Over the past decade, South Korean men became the world’s biggest male spenders on skincare and makeup, contributing to $7 billion in the Korean beauty industry. According to Euromonitor, the cosmetics raise in male consumers in the past few years, and sales of men’s products grew 86% in the past 5 years. Another survey made by GlobalData shows that three-quarters of Korean men undertake a beauty or grooming treatment (hair, face, body). It tends to keep growing with Gen Z and their genderless style. 58% of men born after 2000 say that they use grooming treatment at least once a week, compared to 34% of South Korean men overall.
In this article, we are going to try to understand why Korean men are using cosmetics and how Kpop Idols as BTS have impacted this trend. We will also talk about how beauty standards differ from western male standards.
Why Korean men use cosmetics?
High Beauty Standards:
South Korean society is known for its hyper fixation on appearance.
Korean men and women are living under the constant pressure of being conformed to societal expectations. Those beauty standards came after the Civil War, South Korea and the US agreed to a military alliance. Tens of thousands of United States Forces Korea troops came to Korea. With those soldiers, the Korean population discovered the US culture, with their movies, fashion, music, etc… They started wanting to look like the beautiful American icons. That’s how looking like western people became a symbol of beauty in Korea.
The men’s beauty standards are really similar to the women’s ones.
Their skin has to look as white and smooth as possible and, to look healthy, their body has to be skinny and muscular (but not too much). A nose is considered beautiful when it’s high, eyes have to be big and open, and finally, the perfect face shape is small with a tiny chin (it’s called the V line).
Because those high standards are very different from the natural Korean appearance, many men and women have to do plastic surgery. South Korea is the only East Asian country in the top 10 countries with the highest rate of cosmetic surgeries. But makeup also helps them a lot, to look more white for example. Skincare products are also very important to have shiny, luminous, and soft skin. That’s why Korean spend a lot of time doing their skincare and makeup routine. Their goal is to look perfect, almost as a doll.
In South Korea, every man in their early 20s has to serve 2 years in the army. It’s here that most of them start caring more about their skin. The products furnished by the Korean army are extremely harmful to the skin, it makes it dry and can cause acne.
To answer the demand, Korean cosmetics brands as Tony Moly, for example, created camo cream with more respectful formulas to not damage the skin of the soldiers. They also launched military-themed cleansing foams and skincare essentials. Indeed, Korean men also spend more time and money in their skincare routine during their military service to nourish their skin. They also buy more sunscreen to protect their skin from sun exposure.
The entrepreneur Dino Ha, who’s running a cosmetics startup Memobox said once, “All guys who went through the military, you almost become a semi-expert in beauty”.
Tough job market:
South Korea is a very competitive marketplace for employees. Since the Civil War, Korea has highly skilled and educated workforces. A lot of Korean men and women are graduated from very good universities. They are very smart, hard workers and disciplined. All of this makes the competition very high for Korean.
So as English fluency or an internship can be an advantage to get hired more easily, beauty is a plus either. Ethnic homogeneity has bred a hyper-competitive culture in which your appearance, your skin, or your face shape can be significant during the hiring process. Most Korean companies require the candidates to add a picture to their resumes. They can also ask for the height and sometimes for the family background of applicants.
One time again, plastic surgery is often used by Korean people to get more chances to be hired. Changing their faces can really change their future, that’s why double eyelid surgery became a rite of passage for many Korean. But a lot of them do not want to submit to social pressure or don’t have enough money to get plastic surgery. Using makeup is the solution for them to match with beauty standards.
It’s also very common for Korean men to wear makeup to go to work, to look nice and proper. People’s opinions are very important, and a youthful face can give a dynamic image to their boss, coworkers, or customers.
The Influence of Kpop Idols as BTS:
Today, Kpop is a part of the South Korean culture. In this country, Kpop idols are present everywhere, on TV, radio, on commercials, on beauty products, etc… They became real beauty icons that most young Korean men want to look like. Their beauty aesthetic is to be tall, fit, and white. They often do plastic surgery (as the double eyelid) to match with the beauty standards we talked about just before.
It’s common to see male idols wearing full makeup looks, with foundation, eyeshadow, and lipstick. They also dyed their hairs with crazy colors. This gentle esthetic is called in Korean Khonminam, it combines the words « flower » and « beautiful man ». This pretty boy style is not considered effeminized but as a new perspective of what a man looks like.
Regular Korean men adopted this trend and started imitating the soft masculine image of those celebrities. The group BTS is very famous in Korea, and it’s also the most popular Kpop band in the whole world. Those idols are the perfect example of this trend.
BTS impact on the beauty industy
BTS has the perfect look and makeup, so Korean men and women are very interested in which products they are using. They are curious about their makeup and skincare routine and beauty tips. The beauty industry understood that and started using their face on their beauty products. In Korea, it’s so common to find mask sheets or hand cream with the face of your favorite Kpop band. This marketing strategy is a real success because it attracts fans but also young boys who want to look like them.
Moreover, BTS created a makeup line with VT Cosmetics. This line includes eight matte lipsticks, an eyeshadow palette, and a tinted base and foundation. They also had featured limited edition products, like their collaboration with Innisfree. In Korean streets, the skincare, and makeup brands choose for their advertisement as many men as women to be their model or brand ambassador.
Here are some products BTS are often using:
SON & Park Beauty Water: This product is a toner and exfoliator that cleanses and hydrates the skin. It’s gentle water that gives a fresh feeling to the skin!
Mediheal TeaTree Care Solution Essential Mask EX: This sheet mask is infused with tea tree which is a good ingredient for reducing redness, inflammation, and acne. It’s a calming and refreshing skincare product.
Zeroid Pimprove Cream: It’s a fragrance-free cream made with friendly ingredients. This amazing moisturizer has a rich and luxurious texture that doesn’t leave a greasy feeling!
Etude House Moistfull Collagen Cream: The cream gel will make your skin soft and smooth by keeping it moisturized. This cream is enriched with Baobab water and collagen to hydrate your skin for 12 hours.
Hera Homme CC Cream (SPF35/PA++): It covers the pores, wrinkles, and imperfection and leaves your skin smooth and glowing. It improves men’s skin tone and cleans the barrier of the skin to treat enlarged pores.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz: This product is a pencil/spoolie combo that will add definition and color to your brows. It will give your eyebrows a long-lasting and natural look.
Tony Moly Backstage Gel Eyeliner: Tony Moly eyeliner has a great formula. The smooth texture makes it easy to draw on a very opaque line.
Nivea Tinted Lip Balm: This Tinted lip balm provides all-day hydration to your lips, with a natural and soft color touch.
How Korean men do their makeup?
If some Korean likes to wear heavy makeup as we can see in Kpop music videos, most men prefer a natural and casual look for their everyday life. The « chok-chok » look is a makeup trend that people use to look fresh and clean. The idea is to look as natural as possible, like if you were no wearing makeup. So what is the « chock-chock » routine?
The first step is to use SPF Sunscreen to protect the skin from UV rays. After this, they use BB cream or cushion foundation to make their skin look flawless and smooth. Most Korean men who wear makeup like to use a pencil to draw perfect eyebrows, they also use tinted lip balm to moisturize their lips without looking too pale. Finally, some of them also use natural blush to create a healthy effect. They also spend a lot of time and money on their skincare routine which is the same as women’s, the layering.
Those routines may look effeminate to non-Korean, but for Korean is not at all. For example, a man can wear makeup and is still considered macho or manly. Another difference with western countries is that products are not specified to be for a woman or a man. If you want to buy lipstick, you can see in the advertisement how the lipstick looks on a woman and on a man.
The men makeup trends in western countries:
It’s really unusual in western countries to see a man wearing makeup in society. Most of the time in Europe or the US, a man using makeup is categorized as a homosexual or a drag queen. But hopefully, people’s minds are changing and evolving, partially thanks to the Korean style.
In 2018, Chanel launched its first cosmetics range for men and they named it Boy de Chanel. This product line features a tinted foundation, a two-in-one brow pencil and brush, and a transparent matte lip balm. Those cosmetics are perfect to create a natural look and look fresher. They piloted the collection in South Korea before making it available in the US and Europe.
It was a success in Asia, it’s going to take more years to becomes fully accepted by the westerners. However, people liked it and Chanel decided to launch new products in 2020, a concealer, three eye pencils, and two nail polishes. Other brands as Tom Ford Beauty, L’Oréal, and Estée Lauder created man makeup lines.
New generations are part of a gender neutrality movement. Young people want to wear what they want and make-up as they want without being affiliated with any sexual orientation. Some celebrities gave their supports to the genderless movement, as the male rappers A$AP Rocky and Lil Nas X. Those artists are coming from a macho environment, and that’s why telling their opinion on this topic is very courageous.
To conclude, things tend to change in a good way. On social media, we often see a lot of pictures of men influencers with full makeup looks. More and more men, especially in big cities, start going to work with natural makeup. Men have the right to wear make-up too!
Do you want to start your own men’s beauty line? Sourcing-Lab is an OEM/ODM Korean cosmetic manufacturing partner. We will assist you throughout every step of your brand and product creation. Fill out the contact form below!
Don’t forget to check our last article about 5 Amazing Mom Entrepreneurs In The Beauty Industry to Celebrate the Mother’s Day!