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Why men are wearing make-up to get ahead at work

The men in your office might have compacts in their man bags.

Trying to make CEO. Photograph: Getty Images

As might be expected, Asia – and China in particular, are now fundamental to the growth of the beauty and personal care multinationals such as L’Oreal and Estee Lauder. There is much discussion around the beauty rituals of South Korean women and the use of whitening creams by women in India and China. Beauty trends that originated in Asia, such as Beauty Balm or “BB” creams, are now the latest in skincare in the UK.

However, less is known about a major beauty trend in Asia that is now taking off in Europe and the US – the use of make-up by men. The aim appears to be, to quote an online male make-up retailer: “… to appear fresh, perfect and simply outstanding whilst maintaining a facial finish which doesn't jeopardise your alpha male status.”

The use of make-up by males in Asia is relatively high, driven by cultural and religious phenomena. In India, for instance, kohl is a common eye make-up applied by men on special occasions. But across grooming products not so commonly associated with men, skincare and make-up, men’s share is much higher than you’d think. Across these two sectors, men account for 51 per cent of the country’s personal grooming market in India; in China it’s 41 per cent.

Men in the UK and the US still have some way to go, although the fact that men use 22 per cent of make-up and skincare combined in Britain and 23 per cent of these products in America means consumption might still be above expectations.

So what’s driving this? It’s not just about trying to be more attractive, although that will certainly drive part of this. Men are increasingly concerned about how their looks can affect their career prospects. In South Korea for example, the use of make-up by men is seen as a way to improve looks and enhance your career, with companies like Korean Air even holding cosmetics training sessions for male employees ).

Up to now, the British and American male grooming markets have been largely fixed on hand creams and the odd facial cream; few British or American men currently take inspiration from Johnny Depp’s kohl-rimmed eyes in Pirates of the Caribbean. Yet the level of sophistication of male make-up products could be improved on from the current offerings of acne concealers and stage make-up a la Tony Blair, and the launch of nail polishes for men such as Alphanail shows that this is starting to change. The offerings for men from leading beauty companies such as Clarins and L’Oreal already extend to moisturisers, scrubs and the odd flash bronzer, so watch this space: the men in your office might soon have a compact in their man bag.

Emily Neill is the CEO of Canadean – (consumer market research experts)