Jinu Kim, a student, was very unhappy with the acne marks on his skin. Despite his regular visits to a doctor, the red scars remained visible. On YouTube he started to look for solutions and stumbled upon a video entitled “Perfectly cover spots with make-up”. Kim learnt how he could disguise the marks on his face and went to a cosmetics shop to buy a cover-up stick that suited his skin colour. He decided he would use make-up from then on.
And the so-called Grooming Generation, men who invest considerably in fashion and cosmetics, are no longer a minority in South Korean society. Meanwhile, the market for men’s beauty products is expanding steadily. According to an analysis of the marketing research company Euromonitor, the market value of the men’s cosmetic market in South Korea is around 1.185 billion Won (KRW), or around 900 million euros. Meanwhile, global market leaders like Chanel or L’Oréal have moved into the Korean market and are avidly competing for a slice of the growth.
In Korea, which has the highest level of cosmetic surgery worldwide, appearance can be decisive for a successful career. Slogans like “self management” and “improving your competitivity” boost public awareness of men’s cosmetics, sparking an ever-increasing range of products. Once the sector was dominated by lotions, face and sun creams but now there is big appetite for concealers and the highly popular BB cream, a toned face cream. Men’s make up is becoming increasingly mainstream, not least thanks to Korean pop bands like the Bangtan Boys from the casting show “K-Pop Star”.
In Korea, health and beauty shops are booming, with the leading chain Olive Young running 379 outlets in Seoul alone. Each of these stores has a separate section for men’s make-up. “We see lots of men who are here to buy grooming products. Recently numbers have climbed, even of those who are here to buy colourful eyebrow cosmetics or coloured lip balm,” says Ms Lee, who works at the counter of one of these shops in Seoul.
The study “Trend Report in men’s Products 2019”, published in February by the consultancy Opensurvey in Korea, reflects the societal shift currently underway. In a survey of men between 20 and 39 years old, 70 percent agreed that “men should also use beauty products to care for themselves”. On average the survey group used eight beauty products, including equipment like eyebrow trimmers or shavers for their legs. Many said that they bought these products themselves – in itself a signal of how any stigma attached to make-up for men is a thing of the past.