More young Chinese men are discovering the utility of makeup

Personally, I think that if a guy has blemishes or spots or uneven complexion, then why not use products to cover that up and look a bit more healthy?

Online shopping sites in China are now flooded with makeup and beauty products aimed at young men.

You probably didn’t notice, but makeup and beauty products designed especially for young men have become a thing across China. Maybe it’s because young people are photographing themselves more than ever. Maybe it’s because of the huge popularity of xiaoxianrou (literally “little fresh meat”). Or maybe it’s just because guys have realized they can make an effort, too.

I first came across makeup products just for men last year when I was working on a TV show traveling around small towns in China eating scary food. I was shocked and amazed to see the makeup artist using products specifically designed and marketed toward men.

Sure, the formulation of the products probably isn’t any different — we all have the same skin. But what was cool about these products and the ones I later found on Taobao and other shopping sites in my “research” was that their packaging and marketing were completely designed to entice guys.

A recent study found that young men born after 1995 are probably the group who are most open about the idea of male makeup in China, with 18.8 percent of those surveyed saying they wear BB cream (a type of moisturizer with a tint of foundation), and 18.6 percent saying they wear lipstick.

It was so novel to me, coming from a country where men need to be “men” and where if you want to cover some pimples, you have to sneak into the makeup section of your nearest department store and hope no one you know spots you. That or pinch your girlfriend’s supply.

Makeup for guys really began to explode in the West a few years ago with the rise of YouTube “beauty gurus,” which include a lot of male makeup artists like Jeffree Star and Manny MUA. But they still tend to use products ultimately designed and marketed toward women, and their looks are also more on the feminine side. There is one popular British YouTuber called Wayne Goss who often does really natural looks and even has his own brush line.


Filmed by Zhou Shengjie. Edited and translated by Andy Boreham. Special thanks to Wang Xinzhou. 

What’s happening in China today is a push toward natural and unnoticeable makeup for guys, like natural colored foundation (BB cream is really popular and cheap), natural colored eyebrow pencils, natural colored eyeshadows and even a range of natural colored lipsticks to give guys a subtle and natural pop of color.

You’ll see two Chinese characters in large print over most of the online ads for guy’s makeup, which gives a real insight into the marketing strategy: “不娘” (buniang). This basically translates as “not girly,” and it seems to be important for a lot of guys looking to buy makeup and beauty products in China. It needs to be natural. And guys need to know that they can still use these products while remaining firmly in the realm of “maleness.”

Online Chinese beauty guru and makeup expert Nanhai Rex makes a living out of promoting makeup products and techniques to his 277,000 fans. He says although guys wearing makeup is an idea that’s becoming more and more popular here, there are still people who aren’t so supportive. “Tolerance has increased a lot over the past few years, but it’s still not 100 percent there.”

That certainly seemed to be true when we went out on the streets of Shanghai, widely considered China’s fashion capital, and asked young men what they thought. While they all said they wouldn’t look down on a male friend who chose to wear makeup, they did express a slight aversion to the idea. Or at least to publicly admitting support.

Personally, I think if a guy has blemishes or spots or uneven complexion, then why not use products to cover that up and look a bit more healthy? We already know the power of makeup and, if used correctly, I see no reason to believe that a guy chucking on a bit of foundation or correcting the shape of his eyebrows is in any way “girly.”

It’s great to see that more and more people agree.

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