“I just want to be a quiet and beautiful man” has been a popular online phrase in China of late. Guys normally used this phrase in a self-deprecating sense; but to some extent, this phrase also explains the drivers of the currently-booming Chinese male skin care market.

Chinese men are supporting the development of a wide range of products, from toner to eye cream, facial cream and serum. According to Euromonitor, China is the largest market for men’s skin care, worth more than $1 billion in 2016, more than the amount spent by North American and Western European men on the same products combined. The men’s beauty market in China is growing two to three times faster than the overall global beauty market for men.

In the past 10 years, when some Western male grooming manufacturers expanded into China, they initially ignored the facial care market. Following their global strength, they chose to develop a market for deodorant. As of today, the actual deodorant market is still nearly non-existent, despite high marketing expenditure in this category. Meanwhile, expansion of the market for facial care products among Chinese males is generally more advanced than in other global markets.

Why do Chinese men love their faces so much?

Here are two insights for global marketers:

1. There is no cultural barrier preventing Chinese men from using care products to enhance the appearance of their face.

Overcoming cultural barriers to product usage is an expensive mistake for manufactures. Tapping into culture is the solution.

Chinese masculinity is not about being macho.

According to a famous line of poetry from 600BC, “a gentleman should be as gentle as jade.” This idea also is promulgated by Confucianism. The ideal characteristics of Chinese masculinity symbolized by jade are not physical and active, but gentle and possessed of inner power.

Hu Ge, a famous actor, is an idol for both girls and guys. He played many “jade man” roles in TV dramas. Obviously, he cared for his skin quite attentively.

2. The Chinese one-child policy promoted maturation of the male facial care market.

When we conducted male grooming consumer research 20 years ago, almost all buyers and decision makers were women. At that time, the leading skin care brand was a local brand “Da Bao”, acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2007. Da Bao’s claim was that it was intended for family use. The major user base for the brand was men, but women purchased it.

In our recent research, we found that the new generation, born after the 80’s, consists of not only users but also decision makers and buyers. They have extensive brand and product knowledge about male grooming. In part, this trend is driven by China’s economic growth. Men have more discretionary income than before, so now they can care for their faces. In addition, due to the one child policy, all family resources are focused on a single child. The only child not only exhibits more self-centered behavior (including greater attentiveness to his or her appearance), but also a more neutral attitude toward gender, without contrasting himself or herself to siblings.

Despite the fast growth in the male market for facial care products, the male market is still under developed relative to the female one. The female skin-care market is valued at more than 30 times the male one in China.

With the trends of urbanization and higher male gender population (106 men to 100 women) in China, we are quite certain that demand for male skin care will lead the general growth of the skin care market. It’s crucial for global brands to understand where these opportunities lie and how best to realize them. Trading up men from unisex brands, and expanding the male category, will be fierce marketing battlegrounds.

co-author: Yongfeng Tan, Ph.D