Men's cosmetics take off in China

More and more Chinese men are looking to the power of skin creams and anti-age serums to help them get ahead professionally, sparking a booming new market that has major cosmetics firms salivating.

Chinese men have fewer hang-ups than Western men about using skin care products - and keen customers, especially in urban areas, are even snapping up pots of foundation, toners and whitening creams traditionally bought by women.

Industry giants such as France's L'Oreal and German group Beiersdorf, which makes the Nivea line, are spending big on ads and distribution in China to conquer the promising market - and concocting new tailor-made products.

"It's a very dynamic market," Jackson Zhang, vice president of L'Oreal China, told AFP, saying that about 10 percent of Chinese men are already using skin care products specifically made for them.

The typical customer is an urban professional living not just in the capital Beijing or cosmopolitan Shanghai, but also in smaller cities nationwide.

"When Chinese men's income rises, in the beginning, they buy a good watch, then they move on to electronics... then they move to clothes, buy famous brands and finally they move to personal care products," Zhang explained.

"Men believe that using skin care products can give them a better competitive edge for their jobs, or for girls."

China will account for half of global growth in the men's skin care market in the 2009-2014 period, market intelligence firm Euromonitor said in a study released in November, adding that Procter & Gamble should soon join the fray.

During those five years, the Chinese market is projected to expand by 28.7 percent, as compared with growth of just 5.7 percent in North America and 7.9 percent in western Europe, Euromonitor said.

In 2010, sales of men's skin care products soared 30 percent to $280 million in China - ahead of North America, Euromonitor said, noting that the market had evolved in a few years to include "more sophisticated product lines offering anti-ageing, exfoliating and energy-boosting properties".

The desire for social success in a communist country now obsessed with making money, and where the working world has become more and more competitive, has pushed more and more urban Chinese men to take care of how they look.

"Our customers are mainly white-collar workers, entrepreneurs, people whose salaries are above average," Ouyang Jiale, the young manager of a men's beauty salon in Beijing, told AFP.

"As the Chinese say, the better the image you project, the more money you will earn!"

Attitudes have changed about these so-called "city jade men" - the Chinese equivalent of metrosexuals, or straight men who spend a great deal of time and money on their appearance.

"When I first opened the salon, the men who came here were sometimes badly seen. Today, people are starting to think that men, just like women, need to be beautiful," Ouyang said.

Business has been so good that the spa can no longer accommodate its client base. Ouyang said he will open another larger flagship salon in September as well as a third location.

In one of the spa's treatment rooms, Wang, a 45-year-old engineer who asked to be identified only by his surname for privacy reasons, laid back calmly as an employee applied his monthly face mask.

"Before, I never used skin creams. My standard of living improved, and now I pay more attention to skin care," Wang said. "I want to make a better impression on other people."

Several cosmetics firms led by L'Oreal have introduced China-specific products, such as face whitening creams, which are wildly popular in a country where pale skin is desirable.

L'Oreal - which says it is the leader in China with a third of the market, though it will not divulge specific sales figures - is now selling a specially developed moisturising "charcoal mousse" face scrub in the country.

The product, sold for just 39 yuan ($6.00), is a huge hit with Chinese men, though its dark greenish colour might be off-putting in the West.

"There is quite big room for growth," said Zhang.

"Ninety percent of men in China are still not using branded men's skin care products."

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