Are people from South Korea weird

Chok-chok: Why make-up is also a men's business in South Korea

Moisturizers are very important in Korea to look "chok-chok". After women, young men now also emulate this ideal of beauty, which literally means "fresh as a dew".

According to this, on the one hand you look very neat and on the other hand you look like you haven't done anything with your face, except to feed your body healthy food and take a soothing bath, maybe. This is of course not true, because in order to look "chok-chok" you sometimes have to follow a ten-step beauty routine - more on that in a moment.

In no country in the world do men spend as much money on skin care products as in Korea. Together, Euromonitor estimates that the 19 million Korean men generate a good billion dollars in annual sales - one fifth of the global market. And even if the Danes catch up, they would have to use around four times as much cream to get to the Koreans.

Rapidly growing sales

In the past five years, sales of men's beauty products in Korea have increased by 86 percent, and it is estimated that the market will grow by half again in the next five years. According to figures from Global Data, Korean men go to a beauty treatment at least once a week on average, and they already use more than a dozen care products a month.

To look "chok-chok", ideally, one follows ten steps: 1) Oil cleansing - removes oil-based residues such as sebum, make-up and sunscreen; 2) foam cleaning - removes everything else, i.e. sweat and dirt; 3) peeling - removes dead skin cells; 4) Toning - restores the skin's natural pH; 5) Essenceing - moisturizes and brightens the skin; 6) Treatmenting - treats skin disorders like acne; 7) Sheet Masking - gives nutrients to the skin through sheet masks; 8) Moisturizing - against dehydration; 9) Eye-Creaming - against signs of age around the eye area; 10) SPF-ing - protects from the sun.

Beauty soldiers

If you don't follow this lengthy procedure every morning and evening, shorten it: Almost all young Koreans leave the house with toner, essence, moisturizer and BB cream - the latter is an all-purpose weapon that conceals impurities and at the same time acts as a serum, moisturizer, foundation, Sunscreen and skin lightener acts.

Anyone looking to fathom the source of the unusually intense-looking male beauty mania should not only look on television and social media, but first and foremost in the military.

If you believe Amore Pacific, a Korean cosmetics company that is now one of the largest in the world, it is military service where most Koreans gain their first, delicate experience with cosmetics. In the two years in uniform they would exercise a lot in the fresh air, strain their skin and look for ways to better protect it.

Some Korean beauty brands specifically offer military service products; "Extreme Power Camo Creams" for example, skin-friendly camouflage paint, cooling creams for long days of action and "Power Military Masks" with green tea extract. There is even camouflage sunscreen.

"After military service, almost every soldier is a beauty expert," says Dino Ha, who was stationed in Afghanistan during his time in the military and who now runs the cosmetics start-up Memebox. "Whenever a comrade brought a new product, everyone tried it."

Appearance also plays a major role for men in their subsequent professional life. Anyone who has to fight hard to get one of the coveted jobs among many competitors must not neglect their appearance. The investment in your own youth is an investment in your professional future.

The younger generation drinks and smokes less than their parents, and they don't want to spend all night in the office either. The ideal of the "salaryman" in a suit with expensive watches and macho behavior propagated in the 80s and 90s is outdated; this also makes older employees pay more attention to their appearance: those who appear youthful remain relevant in the social fabric.

Companies like the young brand Laka, which offers cosmetics for men and women (unisex products are a rapidly growing segment), sums it up with their slogan: "You are a brand."

Nice research

The pure world aesthetic is exemplified by pop idols such as the boy groups EXO or BTS, who present a fresh look on high-resolution 4K televisions and also shape the image of the "soft masculinity" in social networks. Meanwhile, celebrities over 30 have a fresh and smooth-looking skin, including actors like Song Joong-ki, Kim Soo-hyun and Lee Dong-wook.

With the latter, Chanel launched its first men's make-up line in 2018 - in South Korea, not France. "Boy de Chanel" consists of a foundation, a lip balm and an eyebrow pencil - many Koreans today believe that eyebrows are the most important part of the face.

Korea's largest manufacturer Amore Pacific, which includes brands such as Innisfree, Etude House and Laneige, founded its first cosmetics brand just for men almost at the same time: "BeReady" is aimed primarily at Generation Z. The reason for this is a study by the Consumer Trend Center from Seoul National University. It was found that three in ten young Generation Z men, on average, use make-up at least twice a week.

More than half of those questioned had already experimented with colored make-up at school. In no other country is there as much market research for men's cosmetics as in Korea. Amore Pacific spends a good 100 million euros every year on research and development, the majority of which goes to tailoring the products even better to the male target group. Samples of new products are also often given out at basketball games - and are gratefully accepted.

Appearance is viewed more holistically in Korea. From Austria there is a clear separation between dermatologists and cosmetologists, in Korea the latter often work alongside doctors. Anyone who has a facial treatment then naturally goes to the beautician to have a cooling mask applied.

And those who can't afford a dermatologist just buy care products - there are as many beauty salons in Seoul as there are coffee houses in Vienna. Visiting Korea costs comparatively little because of the strong competition. Some men are already so far that they do not even address women without make-up. You only develop self-confidence with facial care.

Of course, that doesn't mean that every man in Seoul takes to the streets with eye-catching make-up. The conservative gender roles are only slowly dissolving. The fact that men also use cosmetics and care products is not seen as "feminization", and certainly not as the end of patriarchy.

Today, make-up and skincare are not only accepted by men, but are seen as tools to feel better and more confident. Those who used to go to the surgeon to look as masculine as possible now want to appear androgynous. The new ideal of beauty is the man with a baby boy face and six pack abs.

Roald Maliangkay from the Korea Institute of the Australian National University suspects the reason for this in the 1997 Asian crisis, which hit women much more severely than men. As a result, there was a shift in the image of men - the classic alpha men had suffered damage to their image that diminished their social position.

Cosmetic wave

While some now suspect that in Korea it is ultimately only about outward appearances and that men submit to the dictates of the corporations, which they ultimately equate only with women who have felt the pressure of being flawless for decades, counter K-Beauty- Enthusiasts that it is less about the products than about a philosophy: In Korea, outer and inner beauty have been closely interwoven for hundreds of years.

The "Hallyu wave", ie the gradual spill over of Korean culture to other parts of the world, can hardly be stopped anyway. The "Hallyu wave" is even partially controlled by the government through appropriate measures as a soft-power measure. The next big market that is adapting the beauty ideals of Korean men is China.

Companies like Clinique and L'Occitane have already hired men as brand ambassadors there; Data from Chinese ecommerce sites like VIP.com show that more and more male customers are buying beauty masks, eyebrow pencils and lipstick.

According to Euromonitor, four of the ten fastest growing cosmetic brands come from South Korea. The country has risen to become the third largest cosmetics exporter in recent years, after France and the United States. Large corporations such as LVMH and Unilever have recently started making purchases, and products such as BB Cream, sheet masks and make-up pillows are slowly arriving in Austria as well.

Yves Saint Laurent brings products onto the market that bridge the gap between the Asian and the European market; Tom Ford sells concealers, bronzers and brow gels for men. Since last year, the retailer Zalando has also been offering cosmetics for men in Germany, and soon also in Austria.

Cosmetics experts say Korea is ten to twelve years ahead of Europe in these matters. However, the Internet will gradually shorten this range; Korean brands such as Ssanai and DTRT are already available online in Europe and the USA. The Koreans are sure that the rest of the world will soon follow suit and discover the healing properties of snail secretions, donkey milk and bee venom to look "mul-gwang", like fresh out of the shower.

Bathing in the morning dew: The days when a man feels clean even without Double Cleanse and Layering Hydration: They are numbered. (Florian Siebeck, RONDO exclusive, October 29, 2019)