China — Home of the World's Most Beautiful Men?

China — Home of the World's Most Beautiful Men?

A facial assistant services a male customer at a beauty salon in Beijing.

SourceLiu Jin / Getty Images

Why you should care

Because “mampering” belongs in the OED.

Women have a reputation for taking eons in the bathroom, but something tells us they’ve been thrown under the stereotype bus. In China, men hog the mirror— to rub in a bit of skin-whitening cream, pluck their eyebrows, splash on some high-end cologne and fight for the blow-dryer — all before their morning bowel movement.

Boy, oh, boy.

The market for male skin-care products in China is expected to reach 11.5 billion yuan, or $1.7 billion, in 2020.

That’s up 50 percent from 2014, according to London-based market research firm Mintel. The common assumption is that most men don’t give two hoots about their appearance, but this male pampering (“mampering,” if you will) is standard in China. In fact, the men may have more fancy face creams — concealers, skin-nourishing lotions, skin-whitening sunscreens, cleansing creams and silky, anti-aging moisturizers — than the women do. Alibaba and JD.com, the two biggest online marketplaces in China, all tout the virtues of male beauty with specific sections of cosmetics care for men. Now, China is on the fast track to becoming the world’s biggest market for male grooming — but, in a land of 1.4 billion people, scaling up isn’t all that hard.

Indeed, the Middle Kingdom is full of young, urbane, white-collar metrosexuals (bailing linan 白领丽男) who are fueling Asia’s beauty boom to Miss Universe–level extremes — much like Korean flower boys, Taiwanese boy bands and Japanese herbivores, or men who prefer fashion over sex, in the rest of region. It’s all about putting your best face forward, says Neil Wang, the China managing director at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Men are relying on their slick style and soulful appearance to gain attention in the marriage market, respect in the workplace and a foothold in high-class society because “makeup is just as important as muscles,” says Wang.

Lest you think any of this mampering cuts down on a man’s street cred, a clean-cut look actually bespeaks sophistication in a quickly modernizing culture, says Kam Louie, an expert on Chinese masculinity at Hong Kong University. Masculinity in China is expressed differently than in the West, with strong and soft existing as complements rather than contrasts. Historically, “ideal masculinity was constructed as having achieved both cultural attainments and physical prowess, or wen and wu,” says Louie. Simply put, a caveman reeking of body odor and sporting an untamed beard will not make the cut in the upper echelons of high society.

But then again, boys will be boys, right?

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