Taking the time and effort to pamper his skin every morning and night is no longer a chore for Kim Sang-ho, a 23-year-old college student in Seoul.
He starts each morning applying basic skin care products like treatments and moisturizers to his face and never forgets to clean them off with cleansing cream at night. He is now satisfied with his fair and clear complexion, which was once covered with acne.
"When I was a teenager, I rarely used toners or lotions that my mother and sister gave to me. Actually, I didn't have any interest in skin care or makeup," he said. "But now I do care about it, after having suffered from pimples for years. It was so annoying."
Kim is not unusual in South Korea, where men's grooming has come to the spotlight and led a booming growth in the male cosmetics industry. The media and advertisements chant that looking good makes you more appealing and drives you to bigger success in the workplace and even in your love life, under the motto of "appearance is competitiveness."
Against this backdrop, a growing number of men are choosing and buying their own skin care regimens designed for men, instead of swiping toners and lotions from the vanities of their mothers and sisters.
Kim has tried many kinds of skin care products to treat his skin problems and searched the Internet for better products. He saw YouTube videos that some users uploaded to share their experiences about skin care products and toiletries.
He finally found the right ones for his troubled face and spends some $150 to buy the products every three months.
"A clean and neat appearance makes me more confident when I meet my friends and do outdoor activities. So I make continuous efforts to maintain the good-looking skin," Kim said.
According to global market research firm Euromonitor International, South Korean men spent $766 million on buying cosmetics last year, up from $510 million in 2007.
AmorePacific Corp., South Korea's leading beauty care manufacturer, also expects the local market for male makeup to reach an estimated 1 trillion won ($904.2 million) in 2012.
It will take up some 10 percent of the company's entire sales estimate of 9 trillion won ($8.16 billion) for 2012, up from a less than 5 percent share 10 years ago, according to AmorePacific.
The South Korean figure is higher than that for foreign countries. Sales of male cosmetics in Japan accounted for 4 percent of the country's total cosmetics sales in 2011, while the United States and France reported a 8 percent share each, according to AmorePacific.
In an effort to grab a large share of the rapidly growing market, local cosmetics companies are beefing up efforts to lure highly-interested male customers like Kim, offering various skin care goods for brightening, moisturizing and anti-aging.
AmorePacific's flagship brands of Hera and Laneige have separate men's skin care lines as well, with blemish balm cream, sunblocks, essence and cleansers on its showrooms. It also runs two Man Studio stores in Seoul that specialize in men's skin care and makeup.
"A few years ago, male customers came to these studios along with their mothers or girlfriends," said Kweon Sung-hae of the public relations team at AmorePacific. "But as male grooming habits have become more common here, more and more men visit here without female companions to buy cosmetics."
Foreign brands have also jumped into the ballooning market, launching special brands and goods for men and engaging in aggressive marketing promotions.
Biotherm Homme, the male skin care line by France-based L'Oreal SA, saw double-digit sales growth in the past three years, with 32 percent on-year in 2009, 16 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2011, according to the company's South Korean unit, Biotherm Korea.
Its anti-aging products led the sales expansion, with 44 percent on-year growth in 2010 and 28 percent in 2011, added the company, which declined to give further detailed figures on the sales.
Biotherm Korea said it places marketing emphasis on young male customers who are on the verge of waking up to the need for skin care. Its target is South Korean soldiers who are serving their two years of compulsory military service in their early twenties.
"Young military officials start to strive to take care of their skin, trying to look like a civilian. This is the moment that they fall into the habit of putting lotions and other stuff on their face," said Kwon Kyoung-mi from Biotherm Korea. "So we offer a special membership project for soldiers, with regular mailing service, special gifts and other events."
Procter & Gamble Co., the world's leading beauty products firm, also introduced a new men's line of its SK-II brand last year to South Korea for the first time. The SK-II Men Facial Treatment Essence was a hit, with monthly inventories sold out just four days after hitting shelves, according to company officials.
Watchers predict that the male cosmetics market will likely grow at an average annual rate of 10 percent over the next few years. Cosmetics firms are setting their sights on the growing number of male consumers as the female cosmetics market is believed to be approaching saturation.
"A growing number of men are interested in grooming as part of the recent self-management movement. So they are looking for sunblocks to protect their skin and brightening skin care products," said Lim Jung-shik, a manager of male products at AmorePacific.
"Companies are stepping up to catch these customers and take the lead in the country's booming men's cosmetics market with various products." (Yonhap)