Every morning, Shane Zhang uses a facial scrub and applies a toner from Estée Lauder and a L'Oréal moisturizer. At night he uses Lancôme anti-aging cream. Twice a month he treats himself to a La Cure facial using mud from the Dead Sea. "People say I look younger than my age," says the 28-year-old, an advertising salesman for lifestyle magazine Men's Uno in Shanghai who spends about 1,000 yuan ($150) a month on cosmetics. "Since I'm a salesperson, it definitely helps."
Daily rituals such as Zhang's have prompted cosmetics giants including L'Oréal, Nivea maker Beiersdorf, Japan's Shiseido, and a slew of domestic entrants to target men in China. Sales of men's health and beauty merchandise in China are set to overtake those in North America this year and will probably grow about five times faster until 2014, according to data from researcher Euromonitor International. "All the major cosmetics companies are focusing on this segment," says Lynn Zhou, a retail analyst with brokerage CLSA in Shanghai, who says sales of men's products in China are growing at more than double the pace for women's.
Rising incomes, growing popularity of magazines such as the Chinese editions of Esquire and GQ, and the desire to find a competitive edge at work are driving demand for men's skin-care products. Men who use cosmetics are called du shi yu nan—literally, "City Jade Men," a moniker akin to "metrosexuals" in the West. "Chinese men are now more concerned with appearances and projecting an image of success," says Shaun Rein, managing director of Shanghai-based China Market Research Group. "First they were spending on watches and pens and shoes as a status symbol, then five years ago they were focusing more on apparel, and in the last three years there is a real upsurge in male cosmetics."
Spending by Chinese men on face creams, anti-aging gels, and cleansing lotions already exceeds spending on razors and blades by more than 30 percent, and the gap will keep widening, says Procter & Gamble (PG), which has created a brand called Olay For Men sold in China. The Chinese men's skin-care market may reach $270 million this year, vs. $227 million for North America, according to Euromonitor. The research company expects annual growth of 29 percent through 2014, compared with 5.7 percent for North America and 7.9 percent in Europe. "In the U.S. or Mediterranean countries, when we tried to tell men to use cosmetics they would say, 'Come on. I'm a man, and creams are for girls,' " says Jean-Michel Ripoll, L'Oréal's Shanghai-based general manager for market research. "In China we don't have to fight against that."
Liang Guang, a 29-year-old architect for a property company in Beijing, began buying cosmetics after seeing a television commercial for L'Oréal men's products featuring Hong Kong action star Daniel Wu. "I think men and women are equal in terms of making themselves look good," Liang says while dropping $42 for a bottle of Shiseido Men's Moisturizing Emulsion at a department store. "Every morning when you wake up and use this stuff, you get the confidence you need for the day."
L'Oréal is China's No. 1 men's skin-care brand with about 32 percent of the market in 2009, driven by sales of Biotherm Homme and L'Oréal Men Expert, China's top-selling men's cosmetic brand, according to Euromonitor. China's Shanghai Jahwa United holds the No. 2 slot in men's skin care with its gf line—the name sounds like the Chinese word for golf—which it says uses ingredients from desert plants that protect the skin. Shiseido, which began selling its Aupres JS brand in 2001 and introduced the Shiseido Men line in 2005, is fourth after Beiersdorf.
L'Oréal in 2008 introduced its Vichy line in China, and late last year started selling Garnier, a brand aimed at entry-level cosmetics users, especially those in smaller cities away from the prosperous coastal regions. Women account for about half of purchases, bought as gifts for husbands and boyfriends, says Paolo Gasparini, L'Oréal's China chief executive officer. "This surprised me, for I am Italian, and Latins are more macho and only use products they buy for themselves," Gasparini says. "Chinese men don't have any problem using products bought for them by women."
The bottom line: Chinese men are buying and using skin-care products in greater numbers than men in the U.S. and Europe.