Strength in skin care: China’s media crackdown on ‘sissy idols’ unlikely to have large effect on robust men’s category

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Awareness of skin care among men is likely to protect the male beauty category from the recent 'sissy idol' crackdown in China. [Getty Images]
Awareness of skin care among men is likely to protect the male beauty category from the recent 'sissy idol' crackdown in China. [Getty Images]

Related tags China policy men's skin care men's beauty

Awareness on the importance of skin care among men is likely to protect the male beauty category from the recent media crackdown China has mandated against those who do not fit into the masculine stereotype.

On September 2​, Chinese authorities published new guidelines for radio, television, and Internet platforms, calling for broadcasters and Internet platforms to “strictly control the selection of programme actors and guests, by making sure they have a correct political stance, good conduct, high artistic level and strong social credit.”

The National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) effectively called a boycott of effeminate men – or ‘sissy idols’ as part of ongoing plans to “clean up” the entertainment industry.

The statement said broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to [effeminate men] and other abnormal aesthetics” ​as they do not fit what Beijing has deemed to be traditionally masculine.

This crackdown has left the beauty industry considering the future of male beauty in China, which has been hailed as one of the most promising categories for growth​.

Market research agency Euromonitor estimated the men’s skin care business in China, excluding post-shave products, was more than three times the size of the US market in 2019.

Even so, the market still has plenty of room to grow. According to Kantar Worldpanel, 12% of skin care sales in China were purchased by male consumers.

“There is still huge potential for the male beauty segment to grow as major MNC male grooming brands are investing in developing the market and also e-commerce platforms like Alibaba recently announced that they are focusing their attention on four segments, with male grooming being one of them,” ​said Jason Yu, General Manager of Kantar Worldpanel, Greater China.

Importance of skin care not lost among Chinese men

Allie Rooke, brand strategist and founder of Clean Beauty Asia, told CosmeticsDesign-Asia ​that the crackdown is unlikely to affect the men’s skin care category.

“Men’s skin care in China is well established already and it's growing really fast. You have a huge number of young urban men that want to look after themselves and they want more sophisticated products. I don't think that this crackdown will change that at all.”

Additionally, Rooke believes that this mandate will not affect the strong demand for base make-up products like foundation and concealer among men, noting that “complexion is a continuation of skin care.”

As for products like lipsticks, blushers, and eyeshadows, Rooke expects sales to take a hit initially. However, she pointed out there are still many Gen Z men who are interested in playing around with make-up.

Data from Kantar shows that male Gen Z consumers, aged 15 to 24, are leading the men’s beauty market.

Younger consumers are driving awareness and usage, also indicating they are spending more effort taking care of their appearance rather than just being effeminate. We believe when those consumers grow older and wealthier, they will spend more on male grooming,”​ said Yu.

For new and upcoming brands targeting China’s men’s grooming market, Rooke suggests that they can explore the unisex category, which has been an ongoing trend among Gen Z consumers.

“Unisex products are quite on trend at the moment with Gen Z and China. Maybe this will push more brands into that category because it's more ambiguous.”

Getting too big?

Many brands like Etude House and Perfect Dairy have been known to use male celebrities to promote and sell their products, not just in China but in other Asian markets like Korea.

However, this crackdown will force cosmetic companies to rethink their choice of brand ambassadors, said Rooke.

The new guidelines for entertainment will also affect beauty influencers like Austin Li Jia Qi, also known as the Lipstick King in China.

“Apart from Austin, there are loads of KOLs that are much more feminine in the way they dress and put on a full face of make-up. I think they will have to be more careful, and I do think [the crackdown] will push some of that underground,” ​said Rooke.

Furthermore, China’s crackdown on ‘wealth flaunting’ is also putting influencers on high alert.

“There’s been a lot of crackdowns with livestreaming because of the idea that you cannot get too big for your boots. In the case of Austin, he has done several things more recently relating to charity because there’s this whole idea about common prosperity that the government is encouraging. They don’t want people to be seen as being too affluent – cut the tall poppies they say,” ​said Rooke.

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