SEOUL: Before heading to work every day, Shawn Jung spends about 30 minutes in front of the mirror putting on makeup.
Like many other Korean men, it is no longer enough just to use basic skincare products like toner and skin moisturizer.
“Average Korean men these days don’t just use skincare products, they also use base makeup and do other makeup like their eyebrows,” said Jung.
Applying makeup on the eyebrows is important, he said, as it helps define a person’s image, while lip balm or lipstick moistens the lips to make people look healthier.
Jung works at South Korea’s largest cosmetic company Amorepacific as a makeup artist, but he admits that he became interested in men’s grooming even before this.
“Even in the military, which all men have to do, men are putting on sunblock and BB cream,” he said.
“I think I started around then too.”
Many young Koreans agree that makeup is essential if they want to give a good impression, especially when they are going for job interviews.
“When we go for interviews, it’s good to give a good impression. And looks matter in Korea,” said a Korean job-seeker in his 20s.
That might explain why South Korean men are now the world’s biggest spenders on men's grooming products. Data shows they spend about US$45 per purchase.
According to a Global Data report in 2018, three quarters of South Korean men have a beauty treatment done at least once a week, like going to the salon or doing facial at home. Sales of men's cosmetics hit about US$1 billion last year.
Analysts said the face of male beauty is changing in South Korea due to the popularity of “pretty boys" seen in K-pop bands and dramas, and that has also helped to promote Korean men’s cosmetic products not just in the country, but around the world.
“When you look at the idols and see how they look, they have become more feminine. It’s become more difficult to tell the difference between how men, who in the past were more masculine, and women look these days,” said Lee Jung Hee, professor of economics at Chung Ang University.
“The gap between looks of men and women have narrowed.”
Apart from wanting to look like idols, Lee said that as South Korea becomes an aging society, more and more men are now taking better care of their skin in a bid to look younger as they age.
“In the past, being healthy meant being strong but now it’s more than just being strong. The desire to stay young keeps growing. And so in the future, the desire to take care of one’s skin will continue to grow among people in their 40s, 50s and 60s.”
A survey conducted from July to October last year showed that sales of beauty products for men in their 40s were up 28 per cent from a year ago. For men in their 50s, the growth rate was 53 per cent. It is increasingly common to find men of various ages with some makeup on in the streets of Seoul.
With the promising growth potential, cosmetic companies in South Korea and other global brands are coming up with more varieties of men’s products to meet the growing demand. They believe the ones to target in the coming years are men in South Korea, which is currently the eighth largest cosmetics market in the world.