makeup and other skincare products are booming — and it’s oftentimes men who are doing the buying. Last year, Korean men spent $495.5 million on skincare products, accounting for 21 percent of global sales and making South Korea the largest men’s makeup market in the world. What’s behind the surge? A look at South Korea’s increasingly powerful pretty boys
Why are South Korean men buying makeup?
In the socially conservative, male-dominated country, “appearance is power,” says Foster Klug at The Associated Press. Men are applying everything from foundation to lipstick to eyebrow pencils to advance their careers and cater to society’s growing expectation that “men will take the time and effort to pamper their skin.” Of course, there’s probably a more obvious answer, says Kat Stoeffel at New York: “Women prefer them that way.”
How did the trend start?
South Koreans used to adhere to more “macho” preconceptions of what manliness entailed. But in the ’90s, when the South Korean government relaxed import bans on Japanese cultural goods — including comic books, which featured “pretty, effeminate men,” says Klug — that ideal slowly began shifting. In 2002, Ahn Jung-hwan, a hero of South Korea’s World Cup soccer team, took things a step further when he led the charge for so-called “flower men,” or good-looking, fashionable guys who regularly applied cosmetics; women loved him and men wanted to be him. Now, makeup-wearing guys can be spotted applying lipstick, and companies like Korean Air even hold cosmetics training sessions for male employees.
Could makeup ever catch on with men in the U.S.?
Some seem to think it’s a possibility, as more men in American pop culture (Johnny Depp, Marc Jacobs) are embracing makeup. Others are a bit more skeptical. “Can you imagine what time in the bathroom must be like for couples putting on their face in the morning?” asked Rebecca Hansbrough at NPR. “Hand-to-hand combat, a truce, or loving compromise.” In South Korea, at least, the trend doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. “Having a clean, neat face makes you look sophisticated and creates an image that you can handle yourself well,” says 24-year-old college student Cho Won-hyuk. “Your appearance matters, so when I wear makeup on special occasions, it makes me more confident.”